‘The Hole’ by Hassan Blasim

Hassan Blasim is an Iraqi writer who was forced to leave his country in 1998 and now lives in exile in Finland. Many of the stories in this book take place in the climate of baroque cruelty and violence of Saddam-era Iraq where the Ba’ath party officials string up young Kurdish rebels on the football pitch and the children use the bloodstained posts to mark their goals. ‘The Hole’ seems to be set in the period after Saddam was deposed when revolutionaries and religious extremists vie for control. The story begins abruptly. The nameless narrator is ambushed by gunmen while trying to stock up on supplies from his boarded up shop and he ends up falling into a hole at the far end of the park, “down by the side of the Natural History Museum”. In the hole he finds a decrepit old man, a djinni, and the body of a Russian soldier who died “during the winter war between the Russians and the Finns”. The hole itself is not very deep. When the shopkeeper looks up he can see the lights of the park and he remarks that if another man fell in they’d be able to get out by standing on each other’s shoulders. But it soon becomes clear that even though he can still see that old world, he has fallen right out of it and the laws of causality and logic have no purchase where he’s standing. Blasim writes with caustic humour about the powerlessness of individuals caught up in cycles of violence. What I particularly love is the he combines recognisable day-to-day details with the tone of a fable. Kafka is clearly an influence. 

First published in The Iraqi Christ, Comma Press, 2013

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