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A tear for Kurdistan

Dead washer
Forfatter: Sara Omar
Forlag: Politikens Forlag (Danmark)
The Death Washer is a well-written and painful novel that continues the debate about circumcision and violence against women – and it deserves all the prizes it can get. 


It's the 10. August 2016. The Kurdish woman Frmesk – whose name means "tear" in Kurdish – is at the hospital Skejby hospital in Denmark and thinks back on her life. She has witnessed almost unbelievably cruel abuses against women, perpetrated by men who believe that according to the Qur'an, they can do whatever they want with the opposite sex.

Extremely bad men. The Kurdish people have repeatedly been subjected to attempts at purge and genocide, and the well-known Kurdistan gas attack ordered by Saddam Hussein in 1991 is included in the novel. Yet many of the Kurdish men themselves are abusers – in the name of Allah.

Framesk is subjected to sexual abuse from her childhood Quran teacher, She dares not say it to anyone, because women's purity means everything. Fremesk still seems a little traumatized for everything she has been through, and even though her body is damaged, her mind is intact. She thinks back to the young girl Khanda, who, at thirteen years old, had the virgin skin destroyed after a bike ride. The abuse committed by Khanda's father against his daughter in the name of Allah because of this incident is almost indescribably cruel. This portrayal opens the novel.

The novel makes a deep impression by virtue of both its strong theme and its safe and poetic language.

Many of the men in this book are extremely bad people and have no respect for women. They are cowardly, too, because they do not help during the attacks against their own people. They thank Allah as long as the attacks do not affect them themselves, while planning the killings and rapes of defenseless women. Khanda is killed by her own father, and the mother sets fire to herself after the wrongdoing. No one dares to intervene, and the father's actions have no legal consequences. Honor and shame mean everything, justice means nothing.

Islam-criticism. At the hospital, Frmesk talks, among other things, with the nurse Darya, who is also Kurdish. Frmesk is very critical of the Quran's message, while Darya is more open to the fact that it can also contain beautiful parties. Frmesk is a socially conscious woman who loves books and watches television a lot. Her way of life is far from broken despite all the cruel things she has experienced. But she hates and despises the Qur'an, and she hates and despises those who act slavishly according to its commandments.

This is a novel written with clarity, although it also has many poetic qualities. The language is colorful and metaphorical, and probably profoundly characterized by the language of the Qur'an. The many conversations about religious upbringing and medical research help to give the novel a political perspective.

In Turkey, the Kurds have been under attack from both IS and the Turkish authorities, and as is well known, Erdogan has on several occasions used IS as a pretext for attacks on the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). In other words, the novel lacks timeliness.

It is also a uniquely Quranic and Islam-critical novel, and the criticism is direct and ruthless. Frmesk is obviously the author's voice, and the text is like a ramshackle against Islam.

Colorful and flight-proof. A minus about the novel is that I do not know enough about the reason why Frmesk is in the hospital. What happened to her? However, let me say that this is a novel that makes a deep impression – by virtue of both its strong theme and its safe and poetic language. The book is also very well structured. We move effortlessly back and forth in time, while the novel's quilt-like structure is stitched together into a colorful and fluid work as I read.

In chapter two, Frmesk is born, and she is an extraordinary girl. She both looks different and is different. She is born almost without hair – she only has a white hair in the middle of her head. Frmesk is thin, weak and ill, but still the grandmother insists that she be circumcised – something the mother fears could lead to the daughter's immediate death. Several of the male family members want to get rid of her. The father is deeply disappointed to have had another girl, and devises different ways to get rid of her.

Fermesk is set aside for the grandmother and the grandfather for a while after birth, and these wise and brave grandparents are the highlights of this novel. The grandmother is dead-washed and takes care of women killed in disgrace and shame – those that no one else wants to bury. In particular, one is fond of the wise, well-read and enlightened grandfather Darwesh, who believes that learning to knit socks is more useful than learning the Qur'an by heart. He is not a Muslim, but a Zarathustrian – he even believes in soul migration. The grandfather is such a highly respected man that despite his differing views he does not need to fear for his life. Neither does the grandmother in spite of her death-washing power.

The main character Frmesk hates and despises the Qur'an and all those who act slavishly according to its commandments.

Thanks to his grandfather, Frmesk becomes a very well-read and inquisitive person. Despite this, her existence is constantly threatened because she is a woman in a world that considers women as commodities – until she comes to Denmark.

Strong and scaling. The paradox is that the novel is both about the Kurds' vulnerable situation and about male Kurds who commit serious abuse against Kurdish women. Being a victim in one situation does not mean that you cannot be an abuser in another.

The novel makes a strong impression. It is like an open window to a wicked and dangerous world, and it is a strong testimony of a world of chaos – with air strikes, gas attacks and gruesome sexual assaults as part of the ingredients. For anyone who believes that a novel should help change the world, this is an absolutely right book.

I feel confident that this novel will attract a lot of attention in Norway as well. It is interesting, well written, dramatic and deeply human in a hurtful and outrageous way. And not least, the portrait of Frmesk makes a scathing and lasting impression.

Henning Næs
Henning Næss
Literary critic in MODERN TIMES.

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