Blasim debuts with 14 surrealist stories about his beleaguered homeland, Iraq, and its people.
Expect nothing but the impressionistic here—magical realism, bloody allegories and macabre parables—elusive tales, each one a different window into modern Iraq’s tragic history. "An Army Newspaper" alludes to stories sent from the Iraq-Iran war front, a conflict costing a million dead, one generating a "flood of stories [that] did not cease" requiring a "special incinerator" to consume. "The Madman of Freedom Square" seems a parable about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, swirling around "two young men...their blond hair and their white complexions." In each piece, there’s no happy ending, but Blasim’s language is powerful, moving and deeply descriptive, thanks to Wright’s translation. Saddam Hussein may be referenced in "The Killers and the Compass," a story of evil Abu Hadid, a brute who seduces his brother into burying a deaf man alive. Expect no tale here that translates war and tragedy into reportorial-style fiction stories. One of Blasim’s less obscure tales is "The Reality and the Record." It chronicles the travails of a humble ambulance driver, kidnapped and forced to act in propaganda videos variously as an Afghan jihadist, a Sunni terrorist, a Shiite martyr, a Kurd, an infidel Christian, a Saudi terrorist, a Syrian Baathist intelligence agent and a Revolutionary Guard from Zoroastrian Iran. The most accessible story, and the most powerful fable about war and its consequences, is the last effort, "The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes." A man escapes the abattoir of Baghdad and happily takes up Netherlands residence and then citizenship. He changes his name to Carlos Fuentes and quickly adapts to all that is Dutch, only to be plagued by nightmares. All the stories share a complexity and depth that will appeal to readers of literary fiction, while some focus more plainly on evil’s abyss, much like biblical parables.
A collection of fractured-mirror reality stories for fans of Günter Grass, Gabriel García Márquez or Jorge Luis Borges.