Corpse ExhibitionBefore tak­ing out his knife, he said, “After study­ing the client’s file, you must sub­mit a brief note on how you pro­pose to kill your first client and how you will dis­play his body in the city. But that doesn’t mean that what you pro­pose in your note will be approved…”

So begins the title story, a sur­real and har­row­ing tale of mur­ders care­fully crafted and art­fully dis­played to evoke max­i­mum hor­ror. The nar­ra­tor of the tale is inter­view­ing for the posi­tion of assas­sin, with the caveat that his vic­tims must be posi­tioned in eye-​catching and mem­o­rable ways. Fail­ure to live up to the job descrip­tion can only end in a grisly demise.

Blasim is a writer and film­maker who fled per­se­cu­tion under Sad­dam Hus­sein in 1998 and now lives in Fin­land. The Corpse Exhi­bi­tion is a graphic and Kafkaesque look at a night­mare world of feral young men groomed to be gang­sters and killers, doomed fam­i­lies, des­per­ate sur­vivors, and death at its most grue­some and meaningless.

In “The Song of Goats”, the nar­ra­tor finds him­self com­pet­ing with other would-​be con­tes­tants to see who can tell the most hor­rific story and win a place on a radio game show. Shock fol­lows absur­dity as the hap­less nar­ra­tor vies to come up with the most appalling tale, while another con­tes­tant grum­bles, “That’s a story? If I told my story to a rock, it would break its heart.”

The Mad­man of Free­dom Square” chron­i­cles the mir­a­cle of two young blond men who appear in the wretched Dark­ness Dis­trict and rejuvinate the squalid neigh­bor­hood. After their dis­ap­pear­ance, a bloody bat­tle ensues between the gov­ern­ment and the locals over the fate of the stat­ues erected to honor them.

The col­lec­tion con­cludes with “The Night­mare of Car­los Fuentes”, in which an Iraqui escapes to Hol­land and does his best to embrace his new life and good for­tune, but pon­ders the stark dif­fer­ences between his life then and now. “Why can’t we be peace­ful like them?…Why do they respect dogs as much as humans? Why do we mas­tur­bate twenty-​four hours a day?” There is, how­ever, no refuge from the night­mares and Car­los Fuentes soon learns that there’s more to escap­ing one’s past than just geography.

The Corpse Exhi­bi­tion is by no means an easy read. Blasim piles hor­ror upon hor­ror. But clearly the author writes with the author­ity of expe­ri­ence. Beneath the often fan­tas­ti­cal nar­ra­tive is a vivid and sober­ing look into a world most of us know only from the head­lines and the evening news.

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