Studies in Human Psyche and Human Behavior under Political and Social Pressure: The Recent Literary Works of Fu'ad Al-Takarli
Walther, Wiebke, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Fu'ad al-Takarli was born in Baghdad in 1927, in the same year as Gha'ib Tu'ma Farman and, like him, is one of the most outstanding fiction writers of the rather young modern Iraqi literature. After his study of law in Baghdad, he worked for many years as a judge in the small town of Ba'quba and later in Baghdad. In the beginning of the Eighties, during the First Gulf War, he left Iraq for France, and after some years he went to Tunis, where he still lives writing and publishing. In the beginning months of the First Gulf War, as one of the outstanding writers of the country, he was appointed a member of the jury for the Musabaqat ahsan qissa fi Qadisiyyat Saddam ("The Competition for the Best Short Story about Saddam Hussein's Battle of Qadisiyya").1 As matters stood, it is likely that he could not refuse this position.(2)
Fu'ad al-Takarli began writing in the early Fifties and his first short story, "Uyn khudr" ("Green Eyes"), published in 1952 in the magazine Al-Usbu (The Week), both shocked and attracted Iraqi readers. It is about a character well-known in French and Russian romanticism, but, at that time, quite new for Iraqi society, the virtuous or loving prostitute. It becomes increasingly clear in this and in his other short stories, as in his novels, that he is interested in psychological problems, even to the point of psychological deviations. These are manifested in a sexual behavior that is not approved by society, but, nonetheless, is conditioned by special social and political circumstances. He often depicts characters who identify with French existentialism portrayed in works of authors like Camus and Sartre, works which, as far as I know, were translated into Arabic from the Fifties onwards. Or perhaps the author was also able to read them in French.
I have spoken and written about some of al-Takarli's works, amongst them his great novel Al-Raj'a al-Ba'id ("The Far Return" 1980),(3) during a conference on the subject "Love, Marriage and Sexuality in Modern Arabic Literature," organized near Nijmegen in the Netherlands in April 1992. My paper, "Distant Echoes of Love in the Narrative Work of Fu'ad al-Tikirli" was published in the conference volume entitled Love and Sexuality in Modern Arabic Literature (London 1995).(4) In my article "Recent Developments of Modern Arabic Narrative and Dramatic Literature," published in the Supplemental Volume of the Grundriss der arabischen Philologie ("Outline of Arabic Philology") in 1992,(5) I gave my original understanding of the title as "The Distant Return" without knowing at that time the allusion to the Qur'an, Surat al-Qaf (50:3), which a Muslim perhaps already realizes: Wa idha mitna wa kunna turaban dhalika raj'un ba'id, "When we are dead and have become dust (shall we be brought back again)? That would be a far return!" This was a hint given to me by the author himself in a letter about two years ago.
This hidden symbolic meaning of the title makes the contents of the novel more lucid. It characterizes the events and moods of behavior depicted in it and the aims of the author and places them into the context of symbols included in this verse and the following verses of Surat al-Qaf. So certainly one has to understand that conditions of life and human relations like those depicted in this voluminous novel in a brilliant, many-layered and sensitive way should, if ever, return only in the very distant future. Fadil Thamir characterized this novel in a profound analysis as a "polyphonic novel of the highest artistic quality."(6) And when, after many complicated conflicts and events near the end of the novel, its female protagonist, Munira, utters in deep agony and resignation to 'Abd al-Karim, her cousin who loves her, "You're not weak, you're like me and everybody else here: you're sick, a mutilated person!" (anta mu insan 'ajiz, anta mithli wa mithlu kull nas huna: anta marid, insan mushawwah). This clearly connects with the title of the novel and the verses following verse 3 of Surat al-Qaf, verses about the beauty of God's creation and men's destruction of it. …