The outcast

The outcast

Publication Date: 2017

Publisher: Dar al jadid

Country of Publication: Lebanon, Beirut

Pages: 325

Al nabitha

The Outcast is the story of Taj al moulouk, or Taji, an Iraqi woman of Iranian descent, her young Iraqi friend Wedyan, and the love of her life, the Palestinian Mansour al Badi. While the novel opens in contemporary Paris, where Taji, an old woman in her eighties watches news from the Arab Spring with a passion and reminisces of her past, the story unfolds mostly in the middle of the twentieth century, a period of turmoil in Iraq and Palestine.

We meet the free spirited Taj al moulouk in Baghdad in the 1940s, a young woman whose way to power is paved by her surprising strong will, literary skills, and scrumptious beauty. But her independence, appetite for life, and ways with men, come at a cost, and Taji will lose everything in Bagdad, from which she is led to Karachi, where she is recruited as a broadcaster on an Arabic speaking radio station. This is where she meets her new colleague, the intellectual Palestinian Mansour Al Badi. Taji and Mansour have their expert knowledge of Arabic poetry and their homelessness in common: Taji longs for Bagdad, while Mansour’s family has recently been exiled to Lebanon. Mansour and Taji are passionately in love with each other, but Mansour’s respectfulness keeps Taji at a distance, and they part, yet again displaced by the harsh circumstances of life. Mansour only dreams of landing a position anywhere, and call Taji to his side, but life, again, has it otherwise. Mansour will find his way to Venezuela, and ultimately to Hugo Chavez’ side, while Taj will end up married to French war hero Cyrille champion. Taji and Mansour will never have a chance to meet again, until this day.

A skilled diplomat, Mansour attends a conference at UNESCO in Paris. Wedyan, Taji’s only friend, reaches out, in the hope to reunite the two old lovers. Wedyan, an Iraqi musician who sought asylum in Paris, lives with the ghosts of her past: Her unique love, Youssef, and her violin. Having lost her hearing under torture in Iraq, Wedyan is deprived of her only two sources of joy. She spends her time between her music students, and Taji, her connection to home.

Through Taj al Moulouk’s extraordinary life (based on a true historical figure), as well as through the lives of Mansour al Badi and Wedyan, Kachachi skillfully recounts a critical turning point of Arab modern history, and reminds the readers of the intellectual and progressivist cultural hub that Bagdad once was. However, beyond this captivating historical context, The Outcast is also a love story, a novel about passion, and the unpredictability or irony of life. Powerful emotions weave these three destinies together, offering to the reader a rich, brightly colored and deeply moving story.

Translation excerpt by Sawad Hussain published in ARABLIT.


It was a moment in life she hadn’t experienced before. And she didn’t think she would come to know it, even later on. She was seated, on the train, next to the window, when she saw her past rush toward her and fling itself into the seat that faced her. It gloated as it looked into her eyes, snatching her away from the monotony and feebleness of the years gone by. Would she pretend it wasn’t there or change her seat altogether? She told herself to get up, make her way to the emergency alarm, and pull its red tongue. She would hear the screeching of the wheels as they scraped against the railroad tracks, spewing sparks. She would open the door, leap out, and run along the sidewalk – but its eyes locked hers and bound her hands. 

She relaxed her tightly shut eyelids and surrendered herself to plumes of white, teased cotton. A bad dream is what it was, brought about by a commonplace question with an answer that seemed just as normal. She didn’t understand at first, what the police officer stationed by that door had told her. But his words stoked a dormant ember, buried deep in her chest. She was curious why he was guarding that hospital room in particular, and not the rest of the long corridor. She asked him about the patient lying down inside: who could it possibly be?

Sometimes the inpatients of this Parisian military hospital were army officers. But such patients never required a police officer, clad in blue uniform, standing at the ready at their doors. Maybe he was high-ranking, or someone of importance from an ally country. Kings, heads of state and party leaders were known to come here for treatment. Some of them died in their beds here. In such circumstances, it was announced they took their last breath in their own nation, and the funeral procession would accordingly stream out of their home. Behind curtains, surgeries and treatments would take place, France fulfilling its duty of hospitality, for the benefit of its allies…and at times for its foes. Who was the patient behind that door? A criminal wounded while on the run? Or roughed up during an interrogation? Maybe they were fixing him up before putting him on display for the judge.

Gallimard, France, French, 2025

The outcast