Last Friday, English PEN announced that Hassan Blasim’s forthcoming book of short stories, The Iraqi Christ (trans. Jonathan Wright), had won a “Writers in Translation” award. The prize helps publishers “market, promote, champion and celebrate literature in translation.”
The award, for Blasim’s second short-story collection, was another feather for the Iraqi writer’s cap. Feathers in translation have been several for Blasim. In Arabic, fewer.
Then on Tuesday, news came that the Arabic edition of Blasim’s first, strong collection — Madman of Freedom Square — had been banned in Jordan, a country that was supposed to have scrapped censorship back in 2007. Blasim stated on Facebook:
A message from the Arabic publisher in Lebanon:
We were informed by the Jordanian Department of Press and Publications (http://www.dpp.gov.jo/) that The Madman of the Freedom Square book is “prohibited from trading” in Jordan
رسالة من ناشري في لبنان :
تم ابلاغنا من قبل دائرة المطبوعات والنشر بأن كتاب مجنون ساحة الحرية
ممنوع من التداول في الأردن
This was echoed on Twitter by Madman’s English-language publisher, Comma Press.
Madman (trans. Wright) was released in English in 2010 to some acclaim; it was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and Robin Yassin-Kassab was so impressed that he called Blasim, in The Guardian, “perhaps the best writer of Arabic fiction alive.”
Back in 2010, Blasim’s original (Arabic) stories were available online for free, but they hadn’t been collected into a book. He said at the time, “of course I want to publish my books in the Arab world. I have tried a lot before. But I do not agree to pay money to them [publishers] and also what I said about corruption.”
Short-story collections are also a harder sell than novels.
Finally, Blasim settled on a Lebanese publisher (المؤسسة العربية للدراسات والنشر) after, according to his Facebook page, toning the stories down a bit. The Arabic edition came out in March of this year. But even this toned-down version — of a vivid if sometimes uneven book — is not to be traded in Jordan. Although government censors have been abolished in Jordan, apparently the “Department of Press and Publications” can still do the job.
Blasim added, on Facebook, that he looks forward to being able to distribute Madman as an e-book.
Is There or Ain’t There Book Censorship in Jordan?
This comes on the heels of two similar cases: Susan Abulhawa said last month that the Arabic edition of her Mornings in Jenin had been banned in the Hashemite Kingdom, although journalist Ramsey George reports that the book is selling. The publisher, Bloomsbury Qatar, said, “Our sales team were told by buyers at University Book Shop and Jordan Book Centre that the Arabic edition had been banned.”
In a more sophisticated sort of book-blocking, Jordanian book distributors have refused to take on Alexander McNabb’s Olives (which is not officially banned). In McNabb’s words, “The booksellers have blocked it out of fear that someone from a big family will take umbrage from a work of fiction using the family’s name.”
More from 7iber:
The opposing view:
Get Blassim’s stories in Arabic:
Get Blassim’s stories in English:
You should be able to buy Madman of Freedom Square off Amazon or other services.
You can also listen to Blasim’s stories read by Raad Rawi, via Spoken Ink.