The Iraqi film director and writer Hassan Blasim has recently published “The Corpse Exhibition”, a collection of war tales that mix the experience of several Iraqi citizens with the magic of fiction. Blasim’s literature, popular mainly in non-Arabic markets, has become widespread as a consequence of translation, and is now being published in the United States for the first time by Penguin. The stories in “The Corpse Exhibition” were translated into English by Jonathan Wright and other pieces by Blasim have already been published in Italian, Spanish, Finnish and Polish.
In the United Kingdom
The British public has had access to Blasim’s literature thanks to the translation of his work. In the United Kingdom, Blasim’s literature has been compared to other great European or Latin American writers such as Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges. The author’s debut collection of short stories, “The Madman of Freedom Square”, was in fact a finalist for the U.K.’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, which rewards the best translated works by a living author in a foreign language.
In the Arab World
In the Arab world, however, he has not gained the popularity he enjoys outside it, mainly because his crude and straightforward style does not fit within the more conservative literary elite. About this topic, the author commented that Arabic literature relies too much on symbolism and poetry, which is far from his dirty use of the language.
In the United States
John Siciliano, executive editor at Penguin, highlighted that the importance of publishing pieces such as Blasim’s lies on the fact that they contribute to build up the body of works which touch upon the conflict in Iraq. Moreover, this is the first work written from the perspective of an Iraqi, instead of that of an American. As Blasim stated himself, no other work depicts simple Iraqi characters.
The main obstacle that Blasim has to face is related to the American readers’ apprehension towards translated works. Moreover, in spite of the interest that Iraq arises among the general American public, the attention dedicated to the topic has been waning since the United States decided to withdraw its troops from the country.