“The Musician of the Claude”

By Mohammad Aburumman

تم نشره في Thu 10 November / Nov 2016. 01:00 AM
  • Mohammad Aburumman

“Two cultures will collide and struggle in these lands, ferociously; art, which has been on the downfall since the beginning of Saddam’s wars, and the popular culture, which rejoices violence and bloodbath, soon to substitute the disintegrating, corroding, collapsed violent, authoritative state.”

Even though it is a light piece of literature; agile, with no more than 110 mid-sized pages, the novel, “The Musician of The Claude” (“Playing with the Clouds” or the “Cloud Musician”, roughly translated from the Arabic “Azif Al Ghoyoom”), by Iraqi novelist Ali Bader, does depict the identity crisis among Arab youth; contradictions, dreams, and fears, as well as their relentless dream of new horizons that do not exist in their countries; the dream of “immigration.”

On its internal cover, Bader describes his novel as a satire on thought, art, pornography, as well as the contradictions of politics, religion, and reality. And so it is; a fundamentally deep satire, as opposed to the sarcasm we are accustomed to. The story satirically ridicules Arab societies, by pointing to cultural, social, and psychological disparities in the Iraqi instance, for example, where religious extremism spreads in the aftermath of the fall of the authoritative dictatorship, while trivialising and making fun of the extreme right in the west, as well as of the Arab and Muslim communities there.

 The novel depicts the life of an Iraqi youth, named Nabil, who is in love with music, plays the cello, and sees the world through the lens of this passion that has taken over him, and has transformed him into a dreamy romanticist, immersed in western philosophy, and desperate of the reality of his Iraqi community. At one point, he could no longer adapt, after extremists broke his instruments to pieces and tried to enforce their fanatic lunacy against him, leading him to seek exodus by any means; smuggled, according to the story, to Belgium.

After arriving in Brussels, to Nabil’s shock, his idealistic image of the western Utopia, of which spoke Al Farabi, known in the West as Alpharabius, and envisioned similarly by a massive segment of Arab youth in the west now, driven by their fertile imagination on the western lifestyle, fuelled by movies and media, was not true.

Upon arrival, his first shock was, when he asks “Are we in Belgium?” finding that the majority of his neighbours were Muslims; Turks, Afghan, Arab, and Moroccans, and that these communities replicate themselves, and the lifestyle of Arab ones, the same community Nabil tried to escape, in Europe.

So, the young refugee meets a Belgian girl, and is then driven by his anger at the extremists among the Arab Muslim midsts in the west to supporting the ideas of the extremist Anti-Immigrant right in Belgium, and then to participating in an Anti-Muslim demonstration orchestrated by the far right. All the while spiritually vacant, confused culturally and psychologically, his identity is exposed to the protestors, and he almost loses his life when the demonstrators turned against him, were it not for the very Salafis he hated and avoided, who grabbed him from within the outraged crowds, and delivered him to safety. How pleasantly ironic!

Hence on, the novel has an indecisive open-ending. The main character is found in the end of the novel on his balcony, peeling an orange; which is a calculated close, similar to the ending of Ali Bader’s other Novel “The Infidel Woman”. And I think he is trying, by that, to say that these novels are part of a continuous present scene, in context with the extended, and current reality, where there is no need to fabricate endings for such complicated predicaments!

Ali Bader, who resides in Belgium, has a collection of important novels; chief among them are “Baba Sartre”, The Tobacco Keeper, and The Infidel Woman, and he is one of Iraq’s most prominent and creative novelists, who surpasses the perception of Arab literature being a story for pastime, to a reflective mirror on our culture, the novelist’s own philosophy, with much more to say for itself, stirring issues and shedding light on problems and social transformations.

Therefore, most of his novels address, deconstructively, the crisis of identity among the youth in both Arab and western communities, tangled up in the cultural struggle and the social division, including extremism, and the situation of the Arab and Muslim communities there; in the west.