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A soldier with the ability to predict the future finds himself blackmailed by an insurgent into the ultimate act of terror… A deviser of crosswords survives a car-bomb attack, only to discover he is now haunted by one of its victims… Fleeing a robbery, a Baghdad shopkeeper falls into a deep hole, at the bottom of which sits a djinni and the corpse of a soldier from a complet A soldier with the ability to predict the future finds himself blackmailed by an insurgent into the ultimate act of terror… A deviser of crosswords survives a car-bomb attack, only to discover he is now haunted by one of its victims… Fleeing a robbery, a Baghdad shopkeeper falls into a deep hole, at the bottom of which sits a djinni and the corpse of a soldier from a completely different war… From legends of the desert to horrors of the forest, Blasim’s stories blend the fantastic with the everyday, the surreal with the all-too-real. Taking his cues from Kafka, his prose shines a dazzling light into the dark absurdities of Iraq’s recent past and the torments of its countless refugees. The subject of this, his second collection, is primarily trauma and the curious strategies human beings adopt to process it (including, of course, fiction). The result is a masterclass in metaphor – a new kind of story-telling, forged in the crucible of war, and just as shocking.


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A soldier with the ability to predict the future finds himself blackmailed by an insurgent into the ultimate act of terror… A deviser of crosswords survives a car-bomb attack, only to discover he is now haunted by one of its victims… Fleeing a robbery, a Baghdad shopkeeper falls into a deep hole, at the bottom of which sits a djinni and the corpse of a soldier from a complet A soldier with the ability to predict the future finds himself blackmailed by an insurgent into the ultimate act of terror… A deviser of crosswords survives a car-bomb attack, only to discover he is now haunted by one of its victims… Fleeing a robbery, a Baghdad shopkeeper falls into a deep hole, at the bottom of which sits a djinni and the corpse of a soldier from a completely different war… From legends of the desert to horrors of the forest, Blasim’s stories blend the fantastic with the everyday, the surreal with the all-too-real. Taking his cues from Kafka, his prose shines a dazzling light into the dark absurdities of Iraq’s recent past and the torments of its countless refugees. The subject of this, his second collection, is primarily trauma and the curious strategies human beings adopt to process it (including, of course, fiction). The result is a masterclass in metaphor – a new kind of story-telling, forged in the crucible of war, and just as shocking.

