Author Hadiya Hussein portrays power of humanity in the face of devastation

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CHICAGO: Set at the end of the Iran-Iraq war is author Hadiya Hussein’s “Waiting for the Past,” a tale that follows a woman searching for the man she loves. In an Iraq that is suffering from endless war, Narjis is stuck in a loveless marriage when she decides to leave her husband in Baghdad and look for Yusef Hassan Omran, her childhood sweetheart who has vanished.

Translated by Barbara Romaine in late 2022, this is a story about loss, community, and the pockets of hope one finds in others when they share tragic pasts.

Narjis travels from Baghdad to Khanaqin when she receives news that Yusef Hassan Omran might be alive. With that sliver of hope, she takes great risks to find him. Narjis knows she will leave behind scandal and cruel rumors with a husband who is unaware of her plan, but with nothing to lose, she will follow a dream that never materialized. Under a regime that does not hesitate to persecute people and communities, Narjis makes her way north.

Along the way, she meets Umm Hani who is also searching for someone. The women are kept safe by a Kurdish family while a secret network dedicated to finding lost loved ones helps them. Disappearance, exile, and death have become commonplace since the regime took over and no household or family is safe — Umm Hani points out that from the beginning of time, “goodness has been sacrificed to evil.” Between Narjis’s loss and the horror stories about Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign against Iraqi Kurds in 1998, Hussein’s tale teeters between devastation and optimism, moving forward with the wounds of the past, reconciling that life is tragic with moments of beauty.

In an atmosphere that is thick with distrust and death, the kindness of strangers unites a nation’s people. When politics work against everyone, it is humanity and love for one another that helps people move forward and build a future. Hussein’s short yet powerful novel brims with loss and resilience from Baghdad to Sulaymaniyah as her characters fight against the wars, the tyrannical regime and the eventual invasion and occupation of Iraq by American forces. Hussein’s power lies in her ability to write of humanity and relationships that remind readers of the determination of the human spirit.