We will be launching my latest novel ‘A Sane Asylum’ at Waterstones Nottingham on June 15th starting at 6.30 pm. I will be in conversation with Eve Makis. ‘The Spice Box Letters’, her award-winning novel, explores the effects of the Armenian genocide. The fictional paths of both writers cross in Eastern Turkey. We will be discussing a journey I made to Iraqi Kurdistan just after the First Gulf War in 1992. I went at the invitation of a colleague and under the notional protection of the new leader of Kurdistan. They were delayed. I went in alone.
I was working as a Writer in Residence in a private school in Surrey when a fellow teacher, an army reservist newly returned from war, dropped his service revolver in my lap and asked me to keep it safe for fear he might use it. On himself. I had no idea what horrors his tormented eyes had witnessed but once I had glimpsed some of what he had seen, once I began to understand the urgency of his need, I readily helped his cause with my only weapon – words.
He told of the Kurdish exodus into the mountains between Iraq and Turkey, the fleeing refugees hounded by Saddam Hussein’s helicopter gunships. The ‘Safe Haven’ had halted the killing but now, in their lack of wisdom, the UK and US protection was to be removed. A resigned commission, television, radio, newspaper even Readers Digest, created a kind of fame and promoted his cause
Originally I was writing a factual piece, reporting back to the BBC World Service. ‘Going In’ went to be published but was set aside as Iraq had fallen out of the news. A number of years later I was encouraged by a news-aware agent to turn the work into a fiction. The plight of the Kurds and this disturbed region is very much in the news now. I hope this novel will offer some understanding of the complex politics of the region as played out in the lives of ordinary people as well as their leaders. It is not simply a political adventure but looks at the ideas of asylum, of refuge, of madness itself.
The world that ‘A Sane Asylum’ portrays is viewed at street level in the bustling cities or in the mountains, amongst the people and their private places. Joe, the
narrator, goes to a wedding, visits a Women’s Group, and talks to his
cook and housemates as well the country’s new leaders in their fledgling
Parliament. He is a reluctant hero. Cynical, realistic, too experienced to hope, he nevertheless goes in search of a missing Kurdish minister at the behest of an anxious wife and her beautiful daughter, acknowledging that what he has agreed to do is impossible. But then, he was hoping to find a sane asylum for himself as he comes to terms with the loss of his mother, wife – his sanity. The quotation that begins the novel, Ezra Pound’s assertion ‘I will not go mad to please you’ is also Joe’s. Ezra ended up in an asylum, Joe in a cell.
The reader experiences the beauty of the vast open spaces, the yellow
mountains and borderless deserts that constitute this Bible land. The
day-to-day struggle to exist is set against the high politics of the
American and British governments. This story is mostly true; the places, the politicians and major players are all real. You could still smell the aftermath of war, with a burnt out tank around most corners, every bridge and telephone mast flattened,
a whole country reduced to ruin.