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THE OLD WOMAN AND THE RIVER by Ismail Fahd Ismail
Translated by Sophia Vasalou
As the fighting nears Sabiliyat in northern Iraq, Um Qasem is forced to flee with her sons and donkeys. Problem is, she has to leave her husband behind. Without the opportunity to give him a proper burial. Eight months after reaching the safety of Najaf she decides to grab her favourite donkey, Good Omen, and trek home. So begins this wonderful little book about love, nature and the inner peace we might find in the ravages of war.
Upon reaching Sabiliyat, Um Qasem finds a small garrison of soldiers. Much of the book is made up of the battle of wills between them; Um Qasem is headstrong and impervious to their rigid, militaristic ways. The soldiers, on the other hand, can’t help but succumb to her peculiar whims. After all, she might be speaking with her dead husband’s ghost, and he might be helping her irrigate the town after it was cut off from the nearby river. A ceasefire in the lead-up to the Nowruz festival provides the perfect opportunity.
Inspired by true events from the Iran/Iraq War, and with a protagonist I wished would adopt me as her grandson, this contemporary Kuwaiti classic is a delightful, life-affirming gem.
The Old Woman and the River by Ismaid Fahd Ismail (Tr. Sophia Vasalou)
Interlink Books, 2019