The violence which permeates Blasim’s short stories is reflected in their language; jarring, colloquial and awash with vituperation, Blasim’s depictions of Iraq and Finland abound with a sense of loneliness and isolation, of love and loss juxtaposed with a sense of magic, with the miraclous power of fiction whereby Blasim is able to conjure lives and stories from his head, just the old lady Sarasar, grieving for her lost son, whilst being held captive by the beauty of the waters of the Nabi, is able to spring forth trees via her imagination.
The strongest stories in this collection are ‘A Thousand and One Knives’, which juxtaposes the story of a man crippled by war whose sole passion is refereeing youth football matches with a trick whereby he can make knives disappear with the cruelty and callousness of the Iraqi regime and ‘Crosswords’ which depicts the disintegration of a man who is possessed by the ghost of a police-man whose death in a suicide bombing attack he witnesses. Indeed, these stories represent Blasim at his best, his ability to coalesce the gritty realism of his story with fantastical elements reminds the reader of the best elements of magical realism and its ability to represent the horrors of a world dominated by violence and oppression. Interspersed within this are the feeling if isolation and solitude of the various Iraqi characters who have sought asylum in Finland; its bleak, cold and aloof atmosphere standing in stark contrast to the blazing heat and kaleidoscope of colours and emotions encountered in their native Iraq.
Although at times the writing can come across as slightly jarring and clumsy-whether through an issue with the translation or whether this is reflective of Blasim’s slightly unrefined style, overall these short stories represent a powerful depiction of life a Iraq beset with violence and Finland best with emptiness, of people striving to find a meaning in the world which appears to be devoid of any.