Book Thoughts: I Stared At The Night of The City by Bakhtiyar Ali

Ghazalnus was someone who wanted to live at both ends of the imagination and the truth. He wanted to swim in the imagination even as he bathed in truth. When he lived the extremes of beauty, mystery and all the vividness of the imagination, he wanted to see the extreme bitterness and bleakness of reality, it’s ability to kill life

I Stared At The Night of The City by Bakhtiyar Ali

I make no assertion to doing justice to the literary values of Ali’s novel, this blog post serves as a snapshot of what struck me from his work, coming from my individual rather than a literary critic’s perspective.

When I first came across this novel in my research on the plight of the Kurdish people it disturbed me that this was the first novel written in the Kurdish language to be translated into English- in only 2016! Published originally as Ghazalnus w Baghakani Khayal ( Ghazalnus and the Gardens of Imagination), this translation holds immense power as a piece of Art which articulates the ‘panorama of a society scarred by history’ of a peoples whose culture has been victim of silencing historically and in the present.

“From my travels across the imaginary map, I came to realise that there are two types of cities in the world. The first are those you cannot penetrate. Even when you’ve entered this type of city, you are always on the outside, constantly circling its walls. You are always at a distance, never crossing its threshold. The other type, meanwhile, you can never leave. Once you enter, you remain imprisoned there forever. Wherever you go, you are still there. You might combine it with other cities or make it part of bigger ones. You can add cities to it, like adding another layer to a cake, but you can’t get away.”

I Stared At The Night of The City by Bakhtiyar Ali

But viewing the novel through the lens of solely a political commentary of the Kurdistan region, whilst valid, I feel detracts from the artifice of Ali’s work. By blending Magical Realism and Postmodernist ideas, he layers ellipses of plot linking them with theme, character, and time to create an absorbing narrative bursting with a fecund variety and depth in his exploration of philosophical ideas. Every reader, arrives with their own perspective and takes something different from this elegiac novels which emanates echoes of Marquez’s ‘One-Hundred Years of Solitude’ .

“All this eating meant that people forgot to water their gardens; the city dried up, and the tree suffered from unusual diseases. Everywhere sumptuous dinners were presented, and dinner mats laid upon the floor. Wherever Trifa looked, she noticed this culture of gluttony. People didn’t talk to one another, they ate each other up; Young men didn’t love young women , they devoured them; wives didn’t love their husbands, they feasted on them; vendors ate their customers and customers their vendors”

I Stared At The Night of The City by Bakhtiyar Ali

I sense no central action in this novel, rather numerous plots with a milieu of characters orbiting around the essence of Ali’s novel – the exploration of the intersection of reality with the imagination. Mirroring the effervescent nature of political and personal realities, through the structure of his novel and the symbolic characterization of its actors, Ali’s novel observes a reality- Kurdish and Human. He preserves human confusion, with a heavy hearkening to Sufi and mystical imagery and convention, in his observations set in a world so similar to our own yet so far away.

‘I Stared At The Night Of The City’, has left an indelible mark on the way I perceive the world, and I believe it shall remain one of my favorite books for quite some time. I hope to return to it, months or years down the line and see which circle I latch onto and whether the themes and ideas which resonate most deeply with me change. I find it is a book rooted in dynamism depicting a stagnant wold.

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