Bakhtyar Ali’s political fairy tale “My uncle whom the wind took away”. – Culture

A number of Kurds were among the 27 refugees who drowned in the English Channel in November. And among those who continue to participate in the new year Border between Belarus and Poland endure in the cold, even the largest part comes from northern Iraq. The Kurdish population there has been living largely autonomously since 1992, when the USA imposed a no-fly zone. But the economic and political conditions are desolate. Two parties, backed by two clans, have divided the country between themselves. Two-thirds of all households live on the state, which pays irregularly; the ubiquitous corruption hinders the advancement of the able. It’s no wonder that young people from there try to make their way to Western Europe at any price.

If only they could fly like the hero in Bakhtyar Ali’s novel My Uncle Whom the Wind Took! It’s a fairy tale for a reason, a bitter one at that, and the special ability of its hero has a terrible reason: Djamschid was tortured so cruelly by henchmen of the Ba’ath regime that he lost weight radically – until every breath of wind could blow him away. His body, worn down by the pain, had sort of said goodbye. That was in 1979, one of the few precise dates in Bakhtyar Ali’s novel, which otherwise works with jumps – two years later, ten years later – and deals sparingly with concrete details from the story.

Because of Djamschid’s paper weight – “viewed from the side, he was no more than a line” – the head of the family puts two attendants, servants and guards at his side, who hold him to the ground with ropes. They are two cousins, the “most useless members of the family”; one of them, Salar, is the first-person narrator of the novel. Djamschid gets to know the advantages of flying, the distance to the misery on the ground, the “panoramic view” from above: “I see things as God sees them.” But soon others will profit from it. In the war with Iran, the Iraqi military forces him to fly reconnaissance flights over the front, he sees dead soldiers on both sides and, with his information, helps to ensure that there are even more. Soon shot down, the Iranians use him to arm their troops spiritually: they let Djamschid hover over them as an apparition of Imam Hussain, who promises them victory.

The Iraqi writer Bachtyar Ali has lived in exile in Germany for a long time

(Photo: picture alliance / Unionsverlag)

Again and again the “flying Kurd” returns to his home village in the mountains, tries to gain a foothold on earth and in life, and is carried away again. A marriage attempt ends unhappily; plundered, henpecked and cuckolded, he ends up with PKK partisans who are fighting against the Turkish army. Then a corrupt mullah uses him as an instrument – after all, Djamschid “saw God” during an ascent. He later made a career and a fortune as a smuggler, directing large groups of refugees across the Turkish-Greek border from the air. After a ten-year odyssey through the air, he ends up in the clutches of an Iraqi oligarch, who puts him in a clown costume for private amusement. The last stop is a Turkish amusement park, from which Salar frees him and brings him back home.

Bachtyar Ali, born in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1966, tells this story of constant rise and fall, both the literal and the metaphorical, at a brisk pace, his prose has seven-league boots, he does not bother with landscapes or psychological deep drilling. “My uncle who took the wind with him” is a picaresque novel in terms of episodic structure, except that this rogue is a passive hero, without wit, without vitality, without shrewdness, but surrounded by deep melancholy. With every crash, the “flying Kurd” loses his memory and his identity, the communist becomes a fundamentalist, the woman-understander becomes a brothel visitor, the philanthropist becomes a criminal: he founds a “covert news agency” and uses the results of his investigations (and his Insights into private affairs from above) in order to extort large sums of money. Djamschid is always on the move, the torture has robbed him of his identity, the political situation destroys all attempts to lead a decent existence.

Bakhtyar Alis "My uncle, who was blown away by the wind": Bakhtyar Ali: My uncle who was blown away by the wind.  Novel.  Translated from the Kurdish by Ute Cantera-Lang and Rawezh Salim.  Unionsverlag, Zurich 2021. 160 pages, 20 euros.

Bakhtyar Ali: My uncle who was blown away by the wind. Novel. Translated from the Kurdish by Ute Cantera-Lang and Rawezh Salim. Unionsverlag, Zurich 2021. 160 pages, 20 euros.

Bakhtyar Ali, who turns the wheel of fortune – as it could be called in Western literature – with a thoroughly narrative enthusiasm but with a deep pessimism about life, expands the symbolism of the fall of Djamschid. For him, the refugees he directs across the borders from the air are a “new nation,” and he himself is their prophet. The paradise sketched at one point in the book fulfills simple needs: a city with neat streets, “where the electricity would never go out and the water would never be turned off”. And there’s a candy store on every corner.

Some will have heard of Bakhtyar Ali; because the author, who has lived in exile in Germany since the mid-1990s, is a widely read man in his home country. With us you have been able to get to know him for several years through the commitment of the Zurich Unionsverlag and in this book in a competent translation from the Kurdish Sorani by Ute Cantera-Lang and Rawezh Salim: a writer who combines the political with the poetic to create a unique narrative language.

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