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A Portal in Space

A Portal in Space

Masterfully bringing the sights and sounds of Iraq to life, this wise, wry tale by a prominent and prolific Iraqi novelist chronicles an affluent Iraqi family’s attempt to maintain a sense of normality during the Iran-Iraq war.

Series: CMES Modern Middle East Literatures in Translation

Center for Middle Eastern Studies
November 2015
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179 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 |

A Portal in Space, set in Basra, Iraq, during the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988), follows the lives of Anwar, a newly minted architect, and the other members of his affluent family as they attempt to maintain a sense of normality during the frequent bombing attacks from Iran. When Anwar joins the Iraqi army and then goes missing in action, his family struggles to cope with uncertainty over his fate. His mother falls into depression and secludes herself in the family home, while his father shifts his attention from his duties as a judge to the weekly pilgrimage to Baghdad seeking information on his son—and to Zahra, the young widow he meets there.

Emotionally engaging, A Portal in Space is a wry, wise tale of human beings striving to retain their humanity during a war that is anything but humane. Mahmoud Saeed succeeds brilliantly in bringing the sights and sounds of Iraq to life on the page—whether in a bunker on the front lines of the Iran-Iraq War or in the parlor of a fortune-teller in Baghdad. As Zahra says of the novel she is writing: “It is a normal novel that contains love, war, life, deceit, and death.”

  • Introduction
  • Translator's Note
  • A Portal in Space
  • About the Author

Chicago, Illinois

Saeed, a prominent and prolific Iraqi novelist, has written more than twenty novels and short story collections. He lived in Iraq until 1985, suffering imprisonment and the banning of some of his novels.


Boone, North Carolina

Hutchins, a professor in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Appalachian State University, has translated numerous works of Arabic literature into English, including four novels by the Nobel Prize laureate Naguib Mahfouz, as well as several novels by the Tuareg writer Ibrahim al-Koni.