Robin Yassin-Kassab

The Madman of Freedom Square

with 2 comments

I see no need to swear an oath in order for you to believe in the strangeness of this world.”

How can imagination respond to a situation like Iraq’s, in which truth is so blatantly stranger and more horrifying than the darkest fiction? Perhaps by simply recording real stories, then sometimes allowing reality to slip a little further in the direction it’s already chosen.

Hassan Blasim, film maker, refugee, and author of the astounding short-story collection “The Madman of Freedom Square,” has a more precise formulation:

The important thing is to observe at length, like someone contemplating committing suicide from a balcony. The other important thing is to have an imagination which is not melodramatic but malicious and extremely serious, and to have an ascetic spirit that is close to death.

Except this isn’t a formulation but a voice within a story. In another story there is a man who throws himself from a balcony – a man who clears blood and debris in the aftermath of explosions, then migrates to Holland, renames himself Carlos Fuentes, becomes a Hirsi Ali figure, more Dutch than the Dutch, and suffers nightmares. There’s a man who dreams a number which foretells not a lottery ticket but .. something else. I give away too much.

Blasim slips between first and third person narration, between realism and hyper-realism, fairytale and dream. Better than slip, he weaves, surefooted. The writing is tight, intelligent, urgent. It bears traces of Gogol and Edgar Allen Poe, plus ugly hints of the Brothers Grimm. It’s Gothic but it dispenses with the Gothic mode’s flagged sentiment. Too tough and wise for that.

There is symbolism. There are phantasmagoric tales of people-smuggling, of corpses displayed as public art, of cannibalism. But none of it is fantasy. All of it directly addresses the fate of people tortured by destruction and fire.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 1, 2010 at 8:02 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] corpse – which moves off of its own accord. Saadawi’s macabre hyper-realism reminded me of Hassan Blasim, who isn’t represented here, despite being under forty and perhaps the best writer of Arabic […]

    Beirut 39 « Qunfuz

    June 12, 2010 at 9:06 pm

  2. […] this is a shame, because small publishing houses often publish excellent work. One example is “The Madman of Freedom Square” by the brilliant Hassan Blasim, published by Comma Press. Another is “Nod”, by Adrian […]

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