"“The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq,” by Hassan Blasim, is the most important book to come out of the Iraq War. Blasim, whom I met with last week in Princeton, N.J., has a faultless eye for revealing detail, a ribald black humor and a psychological brilliance that makes every story in his book a depth charge. In this collection of short stories he explores through fiction the culture of violence unleashed under the bloody dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and exacerbated by an American occupation that has destroyed the damaged social cohesion and civil life that survived Saddam’s regime. His prose, courtesy of a brilliant translation by Jonathan Wright, is lyrical, taunt and riveting.
Militarism and violence are diseases. It does not matter under what guise they appear. Renegade jihadists, Shiite death squads, Sunni militias, Saddam’s Baathists and secret police, Kurdish Peshmerga rebels, al-Qaida cells, gangs of kidnappers and the U.S. Army 101st Airborne are all infected with the same virus. And it is a virus Blasim fearlessly inspects. By the end of this short-story collection the reader grasps, in a way no soldier’s memoir or journalistic account from Iraq can explicate, the crucible of war and the unmitigated horror of violence itself. The book is a masterpiece.
.....Blasim, like his characters, endures the covert racism of supposedly post-racial societies. Liberal white Europeans and Americans, he says, regard racism as wrong but continue to unconsciously express racist impulses. Blasim, for example, was reading a book in a subway car when an older woman next to him asked if it was in Arabic. “It is beautiful script,” she told him. “The writing goes from right to left, doesn’t it?” He nodded. “Are you reading the Koran?” she asked. “No,” he said, “Kafka.”
He described to me his ordeal of getting a visa so he could go to the United States to give readings. At the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki he had to pass through a security gantlet. When he eventually arrived before a woman behind a bulletproof window, she asked him the address he would be staying at in the U.S. He did not remember. When he said he would get the information from his bag, she shouted, “Don’t move!” “I felt I was back in Iraq. The U.S. Army does not need a visa to go to Iraq. No one invites them. They arrive with guns. But if you are a writer and try to go to America with an invitation from your publisher you are nothing because you are an Iraqi.”......."