Brendan's Reviews > My Father's Rifle: A Childhood in Kurdistan

My Father's Rifle by Hiner Saleem
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Jun 16, 07


There’s no arguing that Hiner Saleem, a filmmaker living in Paris and writing in French, is a wonderful storyteller. In the 99 pages of his new memoir, My Father’s Rifle: A Childhood in Kurdistan, he manages to pack in Saddam Hussein, Richard Nixon, and Henry Kissinger; a troubled adolescence, girls, and cigarettes; war, art, and pomegranates. (Lots of pomegranates.) Characters deliver harangues on Kurdish history, Kurdish independence, and Kurdish worthlessness; they deliver harangues on Iraqi history, Iraqi independence, and Kurdish worthlessness. Seven members of his extended family are murdered by page 6, and by the end, we have witnessed our hero’s white-knuckled flight to Syria.

His writing voice is clipped and memorable, as if the ghost of Raymond Carver had been leaning over his shoulder with a red pen -- pppht, pppht -- crossing out all the adjectives and adverbs. It's the sort of voice that keeps poking you in the back. Like the boy pictured on the book’s cover (yes, that’s Saleem), it’s straight-faced but mischievous. It knows more than it says. And, in the way it conflates the personal and historical, giving us one life, wrapping it up, and then giving us another, all the while managing to shoehorn a thousand years into a couple quick paragraphs, it calls to mind another literary influence: Ivo Andric. In The Bridge on the Drina (1945), the Bosnian writer planted his feet on another patch of unusually contested ground and, with great wit and irony, reeled in generation after generation. Unfortunately, though, Saleem doesn’t have the ambition of the Nobel Prize-winner. That in itself is hardly a crime, but neither does he have the insight or the wisdom.
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