REVIEW: “Operation Daniel” by Khalid Kaki

Review of Khalid Kaki, Adam Talib (trans.), “Operation Daniel”, Iraq+100, edited by Hassan Blasim (Comma Press, 2016): 107-114 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

“Operation Daniel” answers the question “What would Iraq be like 100 years after the invasion” with the perhaps unexpected “ruled by China”. This answer forces the reader to consider not only how Iraq might be transformed over the next century but also the rest of the world.

It’s an all too familiar world that Kaki paints, with the repression of the local languages, culture, songs, literature, and names and the introduction of a dictator who rules under the guise of benevolence for all. It is also a macabre world, where people who don’t adhere to the rigid rules of repression are extracted, cremated, and their remains compressed into a tiny diamond to decorate the dictator’s shoes.

The narrator is quite circumscript in their telling, telling us what shouldn’t happen or what cannot happened, rather than what must and what did, and this circumscription fits well with the story. Nothing is ever addressed head-on, only aslant, and this leaves the reader with the lingering feeling that this is a future that might possibly be escaped.

The story is both forward looking (in the sense that it looks forward from the present to the imagined future, but also in that it looks forward from the imagined future) and deeply historical, rooted in the ancient history of Kirkuk — a history one need not know in order to enjoy the story, because there are informative footnotes! Can I just say how much I love reading a piece of fiction that has informative footnotes? One footnote discusses contemporary and historic geography, two discuss the history of Kirkuk, and one provides information about local music. I love informative footnotes.