Arnon Grunberg
PEN Blog

Road Trip to Iraq

Tomorrow I’ll be flying to Istanbul to start my road trip from there to Baghdad. It’s my third time visiting Iraq. Like the first time, in May 2008, I have delivered my new novel to my Dutch publisher the day before my departure.

It seems to me a logical step: the novel is finished, and now I can go to Iraq. But not everyone around me has the same opinion. One of my best friends said to me, “You’ve been there twice. Don’t push your luck.”

At a Christmas party in New York last December, I told a group of people about my upcoming road trip. At least two men said, “Oh, that’s fantastic, we’ll join you.”

But I never heard from them again.

This is not meant as a complaint.

The first time I went to Iraq, I flew from an American army base in the Middle East to Baghdad. The second time, I took a passenger plane from Istanbul to Baghdad. This time I will travel by car.

When I was flying from Istanbul to Baghdad last March, I decided that I would like to make the same trip over ground.

Public transportation is almost nonexistent in the eastern part of Turkey. However, there is a train from the eastern part of Turkey to Mosul. I will take it, but not all the way to the last station, not to Mosul. Everyone I spoke to advised me against visiting Mosul. I decided not be stubborn.

I will travel with a photographer, which is new for me, and up until the Iraqi border I will be accompanied by a Turkish translator who has been living for most of her life in the Netherlands.

Through a fixer, an acquaintance of an acquaintance, a meeting has been set up for me with the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, and his wife, Hiro Ibrahim Ahmed.

While researching this trip–most of the research was done by an assistant–it sometimes felt as if half of the world was made up of fixers who can arrange meetings with important people in exchange for a gift or a plane ticket.

One of the less urgent questions was what reading material to bring on a trip like this. You don’t want to carry a heavy suitcase. (Traveling with a Kindle to Iraq is pushing the limits of decadence a bit too far.) Of course I will bring books related to my road trip, but I also wanted to carry at least one novel not related to Iraq.
Last year, I carried a novel by Daniel Kehlmann.

I’ve never read anything by Don DeLillo. And I thought a road trip from Istanbul to Baghdad was the right moment to start with DeLillo.

So tomorrow morning I will put “The Names” in my duffel bag.