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Drömmar i vaket tillstånd Nasser Naje Lazem, Drömmar i vaket tillstånd (Dreaming While Awake)

Hoi Förlag,  2016.

Reviewed by Marie Andersson in SBR 2016:2

Review Section: Fiction - Adult

Ask me what kind of book I like best, and I say a true story that is engaging, moving and exciting, with real, interesting characters that I want to follow on their journey; in which language flows beautifully and makes me smile; in which I learn something new and recognise something familiar; which I cannot tear myself away from, yet want to savour, and therefore ration. Drömmar i vaket tillstånd is such a book, and I could cut this review short by simply saying: if you read only one book this year, make it this one!

Nasser Naje Lazem was born in Baghdad in 1984 and spent his childhood not knowing if tomorrow would come at all. War is ever-present in his autobiographical novel, both as mortal danger from bombs and mines and in the constant struggle for daily necessities. His family belongs to a religious minority group, and the four children quickly learn the cruel consequences of ignorance, intolerance and ingrained hatred for those outside social norms. Their mother’s love is total, but governed by a weak psyche and an emotional spectrum ranging from extreme acts of violence to warmest affection. Violence also becomes a language, relief and guideline for the children, a desperate way of coping in a world of fear, threats and uncertainty.

But in the midst of this turbulence, there is a solid rock, a source of love, wisdom, strength and inspiration. Someone who is admired and respected; a man who fights tirelessly for justice and freedom in a country that he loves more than anything, though he is imprisoned and tortured time after time; the father whose name means ‘must survive’.

And Nasser is his eldest son and spitting image, his absolute pride and joy. This legacy is both the boy’s most precious gift and his heaviest burden. Nasser idolises his father, yearns to be like him, and knows that he must honour his given name – ‘victory’ – and his position. He trains himself to be strong and to conceal emotion, fear and childish traits behind a shield of calm indifference. He lets his mind escape into dreams, fantasies of a place with no war, violence or struggle, where children of all faiths and cultures play safely in the street. He knows there are such countries, where relatives have gone to live. And he yearns and aches for such a place. But his father will not abandon the beloved country which he has fought so hard to liberate. It takes an ultimate family catastrophe for the long journey towards a safe haven to begin.

Can anyone who has not been born into war, violence and intolerance as daily ingredients of life grasp what it must be like? Probably not. But Nasser Naje Lazem’s debut novel makes it as tangible as if the reader were next to the two young brothers, both under ten, as they pick their way through a minefield in search of water or firewood. Through the stories his parents tell and the games the children play, he shows us that love, hope, poetry and joy persist even at the bleakest of times.

Nasser came to Sweden when he was thirteen. Today, as a social worker, he tackles the various problems facing young people. He spent four years writing the first book in a prospective trilogy about love, the struggle to survive and the constant dream of escaping a world of oppression and discrimination, hatred and intolerance, using the poetic language that was created as a political code. With this book, Nasser has fulfilled his dream and promise to his father, and he is now working on the second part. This extremely timely book reminds us why people flee their countries and what happens if we let ignorance and intolerance guide our minds and close our hearts. It will touch and move everyone. And so it should.

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