Translated by Rachel Farmer
USAMA AL SHAHMANI left his native Iraq and is living as an asylum-seeker in Switzerland. Worried about his brother in Baghdad and bewildered by the inscrutable behaviours of the Swiss (such as their strange propensity for walking in the woods), he initially struggles to get to grips with life in this new land. He grapples with feelings of loss and questions of identity, torn between his adopted country and the culture he was forced to abandon. But, little by little, with the help of a couple of kind strangers, he starts to find his feet and discovers a sense of home through the natural world.
Usama Al Shahmani was born in Baghdad in 1971 and grew up in Qalat Sukar, Iraq, where he studied Arabic language and modern Arabic literature and published three scholarly books. In 2002 he was forced to flee his home country, having written a stage play that was critical of the regime. Since then, he has published three books in German. His novel In der Fremde sprechen die Bäume Arabisch, which won the Swiss Schiller Foundation’s Terra Nova Literature Prize, details his escape from Iraq and his initial experiences as an asylum seeker in Switzerland. Usama now works as an interpreter, translator, and cultural mediator and lives with his wife and son in Frauenfeld.
Rachel Farmer lives in Bristol, UK, and works as a translator, conference interpreter and editor. Her literary translations have been published in No Man’s Land and SAND literary journals, and in the anthology Elemental from Two Lines Press. She also works as the chief executive assistant of Asymptote literary journal and writes book reviews for Lunate magazine.