“Wet Letters” by the Iraqi Nabil Jamil.. Arab lost love and the search for new homelands
The Iraqi novelist and storyteller Nabil Jamil brings back the features of love to the Arabic novel in his novel “Wet Letters” by making it the issue of the conflict around which the events of his novel and his perspective on human relations revolve.
Jamil turns the angle of view – in his new novel – towards an approach to a question that may seem self-evident: Do humans need love? The fact that the question is a natural thing, but the novelist wanted to make him a foothold in an attempt to displace the novelist ideas that fill the literary arena, by issuing novels that talk about wars, violence, blackness and gloom, as if pushing the Arab audience to search for a question: Is love absent from the Arabs?
In this novel, the author also tries to produce for us a broader space for this love, not satisfied with the Iraqi arena full of sadness, but expanded its area to include Arab countries, taking from Iraq and Morocco the wings of the map for the Arab world, with the existence of a relationship between an Iraqi poet and a Moroccan media person through their meeting at the Al-Mirbad poetic festival Known, the place and the conflict extended to Turkey, Greece, and between Jordan and Egypt.
A love story and a diaspora
Nabil Jamil, born in Basra in 1967, has published 3 short story collections: “The Farm Keeper” in 2005, “Climbing Down” in 2010, and “War Boy” in 2016.
He says of his novel that “the obsession of fear accompanied me with the adventure of writing my first novel amidst a huge number of Iraqi novels and big names.” He added that the idea took a long time and dealt with asking different questions because the idea of love was dominant over selection and treatment.
He defines these predictions about what happened in the Arab countries, which he called “the storm of the Arab Spring”, and the changes that occurred in the ruling regimes, and the resulting “dissonance between some countries”.
That is why the idea of love came to the contrary, as “there must be a love story that may contribute to the reunion of the diaspora, but I found the opposite, perhaps due to the social division of the Arab street among some due to the sedimentation of the past.
Regarding the novel’s characters and idea, Jamil said, “I chose the character (Khaled) from the east (Iraq, Basra) and (Aisha) from (Morocco, Agadir). Because this formed his method of writing the novel in order to blend human relations and make it the general dominant with a dramatic treatment, because I invested dialogue to convey the concerns of the two lovers and give an Arab character to the novel.
And about the details of the conflict, as the novel requires an act of conflict and drama, he said, “Khaled’s character made a double life in an internal conflict between the past of the Baath rule and the present of the rule of the parties after 2003 and the dream of escaping from Iraq, due to the despair of the previous and current governments.”
As for Aisha’s personality, she “had difficulty embodying the feelings of a lover from another country that differs in its social nature.”
The novelist has invested the feature of social communication to complement the dramatic fabric, saying, “I used Arab friends from Facebook to convert the standard language into the white Moroccan dialect, as well as in some psychological aspects that affect women frustrated with a failed love, and I also used a lot of sources interested in love letters.”
The novelist returns to talk about the idea of love, messages and the main title, saying that “Khaled was an opportunist trying to take advantage of Aisha’s kindness with his lengthy messages to dissolve her in the sea of love, and the purpose was to use her to escape from Iraq, during a period of time in which he felt as if there was a handcuff around his neck.”
He goes on to say that these messages “evolve and become more intimate, with allusions and agreement on marriage” in order for the hero to achieve his goal. The opportunity, as the novelist says, gives the hero “to leave Iraq after 15 years, with a raft smuggling operation with a number of people across the sea from Turkey to Greece, but the raft sinks and Khaled dies.”
As for the places included in the novel, it revolved around “Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey,” justifying the choice of the idea that love is a great need, but the changes that emerged in the Arab countries “were stronger than the success of love and its messages that remain moist.”
Messages and hints of love
The novelist, who published a critical book “The Eye of the Reader” in 2021, has a collection of short stories shared with other storytellers, “Cafe Memory / Narrative Players.” His story, “An Unfinished Moment,” won the first prize in the Arab magazine competition in cooperation with BBC Radio. In 2007, the story “Suffocation” was selected in the very short story book in Iraq in 2015.
The Iraqi critic Hamdi Al-Attar says that “the moisture that the title carried is not the moisture of the sea water that flooded it with the immigrants and touched the messages between him and Aisha, so they became wet. Rather, it is a moisture revealed by (Khaled and Aisha) in which it has bold overtones, as well as the need for true love that was destroyed by politics.”
He says of the narrator that he is credited with “his ability to grasp the different artistic format, present a documentary narrative structure and an intense infusion of information that makes the reader learn about the historical stage of the narrative, whether its topic is about love and what he suffers after the Arab Spring or the suffering that the Arab youth encounters.”
According to the critic, the novelist wanted to allude to the suffering of the Arab individual from the loss of his homeland with a love story that tries to quarrel with reality “through lost love as well.” At the end of the novel, he tells us that the hero “dreams of reaching Germany through Greece.” The critic takes a part of the novel that he thinks shortens the distances of understanding the novel; The writer says in it, “I am now in late September of 2015 writing the last lines of my novel, after that I wrap it (with a cellophane) and then put it inside a tight plastic bag, for fear of entering sea water and damaging it. I have a wish to publish it in Germany after accepting asylum.”
Al-Attar asserts that the narrator “has explosive energies that are not devoid of dramatic images that approach the language of cinema, and that the novel constitutes a rich experience that most Iraqis and Arabs have gone through.”