AWEJ for Translation & Literary Studies, Volume 6, Number2. May 2022 Pp.233-236
The American Granddaughter
Title: The American Granddaughter
Author: Inaam Kachachi
Translator: Nariman Youssef
Year of publication: 2021
Publisher: Interlink Publishing
Number of pages: 192
Reviewer: Inam Jaber
The American Granddaughter is a novel about the war-torn country, Iraq, following the horrific aftermaths caused by the American invasion of it in 2003. The story is told mainly by the young American-Iraqi woman, Zeina, who represents the third Iraqi generation. Zeiena’s mother, Betoul, who represents the second Iraqi generation, and Zeina’s grandmother, Rahma, who represents the first generation, were present too.
Although it is very short, chapter one says a lot about Zeina , now back home in America, after a unique experience as an American Arabic-speaking translator recruited by an American contractor that extended over five years (2003-2008). The first chapter beautifully sets the scene for what will come next in the following chapters.
Chapter one opens with Zeina back home following five years of military service in Iraq. She feels so sad. In more like a monologue, Zeina confesses to herself through a rundown of what she had encountered and experienced that it’s true she feels sorrowful, “…Even my laughter has changed. I no longer laugh from the depths of my heart like I used to, unashamedly showing the crooked line of my lower teeth that Calvin once likened to a popular café in the wake of a brawl. Calvin meant to be flirty that day. But flirting no longer suits me now. Who would flirt with a woman who bears a cemetery inside her chest”?
Now she looks to herself as barely a squeezed rag, “I came back feeling like a squeezed rag, one that we use to mop the floor… a floor cloth. That’s how I returned”.
She feels defeated, “I confess I returned defeated laden with the gravel of sorrow”. Yet, she loves her sorrow, “My beautiful sorrow, which makes me feel that I am no longer an ordinary American but a woman from a faraway and ancient place, her hand clutching the burning coal of a story like no other”.
Chapter one has the density of the language of poetry and is charged with successive images expressive of the sense of defeat, loss, and disappointment. Each image competes with other images so as to help Zeina vent her feelings. One may very well marvel at Kachachi’s ability to engage the reader from the first two and a half pages of the novel by virtue of her poetic, highly expressive language.
In Chapter two, we come to learn that inside Zeina was a dormant volcano of sorrow and nostalgia that started throwing up its lava when she remembered her grandmother’s lullaby, “ My grandmother’s lullaby came back to me as I rode in the convoy along the road from Mosul to its surrounding villages…I want to flaunt my kinship in front of them, show them that I was a daughter of the same part of the country, that I spoke their language with the same accent, I wanted to tell them that Colonel Youssef Fatouhy, assistant to the chief army recruitment in Mosul in the 1940s, was my grandfather…And so, for the first time, I resented my army uniform that was cutting me off from my people”.
By now, Zeina came with the American Army as an Arabic-speaking translator. She couldn’t resist the temptation of the fatty salary, $186,000 per year, “And I would bring happiness to my mother. I wouldn’t let this opportunity pass me by”. However, she will come to gradually discover the truth behind that fatty salary. She will soon realize that what she was actually seeing in reality in Iraq differed a lot from what she had been told by the American defense Ministry and media like Fox News about the war on Iraq. The Abu Graib prison scandal committed by the American army shocked Zeina, “. How did that bitch, who was dragging a prisoner behind her like a dog on a leash, get into our army? Prisons were not suitable places for cinema, despite all the movies that were set in them. The real protagonist wasn’t pain; it was humiliation. I thought about my father at Saadoun Security Complex and imagined Private Lynndie England tying him by his neck with a dog leash and dragging him naked behind her. The gorge rose in my throat and my nose. How would I be able to face my dad”? She couldn’t believe her eyes; she had been told that she was going to Iraq on a patriotic mission to liberate a people from an authoritarian regime. Now she couldn’t tell the difference between the two scenes.
