The full review appears at In These Times:
What might Iraq look like a century from now? That question is the organizing premise of Iraq + 100, a new short-story collection edited by award-winning Iraqi writer and filmmaker Hassan Blasim. As Blasim notes in his introduction, futuristic fiction isn’t a standard form for Iraqi prose—typically, it tends toward grim contemporary realism, historical fiction or what translates as “political fantasy”: political fiction with elements of magical realism. Even Ahmed Saadawi’s boundary-breaking Frankenstein in Baghdad, forthcoming in English next year, is firmly grounded in the present.
As such, Iraq + 100 won’t tell American readers much about the broader trends in Iraqi literature. But it might well stretch the imaginations of those accustomed to seeing Iraq as a place of endless violence. An avowed literary outlier, Blasim has long been interested in new possibilities of form and literary cross-pollination. In 2013, he and Comma Press began commissioning stories for Iraq + 100, set 100 years after George W. Bush’s declaration of “mission accomplished.” Though futuristic, the resulting works can’t all be called science fiction; some are noir, romance or satire.
Currently available in English with an Arabic edition forthcoming, Iraq + 100 is a welcome departure from the steady stream of books about Iraq since 2003. Most focus on the war and were written by U.S. and U.K. veterans, journalists or even torturers, as with Eric Fair’s 2016 memoir Consequence. In these works, Iraqi lives serve as little more than a backdrop for the heroism or moral agonies of the Anglo protagonist. A few notable examples foreground Iraqi perspectives, including Elliott Colla’s Baghdad Central, but it’s hard to think of anything that affords Iraqis the chance to turn around and ridicule their invaders in quite the same way as Iraq + 100.
Each version of the year 2103 has a different flavor. In Ibrahim al-Marashi’s “Najufa,” terrorism has moved to America, where we find the humorously named “CAKA, the Christian Assembly of Kansas and Arkansas.” “Kahramana,” by the pseudonymous Anoud, is the only story that imagines a future U.S./NATO presence in Iraq. Here, the titular Kahramana escapes from the Islamic Empire just before her marriage to its leader, a man whom the state newspaper refers to as “the great, the brave lion, the sword of Allah, Amir Mullah Hashish.” The Westerners make a big show of the beautiful Kahramana, putting her on a billboard and giving her a “Courageous Women’s Award.” But in the end, the fickle media forget her and her bid for asylum in the U.S. is quietly rejected.
Keep reading at In These Times.
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