Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Comma Press, 2020
Winner of an English PEN Translates Award
Chess-playing people-traffickers, suicidal photographers, absurdist sound sculptors, cat-loving rebel sympathisers, murderous storytellers… The characters in Hassan Blasim’s debut novel are not the inventions of a wild imagination, but real-life refugees and people whose lives have been devastated by war. Interviewed by Hassan Owl, an aspiring Iraq-born writer, they become the subjects of an online art project, a blog that blurs the boundaries between fiction and autobiography, reportage and the novel.
Framed by an email correspondence with the mysterious Alia, a translator of the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, the project leads us through the bars, brothels and bathhouses of Hassan’s past and present in a journey of trauma, violence, identity and desire. Taking its conceit from the Islamic tradition that says God has 99 names, the novel trains a kaleidoscopic lens on the multiplicity of experiences behind Europe’s so-called ‘migrant crisis’, and asks how those who have been displaced might find themselves again.
God 99 is the highly anticipated debut novel by award-winning Iraqi writer, poet and filmmaker Hassan Blasim.
Translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright.
Hassan Blasim is an Iraqi writer currently based in Finland. