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Political Science Civil Rights

The Man in Blue Pyjamas

A Prison Memoir

by (author) Jalal Barzanji

translated by Sabah A. Salih

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2011
Civil Rights, Political
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2011
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2011
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The style of my book must be in small pieces, as my life has been in pieces. (Jalal Barzanji)

From 1986 to 1988 poet and journalist Jalal Barzanji endured imprisonment and torture under Saddam Hussein's regime because of his literary and journalistic achievements-writing that openly explores themes of peace, democracy, and freedom. It was not until 1998, when he and his family took refuge in Canada, that he was able to consider speaking out fully on these topics. Still, due to economic necessity, Barzanji's dream of writing had to wait until he was named Edmonton's first Writer-in-Exile in 2007. This literary memoir is the project Barzanji worked on while Writer-in-Exile, and it is the first translation of his work from Kurdish into English. Foreword by John Ralston Saul.

About the authors

Jalal Barzanji is a highly respected Kurdish poet and journalist. Since 1970 he has published seven books of poetry and numerous critical columns. After his two-year imprisonment by Saddam Hussein’s regime in the late 1980s and further political repression into the 1990s, Barzanji and his family fled to Turkey. They remained there for eleven months, eventually immigrating to Canada.

Jalal Barzanji's profile page

Professor of EnglishDr . Salih received his doctoral degree in English from Southern Illinois University in 1989 where he focused on Modern British Literature with a dissertation titled Bernard Shaw in America. His also has a concentration in Literary Criticism and Composition. His Masters of Arts in English is also from Southern Illinois University and his Bachelors of Arts Degree is from the University of Bagdad.

Sabah A. Salih's profile page


  • Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence - Shortlisted
  • Alberta Book Publishing Awards - Lois Hole Award for Editorial Excellence
  • Alberta Book Publishing Awards - Trade Non-Fiction Book Award / Shortlisted

Editorial Reviews

"The Man in Blue Pyjamas is a noteworthy accomplishment. Barzanji has created a poignant memoir brimming with authenticity and many readers, despite nationality, will find in him a kindred spirit. His openness and compassion make him an endearing figure - a tender man who wants nothing more than to embrace the world and memorialise it with words. His story serves as a chilling reminder of the dangers many writers still face simply by putting pen to paper." Logan Mickel, Translational Literature, May 2012 [Full review at]

"The author was named the City's first PEN Writer-In-Exile when he arrived in Edmonton because his memoir arises above the level of personal history to a saga of Kurdish history under Saddam Hussein's tyranny." Anne Burke, The Prairie Journal

"This well-written memoir is put together like a novel, with the events ordered to create a simulacrum of memory as well as to build tension and introduce foreshadowing. Not only do we receive an accurate picture of Jalal Barzanji's life story but, also, in seeing into the lives of his contemporary Kurds, we understand the force of his epiphany that his own story is necessarily part of a larger narrative." Gillian Harding-Russell, Prairie Fire Review of Books, 12.3

"Peter Midgley's edit of Jalal Barzanji's The Man in Blue Pajamas has helped create a book that tells an important and accessible story. In his work, Peter considered both the author's and the reader's needs. His consultative approach with the author sought to clarify and elaborate a work complicated by the fragility of memory and translation. The edit resolved complex language issues and delivered compelling detail, aware of the 'challenge not simply to rewrite, but to...allow the author to do the work.' The result is an excellent read, with a glossary and timeline that provide valuable guides and context for readers. Jury comments, Lois Hole Award for Editorial Excellence, WGA.

"Barzanji's memoir is a survivor's story conveyed in direct, laconic, and decisive prose. The prison ordeal he recounts could crush the mightiest of souls. Yet Barzanji forbears bitterness; his world encompasses "peace, love, and beauty." Amy O'Loughlin, ForeWord Reviews, March 26, 2013

"Taking us to a place that many refuse to accept exists, Barzanji reveals what it means to be forced to weigh freedom, self-expression and survival against belonging, duty and the law. Seen from the final page, the story in pieces transforms itself into a beautiful and beguiling whole. A humbling read." Ann Morgan, December 2012,

"Jalal Barzanji, a Kurd from Iraq, endured imprisonment, torture, and exile, in order to share his life experiences through the usage of words. This is not a chronological story from beginning to end, but rather has a storytelling aspect that skips around to different memories that he has about his own life, and from others who have told him their memories and stories." Angela Green, University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries 2012, Outstanding Title

#4 on the "Edmonton Journal" Best Seller list for the week of October 02, 2011.

#5 on the "Edmonton Journal" Best Seller list for the week ending November 20, 2011.

"When the author became convinced that his family and he had no future in Iraq, he decided to flee to 'freedom', regardless of difficulties involved. He writes vividly about the human smuggling industry in Turkey, Greece, and many other European countries, fed by Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, and many other people from all over the world. His valiant efforts started in 1988 and ended in 1999 when he managed to obtain an immigration visa for Canada through the UN refugee programme.... It is a heart breaking, well-documented and well-written story that compels the reader to continue reading..., turning page after page." Hrayr Berberoglu, Kurdish Globe, June 4, 2012 [Full article at]

"[Barzanji conjures a] haunting impression of the uncertainties of Kurdish life under Saddam Hussein... The grim account of prison life that follows is replete with novelistic details. There is some inevitable squalor and brutality, but also unexpected humanity. Raconteurs in the overcrowded cells distract others with droll stories... What sets Barzanji's story above mere reportage is his poet's eye for detail. His recollections of childhood in Kurdistan are as absorbing as anything that takes place within the prison... Appropriately, the most memorable image in the whole book is the conversion of the local library into the prison that will eventually house Barzanji." Brendan de Caires, Freedom to Read Magazine 2012

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