30 review for The Iraqi Christ

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bjorn

    On a bus in Helsinki, a bearded man from the Middle East somewhere sits reading a book with Arabic lettering. After whispering amongst themselves, one of the passengers eventually works up the courage to ask him if he's reading the Quran. The presumed terrorist tries to look as friendly as he can when explains (yet again) that no, he's reading Kafka in Arabic translation. This isn't an episode from The Iraqi Christ (though a similar one pops up), but something Blasim mentioned in a talk I saw hi On a bus in Helsinki, a bearded man from the Middle East somewhere sits reading a book with Arabic lettering. After whispering amongst themselves, one of the passengers eventually works up the courage to ask him if he's reading the Quran. The presumed terrorist tries to look as friendly as he can when explains (yet again) that no, he's reading Kafka in Arabic translation. This isn't an episode from The Iraqi Christ (though a similar one pops up), but something Blasim mentioned in a talk I saw him give this spring. But it captures some of the mood of this weird, mad, hilarious, agonizing, plainspoken, blood-drenched, heartfelt, surreal collection of stories. Not just because the spirit of Kafka soars all over (or rather, creeps right through) much of it, but because it's the sort of absurdity that shows up in every story - only, in Blasim's stories, the stakes tend to be much higher. The tales here are about people who try to just go on with their lives, the ones who have to fight for their lives, the ones who try to flee, the ones who make it and end up living in a country they're not allowed to call home. Everyone staying at the refugee reception centre has two stories – the real one and the one for the record. The stories for the record are the ones the new refugees tell to obtain the right to humanitarian asylum, written down in the immigration department and preserved in their private files. The real stories remain locked in the hearts of the refugees, for them to mull over in complete secrecy. That’s not to say it’s easy to tell the two stories apart. They merge and it becomes impossible to distinguish them. Reality is thin, blown apart by one too many torture sessions or wars or car bombs that scar the entire collective unconsciousness; magic can happen, you just don't have any control. In Blasim's stories, people compete on radio over who suffered the most during their time in Saddam's prisons; soldiers stumble into holes in the ground occupied by dead soldiers from other wars in other countries; immigrants find themselves trapped in their own bathroom in the middle of a big peaceful city while a wolf paces outside; refugees try to explain to immigration officers how they ended up starring in Youtube videos for dozens of different terrorist groups, alternately as terrorist and kidnap victim; etc etc etc. We watched the adults’ wars on television and saw how the front ate up our elders. Our mothers baked bread in clay ovens and sat down in the sunset hour, afraid and with tears in their eyes. We would steal sweets from shops, climb trees and break our legs and arms. Life and death was a game of running, climbing and jumping, of watching, of secret dirty words, of sleep and nightmares. Iraq has been one of the most reported-on countries in the world over the last 30 years. We count the dead by the hundreds of thousands, if we count them at all. Quick, name three Iraqi works of fiction that's not A Thousand And One Nights; hell, name three Iraqis known for anything un-war-related at all. Blasim gives voice to both suicide bombers and authors, thugs and lovers, football players and dogs, crossword makers and grieving mothers, all complex characters with their own stories, who fuck and drink and work and weep and kill and live and die and are all just as real as any angsting Franzen character. That shouldn't, in itself, be necessary - but we shouldn't need to see 3-year-olds washing ashore to get it either. But of course, in the end, that's not what makes this great, and neither are the dozens of literary references (from having a character jump out of a fifth-floor hospital window, to an Iraqi emigrant renaming himself Carlos Fuentes to pass as South American) which are both good fun and very deftly handed. This isn't literature to scratch off a check list of odd countries, or simple message fiction. These are stories that have come through both hell and heaven, been chiseled and knocked about and scarred and filigreed until they shine. Or, y'know, don't. If there was a special search engine for dreams, like Google, all dreamers would find their dreams in works of art. The dreamer would put a word, or several words, from his dream into the Dream Search Engine, and thousands of results would appear. The more the search is narrowed down, the closer he gets to his dream and eventually he finds out it’s a painting or a piece of music or a sentence in a play. He would also find out which country his dream was in. Yes, you know. Maybe life... okay, fuck that.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Rating: 3* of five The Publisher Says: A soldier with the ability to predict the future finds himself blackmailed by an insurgent into the ultimate act of terror… A deviser of crosswords survives a car-bomb attack, only to discover he is now haunted by one of its victims… Fleeing a robbery, a Baghdad shopkeeper falls into a deep hole, at the bottom of which sits a djinni and the corpse of a soldier from a completely different war… From legends of the desert to horrors of the forest, Blasim’s stories Rating: 3* of five The Publisher Says: A soldier with the ability to predict the future finds himself blackmailed by an insurgent into the ultimate act of terror… A deviser of crosswords survives a car-bomb attack, only to discover he is now haunted by one of its victims… Fleeing a robbery, a Baghdad shopkeeper falls into a deep hole, at the bottom of which sits a djinni and the corpse of a soldier from a completely different war… From legends of the desert to horrors of the forest, Blasim’s stories blend the fantastic with the everyday, the surreal with the all-too-real. Taking his cues from Kafka, his prose shines a dazzling light into the dark absurdities of Iraq’s recent past and the torments of its countless refugees. The subject of this, his second collection, is primarily trauma and the curious strategies human beings adopt to process it (including, of course, fiction). The result is a masterclass in metaphor – a new kind of story-telling, forged in the crucible of war, and just as shocking. My Review: This book won The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for 2014. It's not instantly obvious to me why it won such a prestigious prize, not because it's a poorly written book, but because it's much of a muchness with the many, many story collections there are in the world. I'm not sorry to have read it, but I am not sure I'll remember much about most of it. It's fine, it's evocative of time and place, it's a very economical piece of writing. But the BEST FOREIGN FICTION published in 2013? I dunno 'bout that one for sure, but most of me says "not a damn chance." Anyway, to the trenches: "The Song of the Goats" is a modest story about a man whose family is completely insane, not least of all his good self. On more than one occasion I heard how life apparently advances, moves on, sets sail or, at worst, apparently crawls slowly forward. My life, on the other hand, simply exploded like a firecracker in the hand of God, a small flare in his mighty firmament of bombardment. I relate. 3 stars "The Hole" is a parable. A jinni in a hole that traps people fleeing certain death. ~meh~ Read it before, nothing new to say and not much fun to read. 2 stars "The Fifth Floor Window" brings home the stunning, insanity-inducing reality of "collateral damage" by way of cancer patients in a Baghdad hospital. Three men in a room, only one can think past the horrors of the war in the hospital courtyard. The operation would be in a week...I didn't know if I would survive. How I longed to go back to reading! There was nowhere I longed to be more than the university campus. I was preparing for a master's on fantasy literature. I was interested in why the country's literature did not include this distinctive genre. I had this great passion for studying and writing, which they explained in my household with the story of the umbilical cord. When I was born, and at my father's request, my elder sister buried my umbilical cord in the courtyard of her primary school. My father attributed my {brother's} academic failure to the fact that my mother buried his umbilical cord in the garden of our house. One can see where his taste for phauntaisee arose from. 4 stars "The Iraqi Christ" is the title story, and resembles a sort of "Appointment in Samarra" narrated by the victim...Daniel the Christian saves his compatriots with his premonitions, until one day he doesn't, and for no reason I can figure out. 3.5 stars "The Green Zone Rabbit" offers a bleak look at the street level of murder in the name of god, a subject guaranteed to exercise my outrage muscles. The narrator has a familiar personality: The pleasure I found in reading books was disconcerting...I felt anxious about every new piece of information. I would latch onto one particular detail and start look for references and other versions of it in other writings. I remembered, for example, that for quite some time I tracked down the subject of kissing. I read and read and felt dizzy with the subject, as if I had eaten a psychotropic fruit. Don't we all know someone a bit like that? Why is everyone staring at me? 4 stars "A Wolf" is the maundering, drunken bar story of an immigrant man trying to make a sodden kind of sense of a world he doesn't begin to understand. ...I believe in dreams more than I believe in God. Dreams get into you and leave, then come back with new fruit, but God is just a vast desert. Out of the mouths of drunks... 3.5 stars "Crosswords" takes a terrible moment of violent sectarian idiocy and makes it worse with the intersection of PTSD and Spring-Heeled Jack. Chilling. 3.5 stars "Dear Beto" purports to be the philosophical musings of a Finnish dog. I don't doubt that there is some metaphorical gubbins in here. Frankly, I couldn't care less. 2 stars, all for this line: "You can't understand beauty without peace of mind and you can't get close to the truth without fear." "The Killers and the Compass" marks the rite of passage of a kid into manhood (of a horrifying sort) in a brutal, nihilistic culture of viciousness. Impossible to read without despairing of the future, the present, and the past. Pass the razor blades. 