Tuesday, November 24

God 99 by Hassan Blasim review – brutal take on refugee trauma | books

Hassan Blasim, winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Award for the Iraqi Christ, conveys the violence of the conflict and the sadness of the refugee experience with stark imagery and unapologetically brutal prose. In the 1990s, as an Iraqi filmmaker living under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, Blasim suffered intimidation and arbitrary arrest. He fled to Kurdistan, endured a four-year trip to Europe, and finally found asylum in Finland in 2004, where he began his storytelling career.

Described as the Irvine Welsh of Iraq, Blasim avoids writing in classical Arabic, claiming that it does not reflect everyday life or adequately describe current human suffering, and clearly delights in surprising his reader. At one point, he’s reflecting on the work of Italo Calvino, before describing “fucking” and licking “asses.” I suspect you want to push the reader to think in language: finding words to deal with violence and trauma is a recurring theme. God 99 It’s messy, and it occasionally feels like a work in progress, though there are flashes of brilliance everywhere, and Jonathan Wright’s translation of Blasim’s Street Arabic is no small feat.

The protagonist, Hassan Owl, an Iraqi exile living in Finland, decides to conduct a series of interviews with people whose lives have been “interrupted” by war, persecution and poverty, and turn his experiences into a blog.. Although presented as a novel, God 99 it is effectively a collection of stories, punctuated by a literary dialogue about reality and fiction between Owl and an enigmatic writer-translator. Blasim’s dedication informs us that this is based on correspondence with his literary mentor and fellow Iraqi, the late Adnan al-Mubarak.

Blasim deliberately intertwines his own biography with Owl’s experiences. Stories spill over onto each other and truth and invention become increasingly blurred. As Owl / Blasim observes in The Dark Room: “When I was a teenager, I asked heaven to give me life experiences so I could be a good writer. Life went too far: it hit me, kneaded me, baked me, ate me and shitted me again, much more than necessary … I can no longer tell the difference between my real life and my imaginary life. ” home louder at The Grasshopper Eater, where Owl describes Blasim’s recorded attempt to cross Bulgaria. One of the people in her group, a Nigerian woman, was raped by Bulgarian soldiers: “We heard her screaming and crying as she implored them to they would stop, and all we had to offer her were our tears. We had carried the woman on our backs during a cold and gloomy night, only so that a modern army could rape her. “

Equally disturbing is Face Mask, in which an Iraqi baker explains why he switched professions to make funeral masks for those maimed by daily explosions and suicide bombers. In The Son’s Game, a young designer designs a video game in which the refugees’ clandestine journeys are controlled by a Trumpian figure, Mr Rubbish. In Mr Palomar, Owl observes a transformative moment after being released from a brutal night in prison: a fat man with glasses drops one of his books and discovers Calvino’s book. Mr. Palomar. The man visits Búho in his dreams, gives him his glasses and says: “I’m Mr. Palomar… I’m not going to leave you. We are friends forever. “

Blasim’s blunt rhetoric, macabre humor, and confusion of reality and imagination can be overwhelming, but the refugees’ experience is traumatic: language is baffling, memories are clouded, and truth is often distorted to save lives. . Blasim perfectly captures that sense of alienation.

God 99 by Hassan Blasim, translated by Jonathan Wright, is published by Comma Press (£ 9.99). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply

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