A fictional camera writes a history of Iraqi pain

The “Stone of Happiness” is full of symbols, connotations and facts

The novel “The Stone of Happiness” by the novelist Azhar Zarzis, published in 2022, is a novel full of symbols, connotations, facts, dates and memories, so that it looks like a comprehensive museum of pictures, documents and mythology, because it is written – as is clear – in the language of the camera, as if it were writing a history. The central narrator in the novel, and its hero, “Kamal” or “Kimo,” is a talented photographer, who has loved the art of photography since his early childhood, when he made his own camera out of paper, while still a child, and was a disciple who chided his teacher, the photographer, “Khalil,” who once told him, “We don’t take pictures; We write history.”
It seems that this statement of the photographer “Khalil” became the narrative framework in the novel, as Kamal said in one of his internal monologues:
“I was happy to read what would become history, and participate in its codification, without the need for a series of narrators” (p. 29).
The narrative fabric in the novel has transformed into a group of visual patterns based on the semantics of the image and its semiotic language. Rather, it can be said that the camera has in turn become a narrator and witness to critical pivotal periods in Iraq’s living history. It is not limited to recording what is accidental, contingent and transient; Rather, it documented and highly professionalized the movement of fundamental events in society. The novel is transformed by the narration into a personal one; Because it basically revolves around the different stages of the life of its hero and main narrator (Kamal), so that here it can be said that the character is the one who moves the event, and not the other way around. But this does not mean that the event does not sometimes control the fate of the fictional character, and let us say that there are reciprocal effects between the character’s self-play and the movement of the narrative event itself.
What reinforces the nature of this novel, as a personal novel, is that it is primarily based on a well-formed autobiographical narrative, presented by the hero “Kamal” or “Kimo” of his life, from his childhood to the end of the book. Therefore, the novel simultaneously meets the specifications of the self-narrative novels and the character narrative.
The character of the hero grew and filled with connotations and symbols, and strongly radiated by its regularity within a group of visual, imaginative and realistic patterns that always broadcast its connotations, as the French critic Philippe Hamon refers in his book “The Semiology of Narrative Characters”, when he wrote:
“The personality is an empty entity, i.e. semantic whiteness, which has no value except through its regularity within a system, which is the source of the connotations in it, or it is the starting point to receive them as well” (p. 12).
The French critic Vinson John, in his book “The Impact of the Character in the Novel,” says that “character, between considering it dependent on the event, and considering it as a function or an imaginary structure, or a grammatical function, or a sign, will remain a mercurial concept that avoids all strict identification” (p. 8). ).
Therefore, we see that the character of “Kamal” in the novel is a developing, evolving and problematic character, since the beginning of her childhood, and she is entangled with the external reality that has influenced her course, just as this character was that affect some joints of the movement of the external reality. That is, we can talk about a color of balance between personality and reality or event, which is often embodied in a growing and escalating dialectical relationship.
The novel, on the other hand, reveals a clear circular structure, at the level of event, time and place. As the novelist begins his narrative in the first chapter under the title “A Hitman: The Winter of 2018,” and almost ends the novel in the twenty-fifth chapter with the same title: “A Hired Killer: the winter of 2018” ; The novelist continues to narrate the central event in the first chapter, which is the presence of a serial killer on a motorcycle (p. 7). The narrative returns to present to us, since the twenty-fifth chapter, the numerous attempts in which the hero was killed, which actually ended in his being wounded by four gunshots, forcing him to spend more than three months in the hospital and stay at home. ; He was attacked by the hitman belonging to the “Knights of Baghdad” militia, led by its leader, the professional killer “Taher Al-Hanash”, while trying to enter the alley leading to his house . We can therefore consider the appearance of the assassin in the first chapter, and his subsequent execution of the attempt to kill “Kamal”, as the framework structure of the story. As for what is included between these two integrated scenes, from the body of a novelist, it is only memories and narratives that begin since the hero’s birth in the city of Mosul in 1954, and his education He was forced to flee to Baghdad, and his subsequent acquaintance with the photographer “Khalil”, who sponsored and taught him the art of professional photography, and recommended to him after his death, through a will deposited with “Fawzi Al-Motabaji” with his exclusive inheritance in the possession of the studio and his residence. The novel was filled with this memoir with many events centered around Kamal’s early life in Mosul, and his constant exposure to bullying and humiliation by his stepmother, school children and even his father, so that the reader can imagine that the hero suffers from “paranoia. ” Or the sense of persecution in which the sick person imagines that the whole world is against him, and that he is exposed to a series of conspiracies that target his life, liberty and dignity.