3 stars "Why Don't You Write A Novel, Instead of Talking About All These Characters?" seems to want to ask the question, "what makes a good story out of the dreadful, iniquitous, dreary stuff of reality?" The answer is, "not this." 2 stars "Sarsara's Tree" is a pretty fable about the incredible power of loss to break the consensus of lies we call reality into unfamiliar shards. Also, don't take milk-soaked flowers from strange little girls. 3.5 stars "The Dung Beetle", or as I like to call it, "The Origins of an Iraqi Man as a Writer in a Freakin' Cold Climate That Makes His Desert-Born Brain Go Doolally." 2.5 stars "A Thousand and One Knives" just frankly couldn't keep my interest, and it seemed to be about some guy who had some stuff happen to him and porno pics with torture figured into it somehow and then there's a baby who materializes knives...I dunno, whatever, just MAKE IT STOP! Fortunately, this was the last story. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    This is the first 2014 IFFP book which has a fascinating strangeness similar to the Best Translated Book Award listed titles. Hassan Blasim's (and I'd guess the real) Iraq is like a fictional dystopia - except it's not fictional. None of that overly familiar creeping ominousness technique as an author slowly pulls the curtain back on more invented horrors: no need for silly games here, all this is part of every day life. I've never read any modern Arabic fiction before so I'm going to sound like This is the first 2014 IFFP book which has a fascinating strangeness similar to the Best Translated Book Award listed titles. Hassan Blasim's (and I'd guess the real) Iraq is like a fictional dystopia - except it's not fictional. None of that overly familiar creeping ominousness technique as an author slowly pulls the curtain back on more invented horrors: no need for silly games here, all this is part of every day life. I've never read any modern Arabic fiction before so I'm going to sound like a patronising idiot and describe this as a mixture of gritty realism and Arabian Nights-like fantasy. There's a cover quote from John M. Harrison, and that indicates this is hardly straight realist fiction. The stories are also funnier and dirtier and filled with more drink and drugs (it's a rare character who isn't stoned at some point) than I would have expected. I have no idea of how material like this is *really* regarded by most people in the Arab world, aside from the obvious views of fundamentalists. Blasim's work has been banned in Jordan, one of the few Arab countries where it has been published in print. There's so very much happening here, a rush of images and events, different things several times a page sometimes, also off-kilter metafictional uses of author-as-character. Too much? I don't think so, it's all part of the unusualness emphasising a different world. A few of the stories feel like short action movies. I had imagined life in Iraq to be at least as strictly controlled as that in the Soviet Eastern Bloc, but what The Iraqi Christ presents is a wild-west lawlessness, at least when the secret police don't catch you and inflict terrible punishments. These are mostly stories of young-ish men: some mobile between countries, armed at various points, whether for crime, war or self-defence - and in their youth they get into the sort of lascivious scrapes that I thought characteristic of their well-off counterparts in mid-twentieth century European literature: reading illicit literature like Rimbaud, visiting prostitutes, trying to talk to beautiful inaccessible girls (described like that, it reminds me of Fellini films). This article mentions Arab writers' growing up reading European authors, and that the South American writers who popularised “magic realism” were influenced by Arab tradition . Blasim now lives in Finland - such an interesting combination of cultures (I daresay such a comment sounds pretty annoying to people from these places.) - and a few of the stories are set there, not always flattering about the place. I really want to re-read this collection: it's very rich and there must be all sorts of detail to pick up on a second read - and it's only 140 pages - but I've promised it to a friend so notes on the stories will have to suffice for now. These little summaries really don't convey the strength and strangeness of the writing. -------------- Song of the Goats. People gather for a storytelling event by a radio station that specialises in broadcasting citizens' past experiences during the dictatorship and wars. Most of the story then concentrates on a boy and his experiences of his family and of being a fugitive – so much more lively and bizarre and disgusting than that sounds. This whole story is in the Kindle sample – it's a good introduction, though not all the stories are so violent. (There is quite a lot of violence but there isn't much fine detail about individual events and internal experience of them, it's more like the level of detail you'd get in news reports.) The Hole. Fleeing a robbery, a Baghdad shopkeeper falls into a deep hole, at the bottom of which sits a djinni and the corpse of a soldier from a completely different war… [blurb] The Fifth Floor Window. Men in hospital. Also childhood reminiscence of capturing scorpions with a female friend. The Iraqi Christ. A soldier with the ability to predict the future finds himself blackmailed by an insurgent into the ultimate act of terror… [blurb] The Green Zone Rabbit. A Wolf. An Iraqi man living in an unspecified western country comes home from a night out and finds a wolf living in his flat. Crosswords. A deviser of crosswords survives a car-bomb attack, only to discover he is now haunted by one of its victims… [blurb] Dear Beto. Narrated by a former stray dog who was adopted by a dissolute Finnish artist. Partly reminiscent of Kafka in the way it's not an entirely convincing narrative by an animal as we've grown used to them being done, sometimes it could be as if he's forgotten he's a dog not a person. Or maybe that's the point. (I had various gripes with some of the stories in a Kafka collection, here.) Perhaps a metaphor for refugees, but the story, this book, is too bloody weird to have any straightforward meaning, proper art - under that interpretation 'Dear Beto' would provide rather threatening views of both sides. If the underlying theme of the collection is “trauma and the curious strategies human beings adopt to process it”, as stated on the back cover then yes, it fits, just not with the most palatable views. The Killers and the Compass. A boy and his psychopathic gangster older brother. A compass with mystical properties. Why Don't You Write A Novel Instead Of Talking About All These Characters? A party of middle-eastern refugees are arrested in Hungary and taken into a refugee residential centre. The narrator is one man but sometimes he is Blasim, sometimes he has another name, background and identity. Sarsara's Tree. A woman is found wandering in the wilderness. She has the power to make poisonous trees spring up all around her. The Dung Beetle. Various themes and narratives fold into this, including many paragraphs and anecdotes addressed to a doctor / doctors. They could be spoken one person or many. Evidently a riff on Metamorphosis. A Thousand and One Knives. A mixed-sex group of friends have magical power over knives: some can make them disappear, some can make them reappear.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    The short story collection The Iraqi Christ, translated by Jonathan Wright from Hassan Blasim's original, won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, forerunner of the relaunched Man Booker International. The judges citation:Think Irvine Welsh in post-war and post-Saddam Baghdad, with the shades of Kafka and Burroughs also stalking these sad streets. Often surreal in style and savage in detail, but always planted in heart-breaking reality, these 14 stories depict a pitiless era with searing The short story collection The Iraqi Christ, translated by Jonathan Wright from Hassan Blasim's original, won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, forerunner of the relaunched Man Booker International. The judges citation:Think Irvine Welsh in post-war and post-Saddam Baghdad, with the shades of Kafka and Burroughs also stalking these sad streets. Often surreal in style and savage in detail, but always planted in heart-breaking reality, these 14 stories depict a pitiless era with searing compassion, pitch-black humour and a sort of visionary yearning for a more fully human life. Jonathan Wright’s translations convey all their outrage, their sorrow, their ribald merriment and blistering imaginative vitality. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-en...The English translation was published by Comma Press, another of the UK's wonderful small independent publishers - who in 2017 bought us the excellent and very different You Should Come With Me Now: Stories of Ghosts. Comma Press are also founders of The Northern Fiction Alliance, a publishing collective that now also includes Peepal Tree Press, Dead Ink, And Other Stories, Bluemoose Books, Tilted Axis Press, Mayfly Press, Route and Saraband. Comma's own mission statement is to put the short story at the heart of contemporary narrative culture. Through innovative commissions, collaborations and digital initiatives, we will explore the power of the short story to transcend cultural and disciplinary boundaries, and to enable greater understanding across these boundaries. and The Iraqi Christ certainly fulfils that aim, providing a violent and dark depiction of society, mainly but not entirely centered on post-invasion Iraq, one that successfully manages to combine fabulism with the brutal and bloody reality of daily life under the insurgency and civil war. Kafka is an acknowledged influence and the his Little Fable, quoted in one of the stories, is particularly apposite:"Alas," said the mouse, "the world gets smaller every day. At first it was so wide that I ran along and was happy to see walls appearing to my right and left, but these high walls converged so quickly that I’m already in the last room, and there in the corner is the trap into which I must run." "But you’ve only got to run the other way," said the cat, and ate it.In one story, the narrator, accused of being the author, is confronted as to the nature of his stories:Why don’t you write a novel, instead of talking about all these characters - Arabs, Kurds, Pakistanis, Sudanese, Bangladeshis and Africans? They would make for mysterious, traditional stories. Why do you cram all these names into one short story? Let the truth come to life on all its simplicity. Read in 2018, there is an obvious point of comparison to the 2018 MBI shortlisted novel Frankenstein in Baghdad, and to my personal taste the more fragmented nature of The Iraqi Christ was less successful. This review expresses both the strengths of the work, and some of my reservations, far more eloquently than I could. http://quarterlyconversation.com/the-... 3.5 stars although a worthy IFFP winner.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Inderjit Sanghera

