The Iraqi Christ by Hassam Blasim

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The Iraqi Christ by Hassam Blasim

Iraqi fiction (Short stories )

Translator – Jonathan Wright

Source – Personnel copy brought on Kindle

Well to another short story collection from this years IFFP longlist .Also the second Iraqi title from this years list .Hassam Blasim is some what of radical figure in Arabic fiction as the stories he writes are Genre bending to say the least .Hassam Blasim Fled Iraq in 2004 when he had made a  documentary film about the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq ,since then he lived in Finland originally a film-maker he has since made four more films for a Finnish film company .He also start writing at the same time ,this is his second collection to be published the first the madman of freedom square ,mad the Iffp longlist four years ago .

We were meant to camp in an old girls’ school and some of the soldiers decided the best place to spend the night was the school’s air-raid shelter. Daniel the Christian picked up his blanket and other bedding and headed out into the open courtyard. ‘Of course, Chewgum Christ is crazy,’ remarked one of the soldiers, a man as tall as a palm tree, his mouth stuffed with dry bread.

The opening of the title story of the collection The Iraqi Christ .

I said Hassam was a radical figure ,it is more his style of writing in this collection we move from the Iraq was in the title story Iraqi christ ,we meet Daniel the gum chewing soldier as he fights in the war He is one of the few christian fighting alongside his comrades  .Elsewhere we travel into the utterly surreal in a story like dung beetle a man or is it a man talking to a doctor in Finland but his is from  Iraqi  ,as he spouts out to the doctor .Drama post war in the Green zone living in the   post war Iraq with the westerners .More traditional sounding stories like A thousand and One Knives ,an obvious play on the most famous Arabic story One thousand and one Nights .Elsewhere a crossword setter is driven to the edge as he is haunted or more possessed by one of the victims of a bomb he narrowly missed .

Doctor, I can identify my feeling at that moment as a desire to kiss, to stand in front of the station gate like the people who give out free newspapers and adverts, to stand in the way of people in a hurry and to stop them to kiss their hands, their shoes, their knees, their bags. And if they allowed me to bare their arses for a few minutes, to kiss them too. Excuse me, madam, can I kiss the sleeve of your coat? Please, sir, accept from me this kiss on your necktie. Kisses for free; sad, sincere kisses. And very often, doctor, I don’t just want to kiss people, I want to kiss the vestiges they leave on the pavements: kisses for cigarette butts, for a key that an old woman lost, for the beer bottles the drunks left behind last night, for the numbers on discarded receipts; kisses that combine the maternal instinct with lust, as day and night are combined in my head.

A passage from my favourite story in the collection the dun beetle .

I read Tony’s review the other day he compared some of these stories to the Magic realism of Marquez ,he has touches of that ,for me other writers leap to mind my favourite story in the collection was the dung Beetle ,which for me had huge echoes of classic mittel European short stories .There are other bar room stories a man returns from the bar to find a wolf in his room then it is gone when awakes ,this could come from the pen of the grand masters of short fiction Italo Calvino or Borges .The collection shows a writer that obviously loves short stories and loves playing with the form as a writer himself .I felt this is a collection of a writer that has big things to come in the future ,the stories in this one vary from sublime to surreal but maybe jar to much of the collection in comparison to the other collections on this years IFFP longlist .I will be reading his next collection for sure as I can just see Hassam Blasim getting better over time as he works through his obvious love of short stories and writers of short stories as he develops  his own twists and style even more .

Have you read Hassam Blasim ?

Alice by Judith Hermann

Alice by Judith Hermann

German fiction (short stories)

Translator – Margot Bettauer Dembo

Judith Hermann is from Berlin ,she grew up there studied German and philosophy ,work at German newspaper as an intern after that .The got a grant from the Berlin Academy of art to live in Alfred Doblin house ,she then published her first collection summer-house ,this Alice is her third collection and is darker than her earlier works .Judith Hermann is part of the new wave of female german writer like Julie Zeh AND Jenny Erpenbeck .Alice made the longlist for the independent foreign fiction prize and is from the new press The Clerkenwell Press  first collection which is an imprint of Profile books .

