Guest post by GINNY PARKER WOODS:
I read Justin Sirois’s book MLKNG SCKLS (Publishing Genius) last week on the subway, and it’s amazing. The short book tells the story of an Iraqi guy named Salim and his traveling partner, Khalil, fleeing Fallujah, and it’s comprised of “deleted scenes” from Justin’s other, yet unpublished book, Falcons on the Floor. The books were written in collaboration with an Iraqi woman named Haneen Alshujairy. I was very curious about how this process took place so I sent Justin some questions which he very kindly answered.
A few thoughts on MLKNG SCKLS: I’d say this book is probably the best thing I’ve read about Iraq – which isn’t to suggest that I’ve read all that much about Iraq, I’m sorry to say. Sadly, I’ve become sort of dull and deaf to the whole of what’s going on there, and this book coaxed me out of that numbness. There’s so little in news stories of the war in Iraq that makes me feel anything. This book made me feel sympathy for the main character, Salim, mainly due to all that was familiar and at the same time strange about him, the way his experience is at once unfathomable and very mundane. During his exodus, Salim is deeply attached – as I am – to a personal computer, and the book is structured as a series of documents Salim has written on his laptop. Salim dreams of posting his homemade films on the Internet. And he’s angry at the man-eating birds circling the sky and annoyed at his traveling partner – like it’s traffic or some other quotidian annoyance we’re talking about here. Justin does a great job of capturing what it’s like to be a refugee in the modern age or rather what it’s like simply to be living in the modern age.
Throughout the book there’s the sense that Salim is being watched or potentially being watched, whether by some sort of ominous army in the dark with lasers or light beams or or by a Western housewife nursing her child and watching Salim’s Internet video. And yet, while he seems to be constantly on the verge of being spotted, you wonder if anyone can actually see him. Salim and Khalil seem desperately alone in the land through which they are traveling, the last living humans in a world that doesn’t care about them, ignores them, wants to devour them – I’m not sure which. Technology presses down, heavily. It’s a connector and a compressor but also a separator – offering the illusion of connection where it doesn’t really exist, ultimately leaving Salim isolated. What exactly are Salim and Khalil running from? It’s left unclear. This is not about politics or battles or states or boundaries or anything so clearly defined but about people moving through the world, looking, longing for something, wanting to be seen, wanting to be unique. The writing is spare, beautiful and descriptive. Vultures are hungry “turkeys” with ruffled rear-ends, suggesting the US or perhaps some other parasitic, opportunistic presence. A woman’s hair “glistens like frozen Coke.” Scary and lovely.
And the questions…
When did you start writing the book?
I started writing MLKNG SCKLS right after finishing the second edits on Falcons on the Floor. That was February ’09. I’d built up all this momentum and was in love with the characters and I just needed to keep going. After combing through the notes and sketches I took/made, routing through all these photos I’d collected online in preparation for the novel, I found ideas and scenes that didn’t make the final cut. These shorts stories in SCKLS came out of that wanting to expand the narrative.
Publishing the “deleted scenes” before the feature is a little backwards, but it’s been helpful in getting the word out about the larger project. Publishing Genius of Baltimore did a perfect job producing and promoting the book.