I hadn’t heard much about this memoir; it kept appearing on the front of my Kindle and I was intrigued enough to buy it.
I quite like going into a book blind, not being entirely sure what expect or whose voice I’m going to get. That’s what happened with I’m in Seattle, where are you? A story that’s at times brutal and heart breaking but leaves you with hope.
“The world still overflows with the goodness of humanity and with souls who open the windows of their spirit to fill their interior peace with distant vistas, because compassionate hearts are a power.” Mortada Gzar
Mortada Gzar grew up in Basra as a gay man in a culture and regime that punished LGBTQ+ people and treated them as criminals.
As the US occupation rages on, Mortada has an encounter with an African American soldier, Morise, and falls in love.
Mortada eventually arrives in the US in 2016 – on election day – in Seattle he searches for Morise.
This is his story.
Firstly, it’s written very differently, Mortada writes as though he’s telling his story to another person (I’ll admit, it did take some getting used to in places), moving back and forth between his life growing up in Iraq and his life in Seattle. This style probably won’t be suited to everyone, personally I liked the fact the narrative zig zagged between the past and present.
I was fascinated by his years in Iraq – before, during and after the 2003 war – he talks about being a teenager and being arrested for being gay, seeing other men murdered for the same thing. He must hide who is to stay alive and avoid the brutalities of the Baath party and fundamentalists.
He talks about his life collecting scrap metal in the desert – left behind from previous battles. How it helped his family, the people he met there and became friends with. How he’d find any way he could to write – collecting the colour from ice pops to use as ink.
How reading helped him during his time in prison, how his father smuggled him books, first the Quran and then others disguised as the Quran. How he and his cellmate – a friend he met collecting scrap metal – would share books during the long, dark hours locked up.
He details his time at the University of Baghdad where he studied engineering. It was his father’s dream for him to succeed and have a well-paid career and for him to be safe. He’s still hiding his identity, trying to fit in, in his (multiple) dorms and trying to survive.
It’s at university where he meets Morise. It’s love at first sight and it’s dangerous for them both.
As their relationship grows and flourishes, Morise tries to convince Mortada to leave Iraq, to join him in Seattle and build a life together. Mortada’s reluctant and the two are separated.
He beautifully and honestly depicts life in Iraq, explaining the prejudices and threats he faces as a Gay man and the prejudices in society – how he’s looked down on because he’s from the south (his father works on his accent with him before he moves to Baghdad).
Of course, he faces prejudice in Seattle too, he arrived at a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric had formed a huge part in Trump’s election campaign, but he’s also able to be open about his sexuality and who he is.
In Seattle he finds a community waiting for him, friends, love, and support.
There were parts that I struggled to follow (that could be down to the translation) but I enjoyed reading a memoir from a different voice. It was a fascinating insight into his life and it’s a story that does show that there is still a lot of good in the world, people do care and compassion exists.
It’s a story of self-discovery, it’s about Mortada claiming his identity and of course it’s about love and loss.
He’s desperate to find the love of his life – no spoilers on that front – but throughout it all he’s finding himself too; by telling his story Mortada is trying to understand himself and his past.
A great read!
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm