The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq [NOOK Book]


A blistering debut that does for the Iraqi perspective on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan what Phil Klay’s Redeployment does for the American perspective

The first major literary work about the Iraq War from an Iraqi perspective—by an explosive new voice hailed as “perhaps the best writer of Arabic fiction alive” (The Guardian)—The Corpse Exhibition shows us the war as we have never seen it before. Here is a world not only of soldiers ...
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The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq

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A blistering debut that does for the Iraqi perspective on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan what Phil Klay’s Redeployment does for the American perspective

The first major literary work about the Iraq War from an Iraqi perspective—by an explosive new voice hailed as “perhaps the best writer of Arabic fiction alive” (The Guardian)—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.

Blending shocking realism with flights of fantasy, The Corpse Exhibition offers us a pageant of horrors, as haunting as the photos of Abu Ghraib and as difficult to look away from, but shot through with a gallows humor that yields an unflinching comedy of the macabre. Gripping and hallucinatory, this is a new kind of storytelling forged in the crucible of war.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Like its title, The Corpse Exhibition does not present a picture; instead this collection of stories by an Iraqi author captures his million-casualty, war-torn nation in savage surrealistic still lifes. Whether its subjects are refugees, hostages, or victims or assassins, soldiers, or car bombers, Blasim conveys a sense that violent conflict has inflicted his entire homeland. Certain to be widely reviewed. (P.S. This author has been described as "perhaps the greatest writer of Arabic fiction alive.")

Library Journal
An Iraqi-born writer currently living in exile in Finland, Blasim offers a collection of fairly brief stories, set mostly in Iraq in recent years, although details are hazy. The characters are mostly young men whose lives have been shattered violently and brutally by the upheavals of the war, the fascist dictatorship, and the disintegration of society. The title piece, which involves hired executioners and their training, includes a discussion of the methods and history of murder. Absent are any reasons, names, and places, only a long, uninterrupted speech given by a nameless, faceless person in complete command. Several stories involve refugees outside Iraq, who tell their experiences, confuse identities, lie, repeat mistakes, and meet tragic ends. In "The Reality and the Record," a refugee relates being kidnapped and made to read written statements on camera many times, each time with a story of murder committed by or attributed to a different cause or political party. VERDICT Well written and harrowing, these stories paint a grim picture. Because of the abbreviated nature of the pieces, however, and the fragmented and oblique style that mirrors a world disrupted, the cumulative impact for the reader is somewhat diminished given the level of tragedy that is depicted within. [See Prepub Alert, 10/28/13.]—James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.
The New York Times - David Kipen
…heralds a writer whose promise deepens as the book progresses…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. As the protagonists evolve from teenage gangsters and hit men into journalists and, eventually, refugees, the structures of their stories grow ever more coordinated and shapely…if [Blasim] did write them roughly in order—maturing alongside his characters—then he's getting better on a pace that could carry him who knows how far.
Publishers Weekly
★ 12/16/2013
Iraq came into our recent consciousness through war, supplanting the magic carpets and genies of folk tales, but Blasim, a filmmaker, poet, and fiction writer, who, persecuted under Saddam Hussein, fled Baghdad in 1998, destroys all preconceptions about his homeland and the effects of dictatorship, war, and occupation in this stunningly powerful collection. The stories are brutal, vulgar, imaginative, and unerringly captivating. In the title story, a man is interviewed for a job as an assassin, with the caveat that he’s expected to display the corpses of his victims in artistic and interesting ways. In “The Killers and the Compass,” a young boy follows his elder “giant brother,” Abu Hadid, around their “sodden neighborhood” of muddy lanes as he terrorizes the neighbors and extorts favors. The corpse of a journalist tells his story in “An Army Newspaper”: “There’s no need to kick him in the balls for him to tell the story honestly and impartially, because the dead are usually honest, even the bastards among them.” The surreal continues in “The Madman of Freedom Square,” in which the statues of “the blonds,” two young men who had mysteriously appeared in the wretched Baghdad neighborhood called the Darkness District and transformed the inhabitants’ lives, are threatened with destruction by the new government’s army. Daniel is “The Iraqi Christ” and has premonitions: “A constant itching in Daniel’s crotch foretold that an American helicopter would crash...” Cars explode, women and boys are beaten and raped, bodies are inhabited by spirits, refugees tell lies, yet none of the horror is gratuitous; every story ends with a shock, and none of them falter. A searing, original portrait of Iraq and the universal fallout of war. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
One of Publishers Weekly’s 10 Best Books of 2014

“Surreal and mind-blowing and completely necessary.” —Jayne Anne Phillips, The Wall Street Journal, “Favorite Books of the Year”

“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

“Subtly and powerfully evocative . . . Superbly translated.” —The New York Review of Books

