Muhsin al-Ramli remembers that as a young man he once told his father, an imam and a sheikh of tribe in Shirqat, the city where he was born, in northern Iraq, that he wanted to study theater. The idea did not like much, it was not useful. Al Ramli, sad, went to the banks of the Tigris River, to think about that. There he met a very good friend who asked him if he had read One hundred years of Solitude. Of course, he replied. And have you done it in its original version ?, he asked again. Al Ramli had not thought about it, but he got to it. This is how he began to learn Spanish, the language to which his latest work has now been translated. The president's gardens (Editorial Alliance), dedicated to his people, to his most recent history under the steel fist of that dictator whose name he prefers to avoid in order not to "stain" his writing. The president's name was Saddam Hussein and he was the one who ordered his brother to be hanged, the poet Hassan Mutlak, known as the Iraqi Lorca. Paradoxes of history, Husein ended his days in the same way.
The great story told by Al Ramli in his latest book, awarded the English Pen Award, begins on any given day in 2006. At dawn, nine boxes of bananas with nine heads appear on a street in Shirqat. "The story is real," says Al Ramli, 51, during a talk at Casa Árabe, in Madrid, "but it did not come out in the media, not even in the locals." I knew some of those neighbors beheaded. He sat down quickly to write and put the first sentence of his book. Already with the profile started, he devoted himself to talking with the old people of the place to be able to tell the guts of the story. "To not treat the victims as numbers."
His brother, Hassan Mutlak, was not a dead person either. He was a modernist poet, well regarded by the intellectuals of the famous Mutanabbi street, heart of culture in Baghdad. At age 29 he collaborated in a coup attempt against Husein. He failed and was sentenced to hang. He died on July 18, 1990. "When they killed my brother, I wanted to kill myself," recalls Al Ramli. He was older than him, his reference. But there was another option: "I decided," the writer continues, "that I could try to live twice as much". For him and his brother. And so he did.
That was the summer in which Husein sent his troops to invade Kuwait. Al Ramli was a tank chief near the Syrian-Turkish border. "With the death of my brother," he says, "I had no place in Iraq." He crossed to the south to Jordan, with $ 200 in his pocket and a degree in Hispanic philology. He worked in what he could until, in 1994, he decided to send the registration papers to the Autonomous University of Madrid. They caught him. Until today, his obsession was twofold: to be a writer and, at the same time, that his brother's work continued to be known. He collected his writings and has managed to publish five books under the signature of Hassan Mutlak. He is still the Iraqi Lorca, read in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon … "He has mixed his tragedy, that of a poet against a fierce dictatorship, with the fact that he is my brother". Now it is Al Ramli the reference.
The writer, professor in Madrid at the University of San Luis, has novels, poetry, stories and even a complete translation into Arabic of Don Quixote. He likes, it shows, what he has done. "They have come to compare me with García Márquez," he says of his latest work. Paradoxes of life. Those gardens of the president, rotten to death, something smell in their narration to the One hundred years of loneliness with whom Al Ramli started his idyll with Spanish. But he brings out more breast when, according to account, he reads in the press or someone tells him from his country that his last book is obligatory in some corners of the Iraqi Administration.
A story of double success that does not shake however the tragedy that persecutes Iraq. Al Ramli does not return there since 2012, the year in which his work began to be published, for fear of retaliation. The last and nonexistent war crisis has been lost, the one that represented and still does the Islamic State. It was they who killed a niece who worked as a teacher. Once again the dead of Iraq, with names and surnames, of which perhaps the author will write again. Your British publisher, MacLehose, he has asked you to send them the second part. "What for?" Asked Al Ramli. "Do not you want to earn money?" They replied from London.