Outcast is narrated by Haroun Soussan, a Jewish convert to Islam. Soussan's character is based on a historical figure, Ahmad (Nissim) Soussa, who converted to Islam in the 1930s and whose work ended up being used as propaganda during the era of Saddam Hussein. The narrator is a civil engineer and historian who’s just completed his life’s work, The Jews and History. The book opens with his getting an award from the President (Saddam Hussein) during the period of the Iran-Iraq War. The text we are reading, the novel, is his autobiography, written at the age of seventy, where he explores his own personal and political history, including his relationship with his daughter and his friends, among them a militant communist in political exile in Eastern Europe.
Soussan’s narrative moves in and out of the present, the recent and more distant past, providing a unique and intimate chronicle of Iraq’s contemporary political history. His friends and comrades provide pathways into different aspects of Iraqi history, political resistance, repression, and allegiance.
Praise for Outcast: "Tells readers more about Iraq than many commentaries being offered up these days" – Le Monde
" . . . reveals more about modern Iraq than nearly all Americans put together know, and Ballas creates one of the most relevant, most important characters in contemporary fiction." – Booklist, Starred Review
"Ballas fictionalizes the life of Ahmad Soussa, an Iraqi Jew who converted to Islam in the 1930s. . . . his writing . . . is immediate, vivid and richly elusive . . . As a case study in the rationalization of personal and political contradiction, the novel is entirely clear." – Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Outcast is the fictional memoir of Haroun Saussan, an Iraqi academic, a grandfather, a civil engineer and historian, a Jew who converted to Islam . . . He finds himself caught between identities: 'a Muslim come from without.' Disturbing dreams help him to unify the disparate parts of his character and soothe his many regrets." – Los Angeles Times
"Reading Shimon Ballas is a journey into the unknown part of the picture. This Iraqi writer who immigrated to Israel when he was a young man represents in his writing the none said in modern Hebrew literature. For the Palestinian victims who became a minority in their homeland, he is one of them, as he is the unspoken voice of conscience for Israeli Jews. This combination has made Ballas’s voice unique in Middle Eastern writing, and completely outside the framework of the official political, biographical, and creative life of contemporary Israel. Reading this literature has been a way for me to discover my mirror and recover the other half of my soul." – Elias Khoury, author of Gate of the Sun