    The violence which permeates Blasim's short stories is reflected in their language; jarring, colloquial and awash with vituperation, Blasim's depictions of Iraq and Finland abound with a sense of loneliness and isolation, of love and loss juxtaposed with a sense of magic, with the miraclous power of fiction whereby Blasim is able to conjure lives and stories from his head, just the old lady Sarasar, grieving for her lost son, whilst being held captive by the beauty of the waters of the Nabi, is The violence which permeates Blasim's short stories is reflected in their language; jarring, colloquial and awash with vituperation, Blasim's depictions of Iraq and Finland abound with a sense of loneliness and isolation, of love and loss juxtaposed with a sense of magic, with the miraclous power of fiction whereby Blasim is able to conjure lives and stories from his head, just the old lady Sarasar, grieving for her lost son, whilst being held captive by the beauty of the waters of the Nabi, is able to spring forth trees via her imagination. The strongest stories in this collection are 'A Thousand and One Knives', which juxtaposes the story of a man crippled by war whose sole passion is refereeing youth football matches with a trick whereby he can make knives disappear with the cruelty and callousness of the Iraqi regime and 'Crosswords' which depicts the disintegration of a man who is possessed by the ghost of a police-man whose death in a suicide bombing attack he witnesses. Indeed, these stories represent Blasim at his best, his ability to coalesce the gritty realism of his story with fantastical elements reminds the reader of the best elements of magical realism and its ability to represent the horrors of a world dominated by violence and oppression. Interspersed within this are the feeling if isolation and solitude of the various Iraqi characters who have sought asylum in Finland; its bleak, cold and aloof atmosphere standing in stark contrast to the blazing heat and kaleidoscope of colours and emotions encountered in their native Iraq.  Although at times the writing can come across as slightly jarring and clumsy-whether through an issue with the translation or whether this is reflective of Blasim's slightly unrefined style, overall these short stories represent a powerful depiction of life a Iraq beset with violence and Finland best with emptiness, of people striving to find a meaning in the world which appears to be devoid of any. 

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nadia

    What the fuck did I just read? What? There's probably enough magic realism in this that I could justify putting it on the SFF shelf but for now I think I just need some time to process it. Blasim's also editing an anthology of stories set in Iraq 2103 that's supposed to come out next year, I'll definitely be picking that up. What the fuck did I just read? What? There's probably enough magic realism in this that I could justify putting it on the SFF shelf but for now I think I just need some time to process it. Blasim's also editing an anthology of stories set in Iraq 2103 that's supposed to come out next year, I'll definitely be picking that up.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Amal El-Mohtar

    This rating reflects effectiveness and skill more than my enjoyment. It's a harrowing collection of short fictions in which relentlessly dreadful things happen and strip people of their humanity and dignity in plain-spoken matter-of-fact ways. It's agonizing to read. But it was interesting also to feel the undercurrent of Arabic beneath the translation, and even when some of the fantasy devices seemed cliché to me, the feeling of them being spoken in Arabic, in a different context of literary inh This rating reflects effectiveness and skill more than my enjoyment. It's a harrowing collection of short fictions in which relentlessly dreadful things happen and strip people of their humanity and dignity in plain-spoken matter-of-fact ways. It's agonizing to read. But it was interesting also to feel the undercurrent of Arabic beneath the translation, and even when some of the fantasy devices seemed cliché to me, the feeling of them being spoken in Arabic, in a different context of literary inheritance, kept refreshing them. These are also stories that undo themselves, that dissolve, that break apart. Very few of them close a short-story circle. Mostly voices yield to voices and agony is layered on agony. Like the traumatic occurrences it presents, it's a book that needs to be recovered from while making the prospect of recovery bleak and chancy at best. I want to read it in Arabic.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    It was a strange collection of short stories, passed off as fantasy. I guess maybe there were some fanciful things, but the subject matter and underlying themes deal with the brutality of war. I could only read this in small doses. Like one story every few months. I can only imagine what it must mean to be an author and your cannot be/or isn't published in your own country. It was a strange collection of short stories, passed off as fantasy. I guess maybe there were some fanciful things, but the subject matter and underlying themes deal with the brutality of war. I could only read this in small doses. Like one story every few months. I can only imagine what it must mean to be an author and your cannot be/or isn't published in your own country.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    Terrific - more later. This one looks intriguing, but a bit worried by the violence in it (going by the review I read), eg: 'A Pakistani asylum seeker is conned by his fellow workers into putting his arm into a barrel of setting concrete so that they can rape him.' Terrific - more later. This one looks intriguing, but a bit worried by the violence in it (going by the review I read), eg: 'A Pakistani asylum seeker is conned by his fellow workers into putting his arm into a barrel of setting concrete so that they can rape him.'

  10. 5 out of 5

    Liam

    An admirable collection of short stories which paints a vivid, disturbing and horrific depiction of a fragmented Iraq whose war wounds are exposed forthrightly by Blasim. At the same time many of the stories are bordering on the surreal, involving magic, mysteries and beguiling symbolism, rendering the stories extremely thought provoking and often giving them a discomforting quality for the reader. My first furrow into Iraqi literature left me intrigued, wanted more and it is a collection that i An admirable collection of short stories which paints a vivid, disturbing and horrific depiction of a fragmented Iraq whose war wounds are exposed forthrightly by Blasim. At the same time many of the stories are bordering on the surreal, involving magic, mysteries and beguiling symbolism, rendering the stories extremely thought provoking and often giving them a discomforting quality for the reader. My first furrow into Iraqi literature left me intrigued, wanted more and it is a collection that is definitely to be read and re-read. It is also great to see a publisher in the North West championing such exquisite literature.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Esther | lifebyesther

    This is a book where I was just completely and thoroughly impressed. Blasim skillfully conveys both the trauma and the absurdities of human existence in just 14 short stories. The titular story-- The Iraqi Christ--was simultaneously beautiful and absurd. The stories are beyond disturbing. Grotesque. However, they also made me, for a little while anyways, view death as salvation. I appreciate Blasim so much, and wanted to reach out and touch the world he was painting. The only thing I did not lik This is a book where I was just completely and thoroughly impressed. Blasim skillfully conveys both the trauma and the absurdities of human existence in just 14 short stories. The titular story-- The Iraqi Christ--was simultaneously beautiful and absurd. The stories are beyond disturbing. Grotesque. However, they also made me, for a little while anyways, view death as salvation. I appreciate Blasim so much, and wanted to reach out and touch the world he was painting. The only thing I did not like about this collection of short stories was that I wanted more insights into characters. I wondered if he was relying slightly too much on sensationalism to carry his points through.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Eeva al-Khazaali

    An excellent, controversial read mixing cultures and stories together.

  13. 4 out of 5

    DubaiReader

    Short stories. This is a series of thirteen short stories mostly based in Iraq, though a few are based in Finland, where the author now lives. After an initial reading I was left with a sense of horror and shock at the level of violence portrayed. Fortunately, this was a book group read and it certainly helped to be able to discuss the narratives with others, which gave some context to the metaphors that I had missed or misunderstood. It's an interesting mix of stories, some have an element of mag Short stories. This is a series of thirteen short stories mostly based in Iraq, though a few are based in Finland, where the author now lives. After an initial reading I was left with a sense of horror and shock at the level of violence portrayed. Fortunately, this was a book group read and it certainly helped to be able to discuss the narratives with others, which gave some context to the metaphors that I had missed or misunderstood. It's an interesting mix of stories, some have an element of magical realism, others are obviously born of a violent background. There is some generosity shown to characters, but for me it was not enough to lift the overall gloom that I was left me with. I was hoping to find some recognisable theme linking them all, but apart from the "trauma and the curious strategies human beings adopt to process it", as advertised in the bumf, there were no obvious links other than one pair of stories centred around a compass. I did like that the author popped up in the narrative a few times, however, an interesting twist. The ratings given by other readers were quite varied, but on the whole it was the readers from Arabic backgrounds who gave the highest ratings and those of us from the west were significantly less generous. An interesting read but not an author I'll be in a hurry to read again.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Naeem

    Blasim's short stories are disturbing, difficult to understand, and hard to put down. The form of his stories perhaps tells as much about contemporary Iraq as the content. I would say that his bizarre, unpredictable, and jagged style is an acquired taste. I would compare him to Saadat Hasan Manto, who also is fearless in getting to the point. Except Manto is more lyrical and allows you inside his prose. Blasim seems almost indifferent to his reader, seeming not to care if he has provided enough. Blasim's short stories are disturbing, difficult to understand, and hard to put down. The form of his stories perhaps tells as much about contemporary Iraq as the content. I would say that his bizarre, unpredictable, and jagged style is an acquired taste. I would compare him to Saadat Hasan Manto, who also is fearless in getting to the point. Except Manto is more lyrical and allows you inside his prose. Blasim seems almost indifferent to his reader, seeming not to care if he has provided enough. And this makes the stories a bit of work. But when they work, the stories provide quite a punch. And insight. Here are some of the stories I thought I understood, though not all of them are in this collection: The Reality and the Record An Army Newspaper The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes A Thousand and One Knives The Fifth Floor Window The Iraqi Christ The Green Zone Rabbit

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tristan Cordelia

    I have an annoying suspicion that this book is actually very good, and that I have just failed to read it carefully enough to grasp what, exactly, was the point of each story. Blasim is very overt about attempting to follow in Kafka's footsteps, essentially taking Kafka's approach to the short story and adapting it to war-torn contemporary Iraq. There were some great images in here, but I felt like none of the stories went anywhere. However, it may just be that he was being very oblique, so I wi I have an annoying suspicion that this book is actually very good, and that I have just failed to read it carefully enough to grasp what, exactly, was the point of each story. Blasim is very overt about attempting to follow in Kafka's footsteps, essentially taking Kafka's approach to the short story and adapting it to war-torn contemporary Iraq. There were some great images in here, but I felt like none of the stories went anywhere. However, it may just be that he was being very oblique, so I will try to give it another go, and update this review (and possible the star-rating) once I've done so. The story I most enjoyed was "Why Don't You Write a Novel, Instead of Talking About All These Characters?", which is amusing as that is very much like what I might say to Blasim. This is the story of the narrator's journey to Europe with a fraudulent trafficker.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Heta

    I struggled massively with The Iraqi Christ. The clear reason for that is that I do not deal well with magical realism and surrealism. There is just something about that style of writing that constantly keeps me an arm's length from the story and characters. When I feel like it's deliberate, being kept an arm's length away is not a bad thing, but with these stories I felt more as if I was failing to get to the core, that the feeling of being distant was not intended. The title story is marvelous I struggled massively with The Iraqi Christ. The clear reason for that is that I do not deal well with magical realism and surrealism. There is just something about that style of writing that constantly keeps me an arm's length from the story and characters. When I feel like it's deliberate, being kept an arm's length away is not a bad thing, but with these stories I felt more as if I was failing to get to the core, that the feeling of being distant was not intended. The title story is marvelous and will stay in my mind for ages, and to no surprise it was also the most 'realistic', without hints of the surrealistic style carried through the rest of the stories. It's just a case of me not clicking with this particular style.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Elen Ghulam

    Dark. Think charcoal covered with tar, served on a black plate to be eaten in the dark and you will begin to approach the starkness covered in this collection of short stories. I could only read a few pages in one sitting and considered quitting it on several occasions. I enjoyed the style of writing which is not plot driven. The author paints a portrait and then embellishes details with finer brush strokes as things progress. I confess to not understanding the story about the man who falls in a Dark. Think charcoal covered with tar, served on a black plate to be eaten in the dark and you will begin to approach the starkness covered in this collection of short stories. I could only read a few pages in one sitting and considered quitting it on several occasions. I enjoyed the style of writing which is not plot driven. The author paints a portrait and then embellishes details with finer brush strokes as things progress. I confess to not understanding the story about the man who falls in a hole. I am certain that everything that happens in the hole is a metaphor for something, but it went over my head.

  18. 5 out of 5

    martin

    I wanted to like this more than I eventually did A migrant from one of the most unsettled, chaotic and dangerous countries of the last 50 years trying to describe that whole experience in short stories. It sounded fascinating and "worthy". It turned out to be perhaps too much for my sheltered occidental mind to deal with - rather than sharing and feeling his experiences, I found the stories alienating, confusing and depressing. Is it worth reading? Yes, I think so. His stories do successfully co I wanted to like this more than I eventually did A migrant from one of the most unsettled, chaotic and dangerous countries of the last 50 years trying to describe that whole experience in short stories. It sounded fascinating and "worthy". It turned out to be perhaps too much for my sheltered occidental mind to deal with - rather than sharing and feeling his experiences, I found the stories alienating, confusing and depressing. Is it worth reading? Yes, I think so. His stories do successfully convey the irrational violence, the fear, the total breakdown of social and cultural norms in a very broken country. This is done in part by shifts into fantasy, disregard for the laws of time and space, and a complete disruption of cause and effect. There are sudden, inexplicable and often violent sideways shifts, unconnected with anything that has gone before, which prevent the stories following any kind of linear pattern. For me this mirrors the unforeseeable randomness of a terrorist attack or a missile strike or a mass murder. Not "enjoyable" to read but definitely thought provoking

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ursula Florene

    My second Hassan Blasim book after The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq. Some stories are also included in the other book so it's basically a walk down the memory lane? Still mostly about everyday violence in Iraq due to political reasons, with a dash of magic realism here and there. Like a gang of people who can make knives vanish and some who can make them reappear, then a woman whose garden becomes the place the missing knives end up. Also a soldier who has the ability to avoid disa My second Hassan Blasim book after The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq. Some stories are also included in the other book so it's basically a walk down the memory lane? Still mostly about everyday violence in Iraq due to political reasons, with a dash of magic realism here and there. Like a gang of people who can make knives vanish and some who can make them reappear, then a woman whose garden becomes the place the missing knives end up. Also a soldier who has the ability to avoid disaster and helps his fellow soldiers escaping death. Since the stories are mostly the same with Corpse Exhibition so I kinda find it boring? Smart, witty, and makes you think, but no longer surprising.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Megan Edgar

    Well written and translated, this book shows a side of Iraq that we do not often see in the media. Heavy use of mysticism and fantasy, but in a way that still allows the reader to learn about what life is like in the war stricken cities of Iraq, this book is not only entertaining, but gruesome (which is why I haven't given it five stars, as I am not fond of over descriptive accounts of death) and gritty and real and brings both humanity and attention to those that live in these conditions. Well written and translated, this book shows a side of Iraq that we do not often see in the media. Heavy use of mysticism and fantasy, but in a way that still allows the reader to learn about what life is like in the war stricken cities of Iraq, this book is not only entertaining, but gruesome (which is why I haven't given it five stars, as I am not fond of over descriptive accounts of death) and gritty and real and brings both humanity and attention to those that live in these conditions.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Farya

    I think this is the preceding piece of Blasim's 'The Corpse Exhibition' although I read them the other way around. Many of the stories are repeated here as in the other so not worth reading both. The titular piece isa spectacular piece about a christlike suicide bomber. Hassan Blasim's style is mesmerising - the stories have so much subtext and parallel readings that they are well worth a more concerted study by anyone interested in the genres and writings from this region. I think this is the preceding piece of Blasim's 'The Corpse Exhibition' although I read them the other way around. Many of the stories are repeated here as in the other so not worth reading both. The titular piece isa spectacular piece about a christlike suicide bomber. Hassan Blasim's style is mesmerising - the stories have so much subtext and parallel readings that they are well worth a more concerted study by anyone interested in the genres and writings from this region.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kate Throp

    Still haven’t learned that more often than not short stories just aren’t my cup of tea. These are very well written, and translated, but I just didn’t click with them. Some Taut and often tragic, some with a touch of Borges about them and then some that just made my stomach turn. Certainly if reaction is the measure of success then this is a triumph.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Calvin

    Truly engrossing; the stories are so strange and walk the thin line between inscrutable and deeply prophetic. No easy lessons/metaphors/allegories in here, but somehow I feel like I “got” what Blassim is going for: nothing makes sense, everything can be a symbol if you want it to be, or you can just bask in the absurdity. He may have beaten Kafka at his own game.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nigel McFarlane

    For me, these stories meandered rather aimlessly between magical realism and death, and often failed to reach any satisfying conclusion. Only one story - the Green Zone Rabbit - really hit the spot. Four stars for the rabbit's egg, but the rest were disappointing. For me, these stories meandered rather aimlessly between magical realism and death, and often failed to reach any satisfying conclusion. Only one story - the Green Zone Rabbit - really hit the spot. Four stars for the rabbit's egg, but the rest were disappointing.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dafne Flego

    2.5 I recognize the importance of the subject matter, and I really wished to rate the book higher, but I guess I just couldn't stomach the violence... which is kind of the point? 2.5 I recognize the importance of the subject matter, and I really wished to rate the book higher, but I guess I just couldn't stomach the violence... which is kind of the point?

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    A compilations of short stories. I enjoyed many a great deal, some I found tedious ut all in all I would say that the author deserves his reputation.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tommie

    Like if Bolaño and Calvino had a few drinks too many and managed to have a kid who was raised surrounded by war but on a diet that included Kafka.

  28. 5 out of 5

    cardulelia carduelis

    I picked up this book at one of Edinburgh’s prize Indies in 2013 but only got around to reading it 3 years later; so I went into it blind - I was actually surprised to find it a short story collection. The first story is a sound representation of the book as a whole: sharp, paced prose, punishing circumstances, a touch of magic and Iraqis that won’t quit. And yet each is incredibly unique and deals with all manner of everyday and foreign-and-domestic horror. I won’t spoil it for you but there is o I picked up this book at one of Edinburgh’s prize Indies in 2013 but only got around to reading it 3 years later; so I went into it blind - I was actually surprised to find it a short story collection. The first story is a sound representation of the book as a whole: sharp, paced prose, punishing circumstances, a touch of magic and Iraqis that won’t quit. And yet each is incredibly unique and deals with all manner of everyday and foreign-and-domestic horror. I won’t spoil it for you but there is one story where a few pages in you’re no longer sure if the narrators are even human. Another is a bewitching fairytale in a parched land. Some characters share names in each story - this too is addressed and it’s left up to the reader to decide if this is deliberate or coincidence. There are cutlery magicians, rabbits with strange physiology, and wolves in the mind. What makes The Iraqi Christ such a success is simple: the strong storytelling. But it was also, for me, that it came from a different place than other magical realism collections I’ve read in the past: unrest, war, and doom are the everyday backdrop to many of these stories, and the catalyst for others. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that apart from the setting and dealing with the effect of war, not much is linking these stories together but that was one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much, each new chapter was a surprise. I will definitely be picking up Blasim’s first collection and am looking forward to see if he comes out with a full-length novel in the future. Cannot recommend this enough.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Portia S

    I'm not sure how I felt about this. I don't like short stories, but that's not the authors fault. Some of the stories were great - I wouldn't say enjoyable, because reading about the horror of a war-torn country is not especially enjoyable - but they were well written, evocative of a place, and illuminating. They painted a picture of Iraq, and the characters felt real, which is impressive for short stories. Some of the stories I just didn't understand though. The one told from the point of view of I'm not sure how I felt about this. I don't like short stories, but that's not the authors fault. Some of the stories were great - I wouldn't say enjoyable, because reading about the horror of a war-torn country is not especially enjoyable - but they were well written, evocative of a place, and illuminating. They painted a picture of Iraq, and the characters felt real, which is impressive for short stories. Some of the stories I just didn't understand though. The one told from the point of view of a dog was especially odd. I didn't see the point of The Dung Beetle at all.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tonymess

    Could you possibly imagine Gabriel Garcia Marquez being in Iraq? The magic realism spun into stories containing assassination attempts, decrepit hospitals, insurgents kidnapped and other Iraqi atrocities. Hassan Blasim’s “The Iraqi Christ” contains 14 short stories set in Iraq or Finland or in some cases I don’t know where (it’s not important). The title story itself (The Iraqi Christ) is about a soldier who can predict the future and as a result is given the nickname “Christ”, of course he is on Could you possibly imagine Gabriel Garcia Marquez being in Iraq? The magic realism spun into stories containing assassination attempts, decrepit hospitals, insurgents kidnapped and other Iraqi atrocities. Hassan Blasim’s “The Iraqi Christ” contains 14 short stories set in Iraq or Finland or in some cases I don’t know where (it’s not important). The title story itself (The Iraqi Christ) is about a soldier who can predict the future and as a result is given the nickname “Christ”, of course he is one of the most popular members of the regiment, leading people away from sabotage or air raids. However what choice does he make when having to choose between his own life and that of a loved one? Like “The Corpse Washer” from the same prize list, we are transported to the heart of Iraq, a country under siege: For my full review go to http://messybooker.blogspot.com.au/

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