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The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq Paperback – February 5, 2014

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 5, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143123262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143123262
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

These 14 surrealistic stories are all about Iraq’s endless wars. Americans are mostly off-stage, but “The Madman of Freedom Square” is a sly, dark allegory of their arrival and sometimes miraculous effect. Many characters are terrorists, as in “The Killers and the Compass,” in which a veteran terrorist explains the divinity one acquires in the disposition of extreme violence—not a Muslim divinity but a personal one rising from inspiring terror and killing. The title story is all about the fine art of displaying corpses in public places. The matter-of-fact tone of its first-person narrator, a sort of instructor, suggests Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy.” But one thinks of Borges in perhaps the best entry, “The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes,” about an Iraqi immigrant to Holland who’s determined to put his country’s evils behind him, even to the point that he pretends to be Mexican. An interesting choice for larger fiction collections and perhaps base libraries. --John Mort


Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

“Perhaps the greatest writer of Arabic fiction alive . . . [His stories are] crisp and shocking . . . cruel, funny and unsettling [with] hooks and twists that will lodge in any mind.” —The Guardian

“Arresting, auspicious . . . Well-plotted, blackly comic . . . Sharp, tragicomic moments . . . persist in memory. . . . Its opening story [features] a terrorist middle manager who wouldn’t be out of place in one of George Saunders’s workplace nightmares. . . . ‘The Song of the Goats’ [is] a cunning gem. . . . If a short story could break the heart of a rock, this might just be the one. . . . The collection’s last story is so complicatedly good [with] an ending worthy of Rod Serling. Mr. Blasim’s stories owe more than a little of their dream logic to [Carlos] Fuentes and Serling, with maybe some Julio Cortázar thrown in. . . . Their sequence imparts a mounting novelistic power.”The New York Times

“Brilliant and disturbing . . . Bitter, furious and unforgettable, the stories seem to have been carved out of the country’s suppurating history like pieces of ragged flesh.” The Wall Street Journal

“Superb . . . The existence of this book is reason for hope, proof of the power of storytelling.”The Boston Globe

“A modern classic of post-war witness, elegy and revolt . . . Think Irvine Welsh in post-war and post-Saddam Baghdad, with the shades of Kafka and Burroughs also stalking these sad streets. . . . [Blasim] depict[s] a pitiless era with searing compassion, pitch-black humour and a sort of visionary yearning for a more fully human life. . . . Amid all the scars of combat, these stories seek and find comedy, magic, affection and even an urge towards transcendence.” —The Independent

“Line for line and paragraph for paragraph, Blasim writes more interestingly than [Phil] Klay. . . . His content is more strange and striking. . . . Blasim is an artist of the horrendously extraordinary. . . . [His] stories are almost Hemingwayesque in their stripped-down style and content. . . . Blasim has a sense of humor. He must have learned his jokes from the Grim Reaper.” —William T. Vollmann, Bookforum

“Brilliant . . . [A] much-needed perspective on a war-ravaged country . . . It is a slim but potent collection and will go a long way to making Blasim’s name in American literary circles. . . . Blasim plants his flag squarely in the tradition of Kafka, Borges, and other writers of surreal and otherwise metaphysical fiction. . . . He has a vital subject and takes it seriously: Iraq and its people. . . . He has written a fresh and disturbing book, full of sadness and humor, alive with intelligent contradiction.” —The Daily Beast

“A bravura collection . . . Mind-bendingly bizarre . . . Blasim . . . lights his charnel house with guttering flares of wit. . . . [Be] ready to be shocked and awed by these pitch-black fairytales.” —The National

“Unforgettable . . . Very important . . . [Blasim’s stories] could only come out of firsthand experience of the war.” —Flavorwire, 10 Must-Read Books for February

