Book Review: The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim

The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim
Published by Penguin on 2014-02-04
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Short Stories (single author)
Pages: 208
Format: eARC
Source: Penguin

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. 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.

I received this book for free from Penguin in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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My Review:

I’m at a bit of a loss on where to start with the short story collection of Hassan Blasim.  It’s been my goal this week to read with intention; to explore works by authors that are not white and/or male.  That’s not to say that I’m able to fully get away from works by white men (or women), but that I wanted to broaden my worldview and start seeing things that have been in my life, sometimes in the background barely paid attention to, for some length of time.  The war in Iraq is one of those things.  So I was a bit nervous going into The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq and the first story, right away, knocked me off my feet.  I felt weighed down and seriously put in my place.  I had no idea. None.  It took me some time to recover and then I picked up the next story, determined to read more.

What a rewarding experience it has been, and I don’t mean that in a way that implies that I got something great out of these books.  Don’t get me wrong – anytime I get taken to school and put in my place, I consider it to be a good thing because I need that reminder that I have it good, I have it great.  I’m living in a place considered by most of the world as paradise, I’m free to practice religion and politics without fear of repercussions.  I have a tumbler full of water sitting next to me that speaks of pride in my hometown and my iphone is charging and beeping at me, reminding it’s time to go to bed so that I can wake up tomorrow and enjoy a day in the sun, doing what I love to do.

But the people in the stories of The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq are not as fortunate as I am.  They are not given the opportunity to do what they love; instead, they are given hopeless choices, choices that make me wonder how on earth a person could decide.  I was completely wrecked by the story of a son’s love for his mother and the lengths that he will go to protect her.  I was overwhelmed by the multitude of stories and symbolism in the tale of a newspaper man who thought he could make a quick buck by exploiting someone else.  But most of all, I was so incredibly grateful that I live in a country where a book like The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq is ready and available for me to read and is not banned nor forbidden.  What would the world we like if we were all unable to experience, through books like this, what life is like on the other side?  And what would the world be like if more of us chose to do just that?

The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq is not an easy, simple read.  It’s gruesome and horrifying and real and it will completely take control of you while you read it.  While, at times, the symbolism is a bit heavy and hard to understand (some of the endings of the story, I admit, completely went over my head), I think what I ultimately took away from this book was well worth the time taken to read it.

Check out these reviews!

  • The Corpse Exhibition is a truly unique collection of work, guaranteed to satiate anyone with a thirst for the surreal, macabre, or even those interested in seeing the conflict in Iraq from a new perspective” – Lit Reactor

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