Interview with longlisted author Ali Ghadeer
When did you begin writing Swastika and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I started to write the first chapter at the end of 2011, in preparation for taking part in the third "nadwa" [writers' workshop] of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. But I delayed completing it until 2013 because of personal circumstances. I couldn't come up with the needed money to print and publish it, but it so happened that Dar Sutur publishing house announced a competition, "The Baghdad Prize for the Iraqi Novel", and they agreed that the novel could compete as a manuscript, so I submitted it and was fortunate to win the prize, and the publishing house paid to have it printed.
The inspiration for it came from two sources: the first was my awareness of and belief in the theory of attraction, which holds that a person can draw from the universe whatever he thinks deeply about, whether it is something useful or harmful. From this comes the saying: "Believe that good will happen and you'll find it." I think that - according to the theory - the end of the saying is: "be pessimistic about harm happening and you will find it." The second source was my study of the life of an Iraqi politician with a bad reputation, who even today is manipulating the destiny of the nation and the people. His roots are in a rural environment close to mine, which made it easier for me to know his motives and deduce how he would act. Ordinary people also talk a lot about what he is up to. Here I had to relate familiar information in a way which would grip the reader, make him compare it with what he knows, and end up satisfied with what he has read.
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
It took more than two years to write and I was living in Kirkuk when I began it. Then I received death threats because of my writings calling for freedom of thought and women's emancipation. This forced me, on 15th November 2012, to move to Irbil, which was relatively safe. After settling down there, I was able to finish the novel.
How have readers and critics received it?
I am fairly sure that readers have received it well. No-one has either hinted at or said anything negative directly. As one critic stated, it is the first novel to take a neutral stance towards the former head of state. It neither praised nor criticised him. This may be the main reason for everyone's good reception of it. I didn't expect so many of the critics to be so positive, especially since I am new to the Iraqi and Arab fiction scene, so I was amazed by that.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
It is a novel which deals with the role of men of religion in distorting religion to further their own interests, and their limiting of women's freedom. I'll use a real person from history as a central focus of the novel, Qurratu al-'Ayn, the scholar who is considered an important symbol of the Babi religion. She is the first woman who unveiled publicly in the nineteenth century, revealing her dazzling beauty. This led to her being killed by the authorities and men of religion.
(Read this interview in Arabic here)