Nabeel's Song

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 May, 2007, 12:00am

Nabeel's Song

by Jo Tatchell

Sceptre, HK$132

Iraqi poet Nabeel Yasin fled his country in 1979, leading his wife and son to Beirut, then Paris and Prague in search of work, before finally stopping in London. He has said 'the experience of being an exile permeated everything, excluding me from language, making me a stranger'. Declared an 'enemy of the people' by Saddam Hussein in 1978, he knew it was time to go when, summoned to a meeting at the headquarters of the secret police, a revolver was pressed to his temple and his interrogator asked: 'Tell me, poet. Your poems, your stupid words, are they worth more than 14 fils?' - the price of a bullet. Nabeel kept writing his poems and, unknown to him, they were smuggled into Iraq, where 'Brother Yasin' became a symbol of resistance and a Shiite hero. Nabeel's Song, by British journalist Jo Tatchell, is a two-part account of the poet's life before exile and afterwards. It has been called memoir, but that's not accurate, with Tatchell taking considerable licence in an effort to sustain a somewhat overly dramatic narrative. She is good on Iraqi culture, however, and Nabeel's story largely tells itself.