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From truck driver to professor: Iraqi author tells story of coming to U.S.

When translator Sam Allen Salter met Iraqi author Mahmoud Saeed, Saeed was driving a delivery truck for a living.

Saeed, who has written more than 20 novels and story collections dating back to 1963 when he lived in Iraq, is author of the well-regarded novel The World Through the Eyes of Angels, which Salter helped to translate from Arabic into English. (Saeed came to the United States in 1999.)

Addressing a meeting of the Society of Midland Authors Tuesday evening at the Cliff Dwellers club in Chicago, Saeed said he drove a truck and washed dishes in America “to get some money to live and write.”

In Iraq, Saeed was sent to prison six times and his books were banned for years. But that wasn’t the only reason he left Iraq, going first to Dubai and then to the United States, he said. (He now lives in Chicago and teaches at DePaul University.)

“[I realized] my son will be in the military – we are always at war – my son will be killed,” he said.

Also, to be a successful writer in Iraq, one had to work for the government, he said. A writer in Iraq could not make money selling books on his own. All books had to be submitted to the ministry of information, which prohibited writing about sex, politics or religion, he said.

Saeed grew up in the ancient city of Mosul, which at that time was a very religiously diverse city. The Iraq he looks back on in his novel The World Through the Eyes of Angels doesn’t exist anymore.

Another of Saeed’s novels, Rue Ben Baraka, which was banned in Iraq and is set during his years of exile in Tunisia, will be published soon by Interlink Books.

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