25.02.2009

Das dunkle Schiff (The Dark Ship)

Sherko Fatah
Sherko Fatah - Das dunkle Schiff

Novel

A young Iraqi falls among holy warriors and flees to Germany. A wisely written tale of adventure, which shows the suspense of a small life being swept up in the cataclysm of change.

The novel tells the story of young Kerim, a cook by profession, who sets out on a difficult and dangerous journey to Europe from the borderlands of Iraq. Obsessed from an early age by the idea of transforming himself, he also has other reasons for his escape, as he had fallen among the holy warriors and traveled the country with them until renouncing their chosen path of violence. Kerim, who tries to start a new life in Germany, is unable to shake off his past, although he finds affection and even his first love in this foreign country – instead, the past seems to be confronting him all the time.

This novel is not about Islam, but about extremism in its many manifestations, about its seductive power and the consequences. Extremism is not born in somebody’s mind, but in the circumstances of real life. Thus, Kerim’s story is that of a small, concrete life exposed to great changes, and his spiritual as well as his real adventures are not as extraordinary as they may seem to Europeans. Many have set out as he did, many have been ensnared as he was, and if not always for understandable reasons, then at least in a manner that even the best news images cannot show us.

Prologue

It was a summer’s day, hot, but so windy that one didn’t really notice. The shadows of clouds raced darkly over the plains and slopes, like blimps soaring through the dark-blue sky. It might have been the most beautiful day of his life, not because of the soft light and the gentle wind, but because on this late day which was passing away lazily, for the first time he felt the profound calmness that beauty gives, and also learned its futility.

At this time of the year, the old women went out to gather healing herbs. They knew when to go out to a special place to find certain plants. They did not have to go far, just up the hills. There he saw them, a small crew following the not quite overgrown paths as they had done so many times before. They were talking and laughing loudly: out here, they were finally amongst themselves, far away from rooms and rules for a few hours. If they had looked around, they too would have noticed the untouchability of the wild grasses, the umbels and the warm stones. But they swung their baskets, and their colorful dresses fluttered in the air; they were too intent on each other. He almost envied them the unreflecting way they were set into the day, which spread around them like a huge open window. He went after them when they disappeared behind the hills, just to keep seeing them, tiny figures, but not lost, and stopped when he reached the top of the hill. He no longer felt the isolation out here, the rough wasteland; instead he saw the landscape like an open hand. His was breathing heavily. I am still a child, he thought briefly, my lungs are not wide enough for this day. And even if they were, he sensed, I could never enter it far enough.

The women had spread out in the distance and begun to gather herbs. Like a weak echo that the rocks swallowed rather than reflected, the noise arose. It was a helicopter, illuminated by the late light which even made its camouflage paint look cheerful. He shaded his eyes with his hand and looked up. He saw the main and the rear rotor and heard the swelling thunder. But nothing, not even this machine, was able to disturb the deep peace that lay over the hills. The helicopter passed, came back and circled above him in a wide arc. At the open side hatch, two soldiers kneeled, and one of them waved to him. Anything could happen on this day, and so he waved back without fear. The helicopter went its way and sank down to the ground with an unreal slowness. He had felt the secret child’s wish, and now it was coming true; it was landing – far away, but it was landing. Maybe they will take me with them, was his next thought, maybe I can fly with them.

He started to run, waving and shouting; there were sharp-edged stones and thistle bushes in his way, but nothing made him stumble and nothing stung him. Far ahead of him, the helicopter was clouded in whirling dust; dry blades of grass sailed through the air. It’s too far, I can’t make it, he thought when he saw the two soldiers jump out and run over to the women in a crouch. The women had put down their baskets, laid their hands on their hips or at their foreheads, and looked towards the men. He saw how the men drove them towards the helicopter, saw it vaguely through the dust, and then he stopped. I can’t make it, he thought again with regret, but he was consoled by the fact that it had happened at all, this completely extraordinary thing. He stood and saw them lift off, jerkily at first, then inexorably, as if they were being pulled toward the sky, until they left the cloud of dust underneath them. The helicopter leaned to one side very gently and again flew a wide curve, climbing higher and higher until it swam through the sky freely. He looked after them and waved again. And indeed, the machine came closer, its thundering got louder and louder until he covered his ears. With his head tilted back, he saw the women. And then they fell, one after another they fell through the hatch, with their arms spread wide they sparkled in the light, and the wind tore at their clothes as if to stop them.