Biography follows Iraq's beloved poet

A glimpse into Iraq's not-too-distant past when the arts flourished and tables overflowed with food.

Iraq violence 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Iraq violence 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
"Nabeel's Song" - Jo Tatchell: Iraq: Soldiers. Brutality. War. Futility. Secrets. The images of the dusty, war-torn land are all too familiar. Fortunately, in the biography "Nabeel's Song," journalist Jo Tatchell gives readers a glimpse into Iraq's not-too-distant past when the arts flourished and tables overflowed with food. It was a time when well-worn paperbacks of Sartre and Shakespeare emerged from back pockets, tailors copied the latest fashions from Paris, and tradition and family blended seamlessly with an emerging world culture. In Nabeel Yasin and his family, Tatchell tenderly recounts the story of a lost Iraq. Yasin, who is perhaps Iraq's most loved poet, symbolizes a nostalgic vision of brotherhood and homeland, and represents, in his European exile, the cost of keeping such a vision alive. "Nabeel's Song," which follows him from his youth and early adulthood during turbulent Iraqi regimes through to his 1979 escape to Europe, is certainly a story of politics. Most of all, though, it is the story of a family and the lengths to which it goes to protect and nurture a son's call to write. During the early 1960s, Yasin watches as his two older brothers become entrenched in politics, frequently attending Communist demonstrations, reading Marxist books and helping to spread revolution. Because of their political activity, and later Nabeel's, the family endures constant questioning, threats and violence from police. One brother goes missing for weeks. He survives, but bears the physical evidence of imprisonment and torture under terrifying conditions by the Ba'athist National Guard. As Yasin sees those atrocities and his mother's struggle to keep control, he understands that ideas and writing - his writing - could have painful consequences. But he continues to write. It is a personally fulfilling act, the politics of which threaten not only his life, but the lives of those he loves. Tatchell does a remarkable job of conveying the political realities while never allowing them to overpower the Yasin family. Fear and the potential for loss simmer beneath the surface, but are kept from boiling over by Yasin's mother Sabria's belief that as long as they are true to themselves, her sons can do no wrong. For Yasin, who was declared an enemy of the state, being true to himself means accepting politics as a possible byproduct of his expression. With a prescient understanding of the conflict between the personal and political, Sabria cautions her son early on, "Whatever you may think of the world, little Nabeel, you cannot spend your life at odds with it. Think about those things you want to change, then speak. And before you do ask yourself if the results will be worth it." For a torn Yasin - representing a link to Iraq as a homeland, the place of his childhood, and living, breathing evidence that words can presevere through any persecution - we have to believe that they were.