- Kani Xulam, @AKINinfo, runs the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN)
Adlai Stevenson, two-time candidate for president of the United States, was fond of quipping that for the Americans every question must have an answer and every story a happy ending.
In his first novel,“The Mountains We Carry,” Zaid Brifkani may not have an answer to the question that is on every Kurd’s mind—When will we be free? —But his novel by him does have a happy ending!
With majestic Kurdish mountains serving as a background, the tale tackles the most consequential event in Kurdish history: their crippling encounter with a madman in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein.
He gasses them just because he can.
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‘The tale is perennial’
Unelected Kurdish men with big guns and bigger dreams have taken on successive governments in Baghdad—and other capitals, too—for the emancipation of Kurds and the liberation of Kurdistan.
They fight well but lack the tools to prevail against cruel governments that have tanks, fighter planes and poison gas in their arsenals.
Maybe that is why Brifkani’s protagonist, Azad, is hellbent on acquiring an education. The real freedom, he seems to imply, is not territorial, but in the mind.
But that precious pursuit is interrupted when war shatters Azad’s known world and separates him from his family. No one should go through such an ordeal, but when poison gas saturates the air, one has to run for dear life to the higher grounds—the mountains.
The first part of the book is about Azad and his brother. They think they can run from Saddam Hussein but are caught and brought to Nizarki Fort in Dohuk—in the Kurdish heartland—to be bussed to the killing fields of Iraq.
On the way, they meet a 13-year-old boy, Raqeeb. He wants to know if he will be able to play marbles at their next destination.
The second part recounts what happens to the women in Azad’s family. It is the most riveting part of the book. With their men dead or behind bars, is the Middle East safe for the female Barwaris?
Alas, it isn’t.
A note to the lovers of literature: Oscar Wilde is right, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Juwan, Azad’s fiancée, may go through hell on earth, but she outlasts death and, in her daughter de ella, walks tall and stoops to help others as well.
A note about the author: Zaid Brifkani and his loved ones, Kurdistan’s “exports” to the United States, didn’t just show up with their clothes on their backs. They also brought their Kurdish mountains—saturated with blood, pain and suffering—as their luggage.
If Kurds were free, like the Swiss, they would have turned their mountains into money making ski resorts. Unfree, the mountains have come to serve as hiding places or props in their tales.
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Brifkani knows how to tell a tale
Zaid Brifkani, as my fellow Kurds are fond of saying, is our precious Kurdish gift to the people of Tennessee.
If you happen to visit Dr. Brifkani at night, you will find him writing into the wee hours of the morning on his computer. During the day, he serves the medical needs of his beloved Tennesseans.
The Volunteer State happens to host the largest Kurdish population of America.
A note to Zaid Brifkani: Thank you for being an extraordinary role model in deed as well as in person for our Kurdish youth. You turn coal into diamond and freedom into miracle—show a way out for the Kurds to rise above their less than savory predicaments.
Kani Xulam, @AKINinfo, runs the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN)