x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Hassan Blasim’s literary exhibition from Iraq war aftermath

Jessica Holland speaks to Hassan Blasim about his move from film to magical horror-speckled books.

The filmmaker and author Hassan Blasim, who was born in Iraq. Courtesy Katja Bohm
The filmmaker and author Hassan Blasim, who was born in Iraq. Courtesy Katja Bohm

The Finland-based Iraqi filmmaker Hassan Blasim writes short stories about the Iraq war and its aftermath, in which magic is intertwined with horror: a corpse narrates, a secret club makes knives mystically disappear, assassins compete to kill in creative ways.

Two collections of these stories published in Britain have won major awards, and work was culled from both these for his first US book, The Corpse Exhibition.

Is it important to you that your work is read by Americans?

What is of importance is for me to keep on writing. I have been a writer since I was a little boy. Being published in other languages is a positive step.

Do people expect you to represent your entire country?

Some people expect a writer to have an answer to all questions around the Iraqi situation. I’ve attended literature festivals around the world where people ask questions that would rather be answered by a political analyst or a historian. My field of speciality is literature.

Should publishers be seeking out more Iraqi work?

Yes. There is a stereotyped concept in the West about Iraq and the Arab world. Most people in the West rely on western media for information about what goes on in our part of the world; this is preposterous for the advanced societies that they are.

Do you miss Iraq?

I miss my family and friends. I am often angry with religious militias and corrupt political parties [in Iraq]. It is continuous torment to see people brutally killed every day. Finland is a quiet country ... It might seem like a difficult place to be at first for an immigrant like myself; the weather, the language and the rhythm of life … but, in time, it grows on you.

How did your time in prison affect your work?

I have been in and out of prison several times, not only in Iraq, but also throughout my clandestine immigration journey from Iraq to Europe. During my journey on foot through Iran, Turkey and Bulgaria, I saw how cruel the world can be for clandestine immigrants.

As well as your literary website, Iraq Story, you are putting together an anthology of new Iraqi writing focused on the future. Why?

Iraq+100 is a project that my publisher in the UK, Comma Press, and I came up with. It will be a new challenge for Iraqi literature, which lacks diversity at the moment. Arabic literature, Iraqi literature in particular, is grounded in realism. It is superficially romantic and poetic. Our project is an attempt to stir things up.

• The Corpse Exhibition (Penguin) is out now