ARUN RATH, HOST:
Back in 2007, something happened in Iraq that caught the attention of many here in the U.S. Security guards working for the company Blackwater shot and killed at least 14 Iraqi civilians in a traffic circle in Baghdad. This past Wednesday, four of those guards were convicted for their roles in those murders. To reflect on this news, we're turning to literature and to our series This Week's Must Read. Here's author Brian Castner.
BRIAN CASTNER: I know that in years to come, we'll ask ourselves how average Iraqis survived so much tragedy - an eight-year war with Iran, Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, Desert Storm, sanctions, no-fly zones, a second American invasion, a civil war and now the group calling itself the Islamic State. How much can one people take?
To consider this view, I recommend the stories of Hassan Blasim. His book "The Corpse Exhibition" puts the Blackwater shooting in the context of decades of suffering. Blasim was born in Iraq. He lives in exile in Finland now, but there's no distance in his writing. It's visceral, full of horror and absurdity. In the title story, a shadowy group assassinates people, then puts them on display in a kind of grotesque performance art. In another, a newspaper reporter plagiarizes a story from an unknown dead soldier. Then he's driven insane by a flood of similar ghostly stories that arrive in the mail.
Blasim's phantoms are distinctly Arab - genies and devils at every turn. He once told an interviewer, it's not magical realism. It's nightmarish realism. In "The Corpse Exhibition," war is always present, explicitly or in metaphor. War is a hole in the ground from which there is no escape. War is a dream that kills even those who leave the country. Blasim is an Iraqi Kafka with a touch of Edgar Allen Poe, and his pen spares no one who commits atrocities - Americans and Iraqis alike.
RATH: Brian Castner served as an explosive ordinance disposal officer in the Air Force for eight years. He is also the author of the book "The Long Walk." He recommended "The Corpse Exhibition" by Hassan Blasim.
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