‘The Reality and the Record’ by Hassan Blasim, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright

Hassan Blasim is perhaps best known for winning the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize with his collection The Iraqi Christ. I still have strong memories of The Madman of Freedom Square, Blasim’s first collection to appear in English; and of ‘The Reality and the Record’, the very first story of his that I read.

An introduction sets out that refugees arriving at reception centres have one story for the record (in order to gain asylum), and another for their private reality. Then we see this in action: an Iraqi refugee describes being kidnapped from his job as an ambulance driver and sold from group to group, placed in front of a camera and made to act as an Afghan fighter, a Spanish soldier, or whatever suits his captors. Role after role, story upon story… Blasim presents war as a maze of realities in which a person can so easily become lost.

(Read and first published in the collection The Madman of Freedom Square (Comma Press, 2009). Available to read online here)