I’jaam by Sinan Antoon 2004 Iraq, 2007 US (97 pgs)
The most stunning piece of literature I’ve read in years. Antoon uses the prison narrative as a parable for how totalitarian government affects the individual psyche as well as the populace as a whole. The poetry background of the author is evident in his loving use of language as well as the lyrical imagery of the periodic hallucinatory dreams. Layered with meaning and stunning in its incisiveness, I’jaam ranks up there with Kafka and Orwell in my opinion.
The word i’jaam refers to the practice of adding dots to Arabic script to clarify meaning. In a masterful use of nested narrative, the underlying structure is that of an undotted journal kept by a prisoner. But overlaying that is the premise that this journal is later found by his keepers who assign a low-level bureaucrat to literally add the dots, which means they’re assigning their bias to “clarify” the piece. The dichotomy of the prisoner’s struggle to escape through his unjointed writing and the imposed stifling of the added i’jaam makes for a poignant picture of imprisonment.