During these months of living as a somewhat/sometimes hermit, I’ve tried to limit my stream watching to an hour or two at most each day. I’ve resisted binge watching for the most part. This past week, however, I must admit to binging on the Hulu six-part series “Baghdad Central.” After two episodes I was so intrigued that I went online to the public library to borrow an e-copy of the novel by Elliot Colla on which the series, of the same name, is based. I stayed up until 2 a.m. this morning to finish the novel, and this evening I just finished watching the last four episodes of the series. Like all true addicts I’m hoping for sequels and second seasons.
What grabbed me about the series was the way it showed the 2003 American invasion of Iraq from an Iraqi point of view. The main character in the novel and the series is Muhsin Kadr al-Khafaji, who had been an Iraqi policeman under Saddam, but is now out of work under the American occupation. Early on, a British official in the Coalition Administration asks Khafaji whether an American military police captain is an asshole or a prick. A few scenes later the American asks Khafaji the same question about the Brit. By that time the viewer has seen multiple instances of American soldiers and British mercenaries acting like assholes and pricks to helpless Iraqis. So the questions are an ironic self-commentary on the story.
What I realized quickly while reading the novel is that the Hulu series makes a number of changes in characters and plot. For instance, in the novel the MP and the CA official are both American. I have my theory as to why they made one a Brit, but I won’t spoil your enjoyment by stating it here. In fact, the series makes so many changes that it can be enjoyed after reading the novel as a different work of art.
Both novel and series are excellent works of art—well-written engaging, and thought-provoking. One aspect of Khafaji’s character that appears only in the novel is a love of Arabic poetry, probably a reflection of the fact that his creator is a professor of Arabic literature at Georgetown University. There are many passages where Khafaji quotes to himself lines of famous poems—famous in Iraq, but unfortunately not well-known in America. Also, many instances where Khafaji will quote a line of poetry and stop before the last word, challenging his daughter to supply the missing word. One time when Khafaji is visiting his daughter Mrouj in the hospital.
His daughter also challenges him in the same way. The novel ties Khafaji’s skill as a police investigator to his skill in explicating poems. These are some of the pleasures of reading the novel as well as watching the series. I am so glad that I found that line which is so relevant to what’s going on in the world today.
Time is only ever but borrowed, so take as much of its goodness as you can.