Henry Peck interviews Elliott Colla about his new novel

As Iraq faces a new crisis, the novel Baghdad Central explores the freighted “moment of ambiguity” a decade earlier.

From Guernica:

Guernica: Baghdad Central is unusual first of all for its Iraqi protagonist. What was the genesis of the book?

ScreenHunter_748 Aug. 18 11.03Elliott Colla: I saw The Hurt Locker in August 2009. I thought it was a great film but it also really disappointed and infuriated me. Here was another great work about American war in the Middle East, and yet again there are no non-American characters. Iraqis in that film are either victims or perpetrators and Americans get to be heroes. I was with a friend, and we talked about how we should just flip that on its head. What would it be like to have a movie where all the heroes were Iraqi and all the Americans are on the periphery? I sat down and wrote, and when I woke up the next morning I had this character, Khafaji, in my mind. Then there was the work of imagination and research. I was going to take the American bogeyman, the villain—the Baathist war criminal—and see what it would be like to make this kind of person into a hero. What would it take to make a reader like him, or become interested in his story before they learn that he’s a war criminal?

Guernica: How knowledgeable of Iraq were you at the time?

Elliott Colla: Recently I heard Barbara Ehrenreich talk about her writing process, and in response to a question on whether to write what you know, she said, “Listen, I write what I want to know.” I couldn’t put it any better.

More here.