“Visceral, full of horror and absurdity . . . Blasim is an Iraqi Kafka with a touch of Edgar Allan Poe thrown in, and his pen spares no one who commits atrocities, Americans and Iraqis alike.” —Brian Castner, “This Week’s Must Read” on NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered

“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

“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

Kirkus Reviews
Blasim debuts with 14 surrealist stories about his beleaguered homeland, Iraq, and its people. Expect nothing but the impressionistic here--magical realism, bloody allegories and macabre parables--elusive tales, each one a different window into modern Iraq's tragic history. "An Army Newspaper" alludes to stories sent from the Iraq-Iran war front, a conflict costing a million dead, one generating a "flood of stories [that] did not cease" requiring a "special incinerator" to consume. "The Madman of Freedom Square" seems a parable about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, swirling around "two young men...their blond hair and their white complexions." In each piece, there's no happy ending, but Blasim's language is powerful, moving and deeply descriptive, thanks to Wright's translation. Saddam Hussein may be referenced in "The Killers and the Compass," a story of evil Abu Hadid, a brute who seduces his brother into burying a deaf man alive. Expect no tale here that translates war and tragedy into reportorial-style fiction stories. One of Blasim's less obscure tales is "The Reality and the Record." It chronicles the travails of a humble ambulance driver, kidnapped and forced to act in propaganda videos variously as an Afghan jihadist, a Sunni terrorist, a Shiite martyr, a Kurd, an infidel Christian, a Saudi terrorist, a Syrian Baathist intelligence agent and a Revolutionary Guard from Zoroastrian Iran. The most accessible story, and the most powerful fable about war and its consequences, is the last effort, "The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes." A man escapes the abattoir of Baghdad and happily takes up Netherlands residence and then citizenship. He changes his name to Carlos Fuentes and quickly adapts to all that is Dutch, only to be plagued by nightmares. All the stories share a complexity and depth that will appeal to readers of literary fiction, while some focus more plainly on evil's abyss, much like biblical parables. A collection of fractured-mirror reality stories for fans of Günter Grass, Gabriel García Márquez or Jorge Luis Borges.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101609392
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/4/2014
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 245,280
  • File size: 528 KB

Meet the Author

Hassan Blasim

Hassan Blasim was born in Baghdad in 1973 and studied at the Baghdad Academy of Cinematic Arts. A critic of Saddam Hussein's regime, he was persecuted and in 1998 fled Baghdad to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he made films and taught filmmaking under the pseudonym Ouazad Osman. In 2004, a year into the war, he fled to Finland, where he now lives. A filmmaker, poet, and fiction writer, he has published in various magazines and anthologies and is a coeditor of the Arabic literary website His fiction has twice won the English PEN Writers in Tranlsation award and has been translated into Finnish, Polish, Spanish, and Italian. In 2012 a heavily edited version of his stories was finally published in Arabic and was immediately banned in Jordan.


Jonathan Wright studied Arabic at Oxford University and has spent much of the last three decades in the Arab world, primarily as a journalist with Reuters.
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Hassan Blasim, author of The Corpse Exhibition

Translated by Chelsea Milsom

The stories in The Corpse Exhibition are an unblinking look at the conflicts that have engulfed Iraq in the last few decades. Do you ever hesitate to depict the horrors of war in such explicit detail?

I was born in 1973, when the dictator started to liquidate other parties to build his brutal regime. Then came the Iran war, followed by the Kuwait war and the inhumane economic blockade and then the occupation of Iraq. I fled Iraq illegally on foot through Iran, Turkey, and Bulgaria; it was an arduous and painful journey. In my childhood I witnessed the executions that the dictator's party carried out in the public squares, I experienced all forms of violence, cruelty, and terror in Iraq, and I still stare daily at images of death in my country. Do I hesitate to depict the horrors of war after coming face to face with terror and destruction? I do not think so. Literature has always been more honest and courageous than the politicians who do not want to look at the true details of the destruction and suffering; they are busy with their empty slogans.

Americans often think of their country as having played an important role in the history of Iraq, especially during the Gulf and Iraq Wars, and yet your stories in The Corpse Exhibition rarely mention the United States and have no explicitly American characters. Is this deliberate?

Yes, I deliberately ignored stories of American soldiers, the kind that appear in Iraqi and American literature and art, either as heroes, victims, or criminals. Iraqi and international literature address America directly; I wanted to choose another angle. My hero is the weak Iraqi, devoid of any way to defend himself or herself against the brutality of the occupation and war. America occupied Iraq, then oil companies came to profit, then Hollywood made heroes of the war and it too profited, American authors wrote books about American soldiers and made money, analysts sat in American television studios analysing the war and forming conclusions so the television stations profited, and many American stars were created in the realms of politics, war, arts, and literature. The only loser is the simple Iraqis, and my stories try to shed light on their bleeding wounds. The hero in my stories is, for example, the ambulance driver, not the American soldier, whose life was turned upside down because of the U.S occupation. The U.S soldier has returned home while the ambulance driver remained, picking up bodies from the pools of blood in Baghdad to this day. Of course the American soldier has his story, and that is what Hollywood is interested in; Hollywood isn't interested in the Iraqi ambulance driver. Nevertheless the impact of the disastrous U.S occupation of Iraq is present in my stories, even without direct reference to the American violence.

