The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim

Is it fair not to like a book because the subject matter is vile? Because reading of shit filled septic tanks in which small children drown, violent governments which take the lives of innocent people, and suicide bombers who kill themselves and those around them sickens me?

I did not want to read The Iraqi Christ. I have never liked Arabic fiction because of the depravity that I find within its pages.
Of course when the official IFFP short list was revealed, there was The Iraqi Christ amongst five other titles. I bought it, so that I could participate with the shadow jury, and I am immersed in its pages now.
I find myself with a little boy whose brother has died in sewage, whose father comes back from war missing his leg and his testicles. I find myself in a hole where an old man is eating chunks of flesh from a dead Russian soldier. I find myself in a restaurant where a Christ figure named Daniel, the very name of my own son, cares for his blind and deaf mother. When a suicide bomber sees his devotion, the son is forced to trade places with that man wearing a belt of explosives; he only pushes the button when he sees that his mother has been taken from the restaurant as promised.
The stories are gruesome, while the writing is spectacular. It’s an odd combination for me. 
I can’t help but respect the skill with which these stories are written, while at the same time they sink into the pit of my stomach. Where they sicken me.

16 thoughts on “The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim”

  1. Cripes! This book does sound vile (well the stories do). And, I know what you mean about the writing being brilliant, but the subject matter being gruesome (I'm thinking Yoko Ogawa – some of her work is very dark and twisty, but she writes about it so well that I can't help but love her books). Not sure I would read this one, but can definitely understand how you respect the author's writing skills regardless of the subject matter.


  2. You make an excellent point, Nadia, as usual. I should revisit Revenge because I was so sad it wasn't like The Housekeeper and The Professor I couldn't fully appreciate it. But now, maybe I can. Thanks for drawing the comparison.


  3. I think there is a difference between vile stories that are true and those that are fiction. I think the intention behind the story decides too if that book is real, is good. If it is true information, informs people of what truly awful things are out there and is well written to boot, then you are onto a winner. If it is fiction and the person is using this stuff just to sensationalist his/her book then it isn't worth reading, no matter how well written it may be. It is about intention of the writer and what that may be. My 2cents of wisdom.


  4. Another excellent point, Pam. These stories are not written for shock value, but to reflect the genuine distress of the country. By reading the books of the IFFP, my horizons have been so richly expanded. Not in hope, but in awareness of the pain people are experiencing in so many cultures other than my own.


  5. Sounds like a tortuous but strangely satisfying read. This reminds me of A Fine Balance by Mistry…so much human depravity but somehow a beautiful story.


  6. Hats off to you for pushing through this! I struggle with reading such books too — anything that has potential hot buttons — but I think that stories like these have an important place and should be told and read too. Not to say that the reading of them is ever going to be easy!


  7. Yesterday, my mother pointed out that depravity is everywhere. In other words, I need not single out Arabic books in that arena. Yet somehow this book, and all the books by Khossini (Kite Runner, Splendid Suns, and all the books he's written) sit with me very heavily.


  8. A few years ago, I read a book that was beautifully written but so disgusting and violent that I opted not to even mention its name on the blog. It gave me one hell of a terrifying nightmare, which I still remember vividly. I came away from it feeling like the author's talent was completely wasted. Yes, she made money; it was turned into a film (which was equally vile – it didn't do well and I'm glad). But, why the depth of depravity when she had such obvious skill? I don't get that.


  9. Ah ha! A Fine Balance instantly came to mind as I read the first lines in your post! It was also filled with vile and heartbreaking scenes, yet like those you've described, none were gratuitous. Nonetheless, I doubt I could read this book. And, yes. You must read Rohinton Mistry's novel. It was amazing. Maybe this fall for a buddy read? I'm due for a re-read…


  10. I guess, in trying to be objective, depravity is a state of being for many people.

    I would crawl out of that state if it took my last breath.


  11. I really appreciate this review. I felt something similar as I was reading Beloved…some scenes made me feel physically ill, but they were a part of something bigger that was beautifully written and important. These are the books I find most difficult.


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