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 ?

The Corpse washer by Sinan Antoon

The Corpse Washer

The Corpse washer by Sinan Antoon

Iraqi fiction

Original title –  وحدها شجرة الرمان

Translator – By the writer himself

Source – Personnel copy on Kindle

Sinan Antoon is and Iraqi/American writer born in Baghdad to an Iraqi father and American mother ,he lived and studied English in Iraq  .Before moving to the US in 1990 where he gained a Phd in Arabic and Islamic studies from Harvard .He is currently an associate professor at Galltain school in New York .He has written five books and also made a well-known Documentary called  About Baghdad.

If death is a postman, then I receive his letters every day. I am the one who opens carefully the bloodied and torn envelopes. I am the one who washes them, who removes the stamps of death and dries and perfumes them, mumbling what I don’t entirely believe in. Then I wrap them carefully in white so they may reach their final reader— the grave.

Very poetic thoughts at times as they look after the cities dead .

 

Well this was the one book on this years IFFP I didn’t see being there ,but that said one I was pleased to see on the list as however curates the Yale imprint ”  THE MARGELLOS WORLD REPUBLIC OF LETTERS” has rather good taste from the other two books I have read from the list Diary and Blindly .So to the book the corpse washer is set in the Shi’ite community and follows Jawad who at the beginning of the book is working with his father as a corpse washer following the Islamic practice of Ghusl ,were a body needs to be washed in the correct water and shroud  in the Kafan ,as soon after some one dies .Now young Jawad has his own dreams he wants to become an artist  so he leaves his father and goes to follow his dream of art becoming a sculpture .But as  he is studying and then the gulf war and Saddam leadership becomes more manic ,his father dies ,his mother becomes very ill and the family rack up cost in her care so Jawad life goes full circle and in the middle of the violence yet again becomes a corpse washer telling us the horrors of conflict as he washes and shrouds the bodies of the dead .As war brings Jawad so many more stories and bodies to clean and shroud .

Like all children I was very curious and would pester Father with questions about his work, but he said he’d tell me all about it later when the time was right. I would accompany him when I was old enough. “It’s too early, focus on school.” Ammoury had started helping Father when he was fifteen and started to wash at eighteen, but my father never allowed me to go inside his workplace. He wanted to keep work and home separate. When I used to ask Ammoury about work, he never gave me satisfying answers; these were matters for grown-ups and I was still a child.

I loved visiting my father factory as a kid didn’t we all do this ?

Now I found this maybe the most powerful book I have read so far from the list and knowing the IFFP it will be a good contender for a winner Jawad is a man caught in the vicious circle of failed dreams he glimpse another life ,he wants more than his father but in the end maybe sees what his father didn’t in their job when he returns to it .When the story is washed clean it is a universally themed story of father and sons ,foiled ambition ,family ,war and losing a dream .A modern tragedy maybe ,War story maybe ,but for me most of all one mans struggle Jawad he could be compared to characters from a dickens novel or even an older version  Billy Casper where Jawad’s art is like Billy kestrel and escape a dream of a better life .

August 2017
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