Your writing is a masterly blend of journalistic realism and flights of fantasy. How do you see the relationship of the two in conveying the truths you want to tell?

The media will write, "40 people killed today in a car bomb explosion in a popular souk in the center of Baghdad." Reporter language turns human life and tragedies into mere numbers and information received by millions of people, without enabling them to contemplate the reality of the horrifying details. The daily deaths in Iraq are turned into a cliché. Reports of the dead become merely daily news, positioned within the news broadcast according to the number of dead bodies they report. The viewer is addicted to this direct journalistic language, and he believes he understands it. I sometimes use this journalistic language (realism) as a tool to convey to the viewer the true scene of bloodshed and the nightmarish reality in Iraq. In the pool of blood there is a child among the 40 who were killed in the popular Baghdad souk, his remains and blood scattered among the fruit and vegetables, his blackened eyes among the oranges and apples. This child is my story, which may not be true. Fierce imagination is the only way to ensure the memory of this child is rescued from oblivion and the graveyard of the media. Imagination and fantasy are an amazing way to expose the domesticated fake reality. Perhaps switching between journalistic realism and fantasy in my stories is an attempt to test the boundaries between what is real and imaginary. I too am trying to understand! For many people the report of a car bomb in a vegetable market is a factual news item, but for me it is an absurdity...

Almost all the stories in The Corpse Exhibition are framed as tales being told to or by someone. What inspired this choice?

The inspiration came from the people, for they are the best at telling the stories simply and clearly, without the convulsions and exaggeration of the writer. The stories in The Corpse Exhibition are my story, the biography of an Iraqi, which closely resembles the stories of most Iraqis who share the same experience of fear and violence. I have said before that in Iraq we joke about our tragedy and say that every Iraqi has at least five good horror stories, so in total we have approximately 160 million horror stories. When you meet an Iraqi he narrates his story to you, and during his account he tells you the story of his friend or relative who was killed or kidnapped or tortured or drowned as he tried to cross into Europe, and in return you have a different story about death, kidnapping, torture, and drowning... It is a story of fear and pain within another story of torture. They are stories of a country tortured by the violence of war for more than five decades.

Your stories are formally inventive—whether drawing inspiration from unusual sources like crossword puzzles, pushing the boundaries of metaphor, or reworking ancient myths like The Thousand and One Nights. Is there a reason you choose to highlight the writerly nature of your work?

I have been reading and writing and following literature and arts since a young age. Sometimes I feel stuffed, bloated, and bored with what is written and what will be written. You read a new work and you feel like you've read it ten times before. So I am trying to pour my stories into different moulds, even though I know it is futile! Soccer is played in soccer stadiums and basketball on basketball courts; writing is the only serious game that can be practiced in different grounds... Pouring the words into different forms is the only way for me to escape the boredom that is literature! What I know at this stage is that I agree with Emil Cioran, who believes the best books are those that wound the reader. I am seeking such writing.

You seem very mindful of international literature, referencing writers from Carlos Fuentes to Erich Fromm. How do you view your work in relation to that of other writers around the world?

Yes, I am familiar with international arts and literature to some extent. Classical Arabic literature doesn't interest me; in my opinion it is an inane, romantic, and rhetorical literature that lacks diversity. The offspring of Arabic literature stimulates me more—it is bolder, innovative, and sincere. I am sure European and Latin American literature have had a significant effect on my writing, but I also actively follow cinema and other arts, so literary books are not my only source of inspiration.

Who have you discovered lately?

I haven't read Roberto Bolaño, so I am currently attempting to discover his work.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 22, 2014

     This book of short stories is a combination of horror, sadness

     This book of short stories is a combination of horror, sadness and pure insanity. 
    These crazy things present in the book I've grown to love it in other written material. This book is for someone who likes surprises with a deadly twist. The Corpse Exhibition  is definitely a book I would recommend to students and adults with a mature mind. It is, mainly due to the explicit details that within it of how a death is caused or scene from the war in Iraq. So if you would like a short book with short creepily detailed stories this book is the way to go.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2014

    Picked this book up on a whim and I was very impressed with it.

    Picked this book up on a whim and I was very impressed with it. Every story was very unique, and refreshing. I was drawn to the book due to the fact that I had never read any works from the region and it was very enjoyable. As a warning though, some of the stories can be graphic at times due to the subject matter, but it is very eye opening so I highly suggest anyone interested should pick it up! 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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