Writer and filmmaker Hassan Blasim was born in Iraq, and made Finland his home ’by accident’ in 2004 — to quote him. His second collection of short stories, The Iraqi Christ, won the author the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014. Crossing borders between reportage, memoirs and dark fantasy, Blasim portrays post-Hussein Iraq as a surreal inferno. 3 June, he takes part in a talk at Waterstones at London’s Piccadilly. Along with two other authors who live in exile across Europe, Blasim will discuss his life and writing When Home Is Far Away, as the title of the talk proposes.
We called mr. Blasim a couple of days before his flight to London. This text is the first one in our new series of conversations with artists and creatives.
‘Pitkä matka’, writer Hassan Blasim says in Finnish and laughs a little. Long journey.
‘I walked to Finland from Baghdad in four years.
Maybe you have heard my story. I came illegally, crossing the border from country to another. I had problems with the secret police in Iraq. They were difficult four years: First, I had to walk to Kurdistan, because they wouldn’t give me my passport in Iraq. I walked from Iran to Turkey. I worked in Turkey in many different places, through the black market. I tried to make money for smugglers. After Turkey, I tried to walk to Bulgaria four times, failed, and tried again. From Bulgaria I walked to Serbia.
I came to Finland by accident. I wanted to go to France, but a friend of mine called and said ’Finland is a good country, come here’. I was supposed to stay for three months but I’ve stayed for more than ten years. Now my son was born here.
So weird. Some guy comes from Iraq and writes about war and darkness. In a dark country, asking people to be light and smile. [he laughs]
When you are born in the middle of the war, you know how important that is. This is really lahja [a gift]. I keep on saying how great peace is: a laboratory for thinking, for imagining, for making life better.
I left Iraq when I was 28 and now I am 41. It’s also the age: the difference between what I saw before and what I see now. When I am in Iraq, I am also inside the circle, the dictatorship. Now, it’s not only about one nation and about one culture: you have to find a solution that’s wider than a country.
I am thinking more freely; I am more relaxed, because inside the war you just want to survive and are a little bit angry. It’s harder for the colleagues who write in the inside to see the wider picture.
When Americans came to Iraq, all the films from Iraq then were about American soldiers. Many people don’t know the history in the west because it’s a different history: because they don’t read a lot of literature from the Arabic world. You can’t read just one book about a country and understand it. We need to translate more books from Iraq.
I don’t write for hobby or to survive. I just want to be a great writer. I am trying to find my voice.’
At the moment he is writing his first novel and a play.
Hassan Blasim talks at Waterstones Piccadilly 3 June, along with the BBC World Service’s first Writer in Residence Hamid Ismailov (Uzbekistan/UK) and renowned poet Ribka Sibhatu (Eritrea/Italy). The event, hosted by journalist Rosie Goldsmith, is part of European Literature Night. Free tickets can be booked here