“A vivid, sometimes lurid picture of wartime Iraq [by] one of the most important Arabic-language storytellers . . . Violent, bleak and occasionally beautiful . . . Dark and sometimes bitterly funny . . . Most of these stories feel ready to collapse or explode at any moment. . . . The reader walks on solid ground one moment, and the next the ground gives way—sending him tumbling into deep, otherworldly holes.” —Chicago Tribune

“A blunt and gruesome look at the Iraq War from the perspective of Iraqi citizens . . . Blasim’s stories give shape to an absurdist world in which brutal violence is commonplace. . . . [For] fans of Roberto Bolaño, Junot Díaz, and other writers who employ magical realism when describing grim realities.” —The Huffington Post

“Shocking, urgent, vital literature. I will be surprised if another work of fiction this Important, with a capital I, gets published all year. If you’re human, and you are even remotely aware that a war was recently fought in Iraq, you ought to read The Corpse Exhibition.” —Brian Hurley, Fiction Advocate

“Startling and brutal.” —Guernica

“Corruscating, lapidary, deeply unsettling, Hassan Blasim’s stories are not only without equal, they are a necessary reminder that there is an other side waiting to give voice to the tragic costs of these unnecessary, imposed wars.” —Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, author of The Watch and The Storyteller of Marrakesh

“Blasim pitches everyday horror into something almost gothic. . . . [His] taste for the surreal can be Gogol-like.” —The Independent

“Stunningly powerful . . . Brutal, vulgar, imaginative, and unerringly captivating . . . Every story ends with a shock, and none of them falter. A searing, original portrait of Iraq and the universal fallout of war.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“The first story alone blew me away. Don’t miss.” —Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

“Powerful, moving and deeply descriptive . . . All the stories share a complexity and depth that will appeal to readers of literary fiction [and] fans of Günter Grass, Gabriel García Márquez or Jorge Luis Borges.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Excellent . . . Like hollow shards of laughter echoing in the dark . . . Blasim moves adeptly between surreal, internalised states of mind and ironic commentary on Islamic extremism and the American invasion. . . . Extraordinary.” —Metro
“Iraq's story must still be told, and we need Iraqi voices like Blasim's to tell it.” —More Intelligent Life
“Clever and memorable . . . Agreeably creepy . . . Move[s] effectively between surreal and magical. . . . Blasim’s use of the real-life horrors of Iraq [and] the fanciful spins he puts on events make the horrors bearable—even as these also often become more chilling.” —The Complete Review
“The first major literary work about the Iraq War as told from an Iraqi perspective . . . Starkly visual . . . Luridly macabre . . . Eloquent, moving . . . Effortlessly powerful and affecting . . . More surreally gruesome than the goriest of horror stories . . . Hassan Blasim is very much a writer in [the] Dickensian mould. . . . These are tales that demand to be told.” —
“Savagely comic . . . A corrosive mixture of broken lyricism, bitter irony and hyper-realism . . . I can’t recommend highly enough ‘The Corpse Exhibition,’ ‘The Market of Stories’ or ‘The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes.’ ” —The M John Harrison blog

“[Blasim is] a master of metaphor who is now developing his own dark philosophy [in] stories of profane lyricism, skewed symbolism and macabre romanticism. . . . [His work is] Bolaño-esque in its visceral exuberance, and also Borgesian in its gnomic complexity.” The Guardian

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sinohey TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
A new crop of Iraqi authors was recently discovered by the West. Inaam Kachachi (Tashari), Ahmed Saadawi (Frankenstein in Baghdad) and Hassan Blasim are shaking up the literary world of the Middle East. They all write in Arabic and rely on translated versions to expose their work to the West.

