I’jaam by Sinan Antoon

For those who missed our December 3rd meeting about I’jaam by Sinan Antoon, here is a little taste:

This powerful story was beautifully written and captures the pain and fragmented mental state of an imprisoned young man – through descriptive imagery and the very structure of letters/words. If you didn’t catch it, I’jaam denotes the practice of adding dots to letters of the Arabic alphabet to alter phonetic value. If dots are omitted, words can become ambiguous or inappropriate for their contexts. Written by a prisoner without dots, the novel is presented as a transcribed manuscript with an ambiguous (mistranslated?) subtext. Antoon is an Iraqi author currently living and teaching in the USA.

From literary rebellion and the psychology of fear to poetry and love, Antoon draws you in to his characters with a very personal story that weaves everyday moments of family and a young man falling in love amidst larger state politics – and it was the personal moments that felt the most riveting for Kutub’s readers. We were moved by his use of time as broken as the language and the main character’s poetic narrative/hallucination (there was some debate about how much in control of his mind he was, especially towards the end as he was sinking into oblivion/death/dehumanized retreat/?) that served to emphasize the tragic absurdity of the government’s decrees. The lyricism of the Arabic letters coming to life in our young prisoner’s mind, was powerful in both languages, however Arabic readers had a greater insight into the play and sensitivity that enlivened Alef … Ba…Sin … Shin …etc – as well as the subtle play on letters and words throughout the book – though Antoon did provide helpful asterisks with feedback for English readers as well.

Reviews and information at:




Also see the review written by Haig Aivazian in the Winter 2007 Edition of Bidoun Magazine.

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