The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim (Comma Press), translated by Jonathan Wright. On the day the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is due to be announced, I finally finished The Iraqi Christ, which is shortlisted (edit: and has now won it). This takes my total to three of the six shortlisted titles (and I am just starting on Strange Weather in Tokyo). I have no idea who will win, so instead I should probably talk about The Iraqi Christ instead.
This is a fine collection of short stories by a clearly talented author. Dark, twisted, often fantastical and self-referential, they carry a wonderfully wry strain of humour that matches the often macabre settings we are treated to. The experiences carried in the novel are not exclusive to war torn Iraq; we are also taken to Europe and the experience of Iraqi-as-refugee. I enjoyed these stories the most because the sense of alienation, isolation and disconnect was really tangible.
This book came with a weight of promise – I’d read some glowing reviews of it and it was on the IFFP shortlist, so it had a bit of a steep climb to own my subconsciousness. To a large degree it succeeded – I was drawn in, found myself wondering how a story would end, imagining what disgusting detail Blassim would come up with next. But I also quite often felt locked out from his prose… it was just too abstract in places for my taste, but I imagine that would be perfect fodder for some people, and it cannot be denied that he is an amazing writer.
Thanks to Comma Press for kindly sending my impoverished soul a review copy of this book.
EDIT: this review was first written when I had to catch a train to Aberdeen, so it was a shoddy piece of work. I edited it again one week later, and hopefully improved on it.