The first major literary work about the Iraq War from an Iraqi perspective, The Corpse Exhibition shows us the war as we have never seen it before. Here is a world not only of soldiers and assassins, hostages and car bombers, refugees and terrorists, but also of madmen and prophets, angels and djinni, sorcerers and spirits.
These stories, translated from Arabic by Jonathan Wright, present a vivid, sometimes lurid picture of wartime Iraq. But they are much more than miniature portraits of the country. Blasim is particularly interested in the slippery space between reality and story, and even the most realistic stories in his collection have an element of the surreal. The reader walks on solid ground one moment, and the next the ground gives way — sending him tumbling into deep, otherworldly holes ... These dark and sometimes bitterly funny stories are shape-shifting, Borgesian tales in which often we discover the narrator is mad or lying. But even when the stories betray their tellers, the characters can't give up narrating their lives. The act of storytelling is at the chaotic center of this collection's violent, bleak and occasionally beautiful world ... Blasim's are not finely wrought stories, where each word feels as though it has been carefully glued into place. Instead, they are stories where the reader is dragged along and left suddenly with a handful of ashes ... But it is in these rough patches that Blasim's argument for a truth emerges.
...the stories in The Corpse Exhibition hang together like a series of horror portraits excerpted from the past thirty-five years of Iraqi history, touching on the casual terrors of life under the Baathist regime, the losses of the Iran-Iraq war, and most especially the disorder, mistrust, venality, and injudicious killing during the years of American Occupation ... In spare, kinetic prose, and an efficiently brutalist focus that rivals the sarcastic, schematic nightmares of Ballard’s work from the late 60’s and early 70’s, Blasim continually pushes the acidic realism of his stories to a point where they warp into instances of confrontational, gritty conceptualism ... their sustained proximity to the worst aspects of human cruelty, and the clarity with which they render it, has trained their nerves to reject any manner of transcendentalism or noble posturing.
There are no sides and no front in the Iraqi exile Hassan Blasim’s arresting, auspicious story collection The Corpse Exhibition, only paranoid top dogs and desperate bottom feeders ... The Corpse Exhibition heralds a writer whose promise deepens as the book progresses. Mr. Blasim peoples his first few stories here with violent Iraqi young men, who count life cheap. They boast, kill, watch movies, even discover good books with that casual fatalism recognizable among futureless teenagers, both abroad and at home ... As with many of the stories here, a somewhat askew framing device brackets the action, raising doubts about the reliability, even the reality, of what’s going on. Yes, more than a few stories here are, unhappy phrase, about storytelling ... The Corpse Exhibition takes Mr. Blasim from pulpy, claustrophobic two-handers about easy death to well-plotted, blackly comic meditations on the difficulty of survival. It’s unclear in what order he wrote these stories, but their sequence imparts a mounting novelistic power.