The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim

This is a collection of short stories that made me want to reread even as I was reading. There is a pleasing mixture of the surreal and the contemporary real that bares the hallmark of great short story writing; think Borges, Kafka, George Saunders, Raymond Carver, Dambudzo Marenchera.

Blasim moves with ease from the fantastic tales of childhood and superstition, to bizarre snippets of human interest that highlight the grotesque and pointless moments of soul- or solace- searching in the daily lives of ordinary people. Men and women fall into time-warping holes (‘The Hole’) or try to remember what happened the day their brother fell into the septic tank (‘The Song of the Goats’). A woman dies from ingesting rat urine when out pleasuring her dog (‘Why Don’t You Write a Novel, Instead of Talking About All These Characters’, great title). A man living far from his country, from his family, obsesses over the life of a dung beetle, dreaming he is the larva growing inside a world of excrement and being lovingly cared for by his mother, pain (‘The Dung Beetle’). Concentrated crying can make knives disappear (‘A Thousand and One Knives’). An animal observes and is saddened by human behaviour (‘Dear Beto’). A drunkard goes home and becomes prisoner to his own imagination when he sees a wolf in his flat (‘The Wolf’). This same drunkard wonders if art is only ever the manifestation of another’s dream while another character questions if villagers stories about drought-bringing trees springing from a woman’s thoughts can be anything more than the babblings of the ignorant (‘Sarsara’s Tree’).

I’m not sure which story is my favourite. Sometimes it is weeks later that such favouritism rises into conscious musing and Blasim’s stories are definitely ones that will set my mind turning even when I consider myself to be thinking of something else. Ultimately, these stories are inspiring. They ask you to look closer, to think more deeply and in less well-travelled ways. They ask readers to pay attention not just to their stories but the world around them. This is the kind of writing that reminds you how powerful short stories can be. I definitely recommend The Iraqi Christ and will probably read his other collection very soon.

Next week I’ll be reading The Undertaking by Audrey Magee.

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