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Book Review: Journey through Iraqi culture

14th May 2021
Book Review: Journey through Iraqi culture

Pomegranate by Weam Namou, Hermiz Publishing, Paperback, 2021. £10.84

Assimilation after migration is a sticky, long, drawn-out affair. The emotions of nostalgia, desire to integrate, and discomfort of not being able to do so cannot be articulated in a book of history. These human stories with their wide array of emotions can only be captured in works of fiction. Weam Namou, in her book, Pomegranate attempts to do just that.

This book is about Niran, a young Iraqi Muslim who has moved to the US. As an aspiring writer and poet, each scenario has her penning a few lines, which she uploads on Facebook live. In an attempt to acquire the character depth, Niran compares herself to the famed priestess of ancient Mesopotamia, Enheduanna, the first recorded writer in history – Namou’s claim, not mine.

“(Niran) believed that the world needed the wisdom of women rulers so that it could rest and heal from the cycles of invasions, warmongering, and aggression it had experienced for thousands of years. She wished that men would take their tribal laws and bul***it, and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine”. (p140)

This reference to ancient history is also common ground between the families of Niran, a Muslim Iraqi, and Mary her neighbour who is a Christian Iraqi. They delve into their differing opinions on work, on the hijab and politics but at vulnerable moments in the story of the two parties, their reactions are very similar. When displaying anger, both sets of mothers throw their shoes at their offspring. At times of worry, both families break bread to resolve and overcome adversities.

Pomegranate is a nostalgic piece of writing with its relentless references to Iraqi foods and menus. The profuse consumption of sunflower seeds and how the garage is used as a kitchen is a nod towards the norms of the Iraqi immigrant population in the US.

Niran, saving a little of sand from Iraq, is a heart-rending action to remind her of the homeland that she has left behind. Straddling two cultures, she finds herself with a compelling opinionated mother, who is adamant to continue their Iraqi ways, which is at odds with her own desire to assimilate into her new homeland. She states, “…it was humanity one searches for in times of need, not religion, or anything else”. (p75)

As people of colour, we, like everyone else, are susceptible to colonial ways of thinking simply because not enough time has elapsed since its demise. Pomegranate quite often leaned into prose that reflected a Huntington – esque sort of writing hinting towards a clash of civilisations between Muslim and Christian factions.

That Niran and her family had to be assisted and rescued by their Christian neighbours’ feeds into this power imbalance, which is highly detrimental to our community. Although Namou tries bridging the gap by introducing (numerous) love interests between the two families, I was left feeling uncomfortable by the sentiments expressed in its storyline.

Pomegranate by Weam Namou is a quick read. It traces the journey of Niran as she finds her place in her new homeland, but it felt like her successful self-empowerment was still being defined by colonial standards of female emancipation. It provides a fascinating insight into the food and culture of Iraq. As a foodie myself, I wish it gave more descriptions, or better still recipes of the dishes that were mentioned in the book. All in all, it has not been one of my favourite reads, but some works of fiction showcasing the diversity within us, are better than none.

Aasiya I Versi

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