Zeina is the thread used by Kachachi to weave the tapestry of nostalgia, suffering, pain, anguish, historical realty, cultural reality, adherence to identity and varied layers of emotions and feelings through narrations by Zeina herself, her mother Betoul, and her grandmother, Rahma, who iconize Iraq.
The tapestry of adherence to identity and deep-rooted love of homeland, Iraq, was beautifully portrayed by Kachachi in different spots in the novel and on more than one occasion. One day Zeina managed to leave the American military camp to visit her grandmother in Baghdad,
“I rested my head in her lap and let her tell me her stories that were steeped in the scent of Iraq. She delved deep into her memory for anecdotes and other means of explanation. She told me of my family’s history that was manifest everywhere around us- The print of my blood and the bones of my ancestors. I drank her stories in, but they didn’t quench my thirst.”
Betoul had to flee the country together with her daughter, Zeina, and her husband, a newscaster at the state TV station, during the Saddam regime. The husband was arrested, put in prison, and ferociously tortured simply because of his comment on the news that it was boring. Betoul’s brother-in-law managed to take him out of prison and Betoul managed to flee the country with her family leaving her old mother, Rahma, on her own with almost all the family relatives by the time scattered in different countries. Although they spent 15 years away from Iraq and they had already pledged allegiance to the US, Betoul and her husband never stopped feeling homesick. And Zeina came back after her experience in Iraq as a translator in the American army felt no less homesick than her mother and father, “I brought no presents and no keepsakes. I don’t need reminders. I just repeat after my father: I’d give my right hand if I should ever forget you, Baghdad”.
With Zeina the reader often gets drowned in sorrows, anguish, memories, disappointment and emotions.
Yet, the novel is not only about anguish, emotions, disappointment, memories, and incalculable losses and damage inflicted by a war unjustly waged and led by the US against Iraq. In her, The American Granddaughter, Kachachi meant to say a lot about the life people in Iraq used to live before the American invasion. The most expressive image drawn by Kachachi to this effect is in Rahama’s house. Rahma felt so unhappy and was immensely disappointed by her granddaughter, Zeina, because she joined the American Army as a translator. In her eighties, Rahma fell ill and refused to eat. Tawoos, the woman who served Rahma with her two sons throughout her long life, contacted Zeiena, who managed to come from the Green Zone to see her dying grandmother, “I opened the door. Tawoos was sitting cross-legged on her abaya on the floor by my grandmother’s bed and murmuring verses from the Quran while the Virgin Mary listened”. Tawoos is a Muslim woman from Sadr City in Baghdad and Rahma is a Christian woman from Mosul. Tawoos was Rahma’s housekeeper. With her two sons, Tawoos would always help and protect Rahma and never let her down, even at the time of upheavals and unrests following the invasion and the sectarian war. Tawoos was murmuring verses from the Quran and the Virgin Mary listened. What an image! It’s an image expressive of the harmony prevailing between people despite their different religions and geographic places.
The way Kachachi portrayed Rahma and her house, the house of the grandma and grandpa, the big
house is very evocative of the idea that it symbolizes the bigger home, Iraq. Rahma was keen to keep everything intact in her house- a sign that she took pride in her local culture, values and traditions, “The turquoise ceramic piece still hangs in its usual place at the entrance of the house, warding off evil with its seven eyes…”
With three courageous, strong women with the power and skill of leading –Rahma, Betoul and Zeina- Kachachi gave life and shape to her novel, The American Granddaughter. And she maintained the aroma of Iraq unchecked sneaking into the noses of Iraqis in exile, be it self-imposed or forced.
I should admit that it was not an easy task for me to review a book by Kachachi. Like her other three novels The American Granddaughter is a masterpiece where every single word, every single expression, every single image, and every single detail are highly expressive that they speak for themselves and cannot be dispensed with.
Inam Jaber: is a writer, translator and former lecturer at the Department of English / College of Education for Women / University of Baghdad, Iraq. She also writes poetry. She published a collection in 2018. She holds M.Sc. in Translation from Herriot-Watt University, UK. She translated a number of books. The most recent one is Tishshari (Dispersal) by the same author Kachachi.