Because of this dark view of life, the novel, especially in the first chapters, has turned into a gloomy and sad “dystopia”, as if the narrator paints us with black coals. Everything is hostile and inhuman, and people are evil. aggressive and bullying; But the novelist tries to catch up and open a glimmer of hope, in the midst of this global darkness, by depicting the mass struggle against “Taher al-Hanash”, the leader of the “Baghdad Knights” militia that invaded the city, and thus the masses’ ability to overthrow the terrorist “Al-Hanash” regime, which symbolizes – as Lee imagines – basically refers to the Saddamist model of government, insofar as it refers to a specific sectarian militia. The will of the masses for change is realized in this daring popular uprising, which is an echo of the popular “October Uprising.” Life returns to Baghdad, and to the “Peace Museum” destroyed by the “Knights of Baghdad” militia.
Kamal’s feeling while watching this Mosuli filmmaker distributing old photographs was that he is “like someone who collects photographs to sew memory” (p. Or disappear from the memory of the narrator and the memory of the social, political and cultural history that she was reformulating.
The novel was not limited to a narrative of the various stages in the life of its hero and narrator, photographer Kamal; Rather, she was faithful in depicting delicate and painful stages of Iraq’s modern history. The novel stood with the Iraqi person, condemning all manifestations of tyranny, violence and dictatorship, at the forefront of which is the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. The novel also has all manifestations of violence, tyranny and corruption that spread after the occupation , condemned, including the widespread criminal role that some militias play in all aspects of life in Iraq. The novel also exposes some clerics who falsely mask religion to carry out immoral acts, such as the cleric who oversaw “Khan al-Rahma”, and who recruited street children sheltering in the Khan, to carry out theft , a scene reminiscent of Naguib Mahfouz’s novel “Khan al-Khalili.” and Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist”, and the Hindi film “The Homeless Millionaire”. The novel condemned Saddam Hussein’s multiple wars; The narrator curses the tyrant in this way:
“Oh, boy… Even the songs were covered with the blood of battle” (p. 208).
The novel mocked the wars of the tyrant Saddam Hussein:
“Our wars are like cigarettes burning from each other’s stubs. A war subsided and another flared up without interruption, and no one knows how? And why?” (p. 211).
From the narrative point of view, we felt that the narrator’s perspective was simultaneously and synchronously passing through two different time perspectives, having alternately reached them. The first telescope represents the awareness of the little “Kamal” or “Kimo”, which is an innocent and spontaneous awareness. As for the second perspective, it represents the great, mature awareness of “Kamal” who has experienced life. But we often find an unjustified overlap between the two levels; Where a mature and deep commentary appears on the tongue of the child “Kimo”, who in turn has a special ability to monitor and record events, especially embodied upon his arrival in the city of Baghdad; Where he will describe what he sees with an innocent eye that sees things for the first time, realizes what in Shklovsky’s formal criticism is called “blasphemy”, as we see him detailing the map of Baghdad, its bridges and its shops redraw, while he is under the influence of surprise and fascination that has not left him, which his narrative At the time deserved privacy, transparency and innocence.
The novel largely looked at reality and events from a civil and secular perspective, refusing to yield to myths, and to false slogans falsely veiled in the name of religion, whatever that may be. ; While he refused to go to church, as a Christian, to perform religious ceremonies, and when he was young in Mosul, he exposed a Christian cleric, as he exposed the Muslim cleric who was the “Khan al -Rahma” managed, and he also exposed the lie of the presence of the jinn in the “garden of the jinn” in Mosul, when he was eight years old (p. 19).
and finally he refused to succumb to the myth of the “oblivion stone” which he carried, and to which he often resorted, by chewing it; Because an amulet, he believed, gave him false comfort and made him happy, when he finally decided to get rid of it and throw it into the river.
Thus the hero cuts off his connection with all that is superstitious, mythological and metaphysical.
The novel “The Stone of Happiness” by the novelist Azhar Zarzis is large in its content and connotations, and is rich in its varied narrative texture, thus it constitutes an important narrative achievement for the Iraqi novel.


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