The Iraqi Christ is Blasim’s second short-story collection. His stronger first collection, Madman of Freedom Square, also translated by Wright, was longlisted — but not shortlisted — for the IFFP in 2010.
This year, Blasim has seem tremendous acclaim in English. His collection The Corpse Exhibition was released in the US by Penguin and was widely reviewed in the US press, generally positively. Interviewshave popped up across English-language media.
When the IFFP’s 2014 longlist was released, Judge Boyd Tonkin, who writes for The Independent and is the only IFFP judge who stays the same year after year, commented on Blasim’s collection:
“Strung between reportage, memoir and dark fantasy, these linked stories present Iraq, post-Saddam and post-invasion, as a surrealist inferno. Bizarre horrors become everyday events. Outlandish tragedies punctuate ordinary life. Blasim’s wild imagination, pitch-black comedy and fierce compassion, all captured by Jonathan Wright’s pacy, pugnacious translation, keep nihilism at bay.”Blasim’s stories have been translated into a number of languages, and his work has been embraced in many of them. But not in Arabic. It was a struggle for Blasim to get his short-story collection printed — publication of the original Arabic came after the English translation and then with a number of redactions. The collection is banned in Jordan and perhaps elsewhere.
When the first collection of Blasim’s stories did come out in Arabic, they did not receive the critical acclaim they have in English. A review inAl-Akhbar, for instance, comments on the lack of beauty in the sentences. Others have commented on an absence of innovative language or style.
Although some critics suggest that Jonathan Wright has beautified Blasim’s stories in English, the appeal of the stories is not in the style, but in the raw sharpness of the individual scenes, the freshnses of them, how they pop out beyond expectations and drag the reader into a new place. Although the collections have been uneven, there have been amazing, startling moments within.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but I'm curious enough about this collection (which I almost bought before the IFFP winner was announced) that I'll read it soon after it arrives here.