Jonas Hassen Khemiri Invading English!

First, it was Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s Obie-winning play, Invasion!, in NYC; then it was the Tunisian-Swedish author’s fun, fast-paced novel Montecore, which was longlisted for the 2012 “Best Translated Book Award.” Early in 2013, he was in McSweeney’s 42, the translation issue:

For a male author, Khemiri seems to have to do a lot of glamor shots.
Khemiri writes to ask: “We have almost the same hairstyle (even if our hair color is different).” Well, sort of.

Most recently, his Open Letter to Beatrice Ask (2013), which was apparently the “most linked text in Swedish history” (for those keeping score), was translated into English by Rachel Willson-Broyles and published on Asymptote. In the letter, Khemiri swaps Sweden’s Minister of Justice into his body and takes her on a trip through his childhood:

Suddenly someone came up on our right side, a broad man with an earpiece. “How’s it going?” He asked for ID and then he pushed our arms up in a police grip and transported us toward the police van, where we were apparently supposed to sit while waiting for him to receive confirmation that we were who we said we were. Apparently we matched a description. Apparently we looked like someone else. We sat in the police van for twenty minutes. Alone. But not really alone. Because a hundred people were walking by. And they looked in at us with a look that whispered, “There. One more. Yet another one who is acting in complete accordance with our prejudices.”

At the end of April — the 25-27 — Khemiri’s play I Call My Brothers will be performed at the Arcola Theatre in London as a part of the project Europe Now.The play will be performed in Swedish with English surtitles, and there will be closed captions in English, Arabic, and Swedish for anyone who so desires. According to Arcola Theater:

A crime is committed. A town paralysed with fear. The main character in this new play is lost in a landscape of paranoia trying to act as normal. But what is normal? Who is a potential criminal? And what happens when suspicious looks are cast towards yourself?

I Call My Brothers is a funny and angry debate on our prejudices against other people and each other. Nothing is what it seems to be. An everyday task ends up in a police hunt. A friendly wave is turned into a death threat. A phone call becomes a message from The Other Side. I become you, which becomes us.

More info here.

Also, coming this summer — July 30 – September 1 — Khemiri’s first play, Invasion!, directed by Anna Bahow, will be at the Silk Road Theater in Chicago.


A 2011 interview with Khemiri