So what is Alice about well it is a collection of five short stories ,rather like the collections from Kauzo Ishiguro and Cees Nooteboom in the last couple of years these are theme stories but also all contain the same person Alice ,the theme is death  so maybe it is a composite novel of interlinking stories ,but these two recent short story collections sprung to my mind straight after reading the book .We see how Alice is effected by these deaths and the deaths are of people she is connected with the first few are friends ,some she really isn’t that close to then by the fourth story Malte her gay uncle and lastly her own husband and how she deals after he suddenly died  .I must admit I wasn’t overly bowled over by this collection ,I found the first there stories very similar in tone Alice was there some one died ,the writing is beautiful but I felt the first three stories were very similar in tone and feel also other than place Alice as the heroine ,friend and a little bit about her as a person ,as the first three men die ,Misha is dying zweribruken with his wife and children Alice is there to help ,then a couple she vaguely knows in Italy invite her to stay  and lastly a friend in berlin as he knows his death is impeding planning out what happens during and after his death she visits him and his wife  .

The last time she visited richard and Margaret she’d brought peonies at this same stand ,having first thought about it for a long time .Seven peonies please ,and don’t add anything ,an uneven number a superstition ,five were to few and she didn’t have enough money for nine .

Details is something Hermann does well like this thought on buying flowers .

 

 

I just wasn’t  very inspired by this collection ,I m not sure if that is at moment or it’ll be one of those books that six months down the line I ll go yes I get it  totally and what Judith Hermann was trying to do . As an insight into death and coping with it’S aftermath it is well written the way every one copes those stages of grief  as something I ve dealt with via work for over twenty years  I struggled to connect with Hermann’s vision and using  Alice as the motif through the stories   thou we do see her interact with the dying , bereaved and her own grief  ,she never leaped of the pages as a character for me to connect with .I felt she was just there to drive the stories not be built on as a character in herself  I know it is come in short stories for us to know little of the character other tha the situation we meet them in ,I just felt Alice’s character maybe need some more filling out .I must admit Dembo has done a wonderful job in translation as Hermann’s writing is beautiful in parts she has a real eye for details that was enough to keep me going to the end ,in parts remind me a little in the skeleton prose of Carver and Cheever  .Those thin slices they brought to life so well  ,in this case it is death we’re dealing with but unlike carver and Cheever Hermann just hasn’t hooked this reader yet .I will try her other books at some point .Oh I must admit this is strange my first slightly negative review but that is beauty of reading a longlist like the Independent foreign fiction prize you get to try books you may not normally try out  books out of your comfort zone and this book fell into both these categorises

Have you read this book ? 

All these little worlds the second collection from fiction desk

Earlier this year I reviewed Rob of the fiction desk first collection Various Authors here .So when a few months ago (sorry for delay Rob) I was asked if I want to review the second in this quarterly series of anthologies ,I said yes as known Rob via twitter for a few years and I really trust his judgement at picking the stories for the fiction desk collections .

SO this time we have nine stories in this collection two of the writers that had appeared in the first collection also appear here Charles Lambert and Jason Atkinson .The collection like the first isn’t themed which I like I m not a huge short story reader but when I do read a collection I prefer it to be like a i pod on shuffle you never know what is going to appear next and this collection is like this .One minute your with a family as the put something strange in a fish tank .Then you’re at school where the is strange thinks going on due to a new dress code being brought into force .As ever I ll focus on a couple that caught my eye the first is one by Mischa Hiller called room 307

He took a drink of his beer and looked up to see a women in a pinstriped trouser suit come into the restaurant  .She was on the mobile phone and carrying a leather briefcase on a strap over her shoulder .The two businessmen stared at her like they’d never seen a women before.

Callum the main character in Mischa Hiller’s room 307 sees a women .

The story is about Callum he is  a businessman  away on a business trip when he meets a women called Susan and they chat and get on there is a spark ,he is married thou .The story has a thriller edge to it that slow telling of the story building the tension to the end as we find out who Susan was is she really his wife ,just a random women or something more sinister .this story for me does what great Short stories do with the bare facts a man in a hotel we have his name not much else.but as you see the scene with this women unfold you are there with him as it happens and that is what great short stories should do make you feel in their setting straight away as it is like  a butterfly only there for a short period of time .The other story I really like was Jagger’s and crown by James Benmore .

