22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Usama Al Shahmani

Portrait Usama Al Shahmani
© Ali Ghandtschi

Usama Al Shahmani was born in Baghdad in 1971 and grew up in Qalat Sukar (Al Nasiriyah). He studied Arabic language and modern Arabic literature, published three scholarly literary books and became an assistant at the University of Baghdad. While he was writing his dissertation, he had to flee his home country in 2002 and escaped to Switzerland because he had written a stage play critical of the regime. For the first two years, he lived mainly in refugee shelters and had little contact with Swiss society. His experiences flowed into the book »Die Fremde – ein seltsamer Lehrmeister. Eine Begegnung zwischen Bagdad, Frauenfeld und Berlin« (2016; tr: The Stranger – A Strange Teacher), which he wrote together with the journalist and author Bernadette Conrad. In it, Al Shahmani tells of an Iraq under Saddam Hussein, of his missing brother, and of a life under threat on the one hand and that in peace and security on the other. »Usama Al Shahmani and Bernadette Conrad talk about trauma, about being human, which is ›similar everywhere‹, about different rituals and celebrations, about loss and recovery, about traveling as a lucky experience and a moment of freedom« (»St. Galler Tagblatt«).
Al Shahmani’s first novel »In der Fremde sprechen die Bäume arabisch« (tr: In a Foreign Land the Trees Speak Arabic) was published in 2018. In seven chapters, he tells in diary form about the various stages of his escape from Iraq and arrival in Switzerland. The story of his younger brother, who disappeared in 2006, also deepens. The trees that give the novel its title provide not only structure but also meaning. They serve as objects of identification, as characteristics of biographically occupied landscapes, as images of uprooting, and as a projection surface for a strange world to which the immigrant tries to become accustomed. For example, the date palm is a picture of home, and »the escape into nature is my second after the escape from Iraq«. He entrusts his worries and fears to the trees, learns to hike in the forest and finds a new source of strength. Al Shahmani wrote the novel in German. »The book transposes the beauty and poetry of Usama Al Shahmani’s mother tongue into German and thereby gains a unique linguistic intensity«, writes the »Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung«. The work received the sponsorship award from the city of Frauenfeld and the Terra Nova Literature Prize of the Swiss Schiller Foundation.
Usama Al Shahmani now works as an interpreter and cultural mediator. In addition, he is a literary translator and translated, among others, »Der Islam« by Peter Heine, »Zwischen der säkularen Vernunft und dem religiösen Glauben« by Jürgen Habermas, and »Über die Religion« by Friedrich Schleiermacher. The author lives in Frauenfeld in Switzerland.