Beyond Trauma: The Interplay between Memory, History, and Contemporaneity in Sinan Antoon’s Ya Maryam


This paper discusses Sinan Antoon’s novel Ya Maryam and its representation of contemporary Iraq in the wake of the tragic events that took place after the American occupation of Iraq in 2003. It sheds light on the sectarian crisis and the violent and atrocious events that turned Iraq into a minefield. The novel is more descriptive than prescriptive, not only allowing us to see the gloomy and violent reality of the present but also the tolerant past through the interplay between memory, history, and contemporaneity. Drawing on Pierre Nora’s conceptualization of memory and moving beyond the opposition between history and memory, we argue that Antoon’s use of intimate places and photographs allows him to bring both history and memory together as complementary records of the modern history of Iraq and as witness to that history. Through the generation gap between an uncle and his young niece, Antoon brings together Iraq as a single unified country through the reconciliation of past Iraq portrayed through the uncle’s memory and present Iraq as seen in the eyes of the niece. This reconciliation aims to solidify the meaning of national identity that transcends religion and time and confirms the Iraqiness of all Iraqis. Though the novel ends graphically and tragically with the death of its main protagonist, Yousef, the trauma of his loss allows for the transformation of his niece and ends with the confirmation that Iraq is for all Iraqis irrespective of ethno-religious identity.


Yousef Hamdan and Duaa Salameh


history, Iraq, memory, photograph, religion, Sinan Antoon, Ya Maryam