“The Corpse Exhibition” by Hassan Blasim is a composite of his two previous publications (Al Maseeh Al Iraqi) The Iraqi Christ (2009) and (Mag noon Sahat al Horreya) The Madman of Freedom Square (2012), which I read a few months ago in the original Arabic. Both works have been translated by Jonathan Wright and were awarded literary prizes in the UK. The translation is spot on; Wright captures the ethos of the stories without losing nuance or subtlety of the original meaning.
The book is a compilation of 14 grim, brutal and often lurid, occasionally funny, stories of wartime Iraq, recounted in the first person from the Iraqi perspective. The story-tellers slip between reality and a phantasmagoric existence in a Kafkaesque world of Borgesian tales, where reason becomes madness and insane behavior is commonplace. The horror is wrapped in magical realism akin to the neo-gothic writings of the late Roberto Bolano (1953-2003) or Julio Cortazar(1914-84).

Blasim born in Baghdad in 1973, is a filmmaker, writer and poet who ran afoul of Saddam Hussein because of a controversial documentary “The Wounded Camera” and had to flee his homeland in 2000. After his peregrinations through several countries he is ultimately settled in Finland since 2004. He has a unique perspective of his people’s experience surviving the horrors of commonplace daily brutal violence by adopting a fatalistic outlook and a nihilistic attitude.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nassem A. Al-Mehairi on April 23, 2014
Format: Paperback
The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim is a collection of 14 short stories. Ranging from a man driven mad by being stuck in a deep hole to a man forced to become a suicide-bomber to save his mother, these stories are thought-provoking and haunting.

The first major literary piece from an Iraqi point-of-view on the War shows it to us like none other. In the style of cadence writing well-known to have been used by Omar Khayyam and others, we see the War that defines modern conflict- soldiers, suicide-bombers, terrorists, and refugees. The Corpse Exhibition also includes the fantasy that is real for some: angels, sorcerers, jinni, and prophets.

The Corpse Exhibition is emotionally difficult to read, but is extremely well-written. Horrific yet humorous, awful reality-filled yet fantasy, the stories followed me even after reading them. It is a very dark book, almost gallows humor, that portray the Iraq War as it was (and still is): confusing, haunting, and filled with madmen. It is not biased, and does not condemn the war, but simply presents the new reality in the region. I believe that this book is important, and written bravely, evidenced by it being immediately banned in Jordan upon release. These stories must be heard to be understood, and will have you thinking well after putting the book down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kathy Phillips on March 24, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although a few of the stories seemed just clever, several were brilliant. One on the gap between "report" and "reality" lamented the need refugees feel to make an asylum application conform to certain "genre' requirements; at the same time, this story managed to sum up and satirize the whole war in Iraq, the follies and brutalities by all sides. As in Voltaire's satire Candide, what at first might seem "exaggeration" turns out to be the perfect way to convey an incredible truth. K. Phillips
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ryan Sanford Smith on March 11, 2014
Format: Paperback
I've been reflecting quite a lot on this short but destructive collection of short stories by the Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim, a writer The Guardian has called "perhaps the best writer of Arabic fiction alive". Taking it's title from the title of the first story, 'corpse exhibition' feels like both a directly and subtly apt one. There are bodies littered everywhere, violence and death a never-ending haze that hangs over every sentence. There's a stoic resolve present in the curation of these stories that reminds me of an art gallery, a sort of determination to let the art speak for itself without distraction -- the prose is concise, brutally economic as it frames one portrait after another of madmen, soldiers, djinn, prophets, soccer coaches and wailing family members. While Blasim's style lets these landscapes play out in a way unadorned, it's a style that also refuses to cushion any blow or cringe at any mutilated body.

I really admired the artistic ambition throughout the collection, the author's restraint to let the stories echo and haunt without any stilted prodding or winding up from the author's visible hand. The cascade of savagely honest descriptions and portrayals of one atrocity after another would have cultivated a good amount of writerly capital that could've been spent on a more sentimental or politicized text, but these stories really kick the gut because this gesture has been resisted. This doesn't mean the result is cold or lacking in criticism of nearly every actor in the long period of the US intervention, but Blasim has let the dark imagination of each story be its own best advocate. The result is a surprising, surreal, and necessary collection that will poltergeist around the mind of readers from any perspective.
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