According to this mornings paper ,I am meant to have died sometime over the weekend .Go and buy a copy of the mail if you don’t believe me ,I’m on page 36 .

Kevin Crown reads of his own death .

Now this story shows another face of short story’s the mini epic ones as Keith crown reads of his own death he was part of a comedy double act ,I pictured some of the acts we used to see in the late seventies early eighties on british tv cannon and ball ,Les Dennis and Dustin gee so on (if you are not from uk maybe google them and you’ll have an idea of what I m,mean ) so this shock that he is thought to have died makes him look back over his working life with Sonny Jaggers from his first array as a solo act then he  meeting Sonny and the rise of them as a double act but then like Icarus all things that maybe fly to high fall to the ground and so it happen to them so in  the space of 22 pages we see a man’s life wonderful stuff and as rob noted on the top of the story Keith crown seems very real .

Last time I compared his collection to c86 so in the same  vein I m going to say this is like a this mortal coil album and Rob is like Ivo Watts Russell sticking together a collection of fresh talent to make a little gem .Below is a list of the stories plus links to Rob’s site where you can order a subscription .

 

 

All the lights by Clemens Meyer

All the lights by Clemens Meyer

German fiction short stories

Translation by Katy Derbyshire

Clemens Meyer is the rising star of german literature ,he grew up in former east germany had a number of jobs such as fork lift driver ,construction whilst writing he has published three books in germany ,this is the first to be translated into english and the second book to be published by new Publisher and other stories it is out today 1 september .the book is translated by berlin based Katy Derbyshire .Rob of rob around books says he has a Aura around him as he saw him recently when he appeared at the Edinburgh book festival .

Well were to start  with all the lights .First of it’s a collection of 15 short stories ,I was first  told about it by Stuart Evers who wrote the forward at the Independent foreign fiction prize night .What the stories about well the stories on the whole  are all  set in the former east germany where Clemens grew up ,the characters in the stories are on the edge of life ,the underclass ,boxers and down and outs .AH now when I read this first off I was going to compare him to Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski ,But to be honest that is lazy of me just to say oh here is a collection on  european lowlife and of course the nearest comparison is the two best known American writers in that vogue  ,but no there is a line in  these stories too  the turn of century works of Alfred Doblin ,Paul Leppin and so on where peole struggled as well like in a lot of these stories .The book isn’t tinge in what the Germans östalgie the former east germans that what to go back to the old east germany no its in the present as people struggling to cope with life in the new Germany where the state isn’t god like in the former east .I don’t like giving away many storylines in short story collections as it nice to find them as your read them so will mention my favourite in the collection which is of dogs and horse some of you may recognise it as it was in the guardian ,this is the story of Rolf and his dog Piet(named after Pete Sampras) ,one morning Piet develops a limp and goes to the vet he is a Doberman /rottweiler cross and has inherited the condition hip dysplasia and the operation to save Piet pain and a shorter life is a lot .This sends   Rolf into the world of gambling to try to raise the required funds to help his beloved dog .As you can imagine this story really touched me as a dog owner I felt Rolf’s pain and he desire to help his dog at all costs as it is something I would do my self .

“Piet ”  said Rolf ,what’s up with you ,boy you’re not old yet .Piet stood there in the middle of the pavement ,his back legs far apart ;he stood there as if straggling something ,looking at him with his dark eyes .He pulled on the leash but the dog didn’t move .He squatted down in front of him and stroked his head .”Whats  up boy ,what’s the matter,shall we just have a bit of a rest ? You’ll be all right in a minute ,won’t you Piet ?”

Piet the dog isn’t himself ,a quote from “of dogs and horses “.

There is something about this collection that will stick with me a long time to come  ,of dogs and horses in particular ,really touch me and I must admit it  brought a tear to this readers eye which is something that rarely happens .Like with the other book out from and other stories ,they’ve found a unique voice the “tattoo man of german literature”  as he is called in a welt article I read about him , Meyers is the voice of the east ,he is tackling the present as it is faced by a large number of the young former east German men as on the whole its a man’s world in these stories .I enjoy Katy Derbyshire translation she manage to keep the masculine nature of the stories intact The book was sent to me to review .

What is your favourite European short story writer ?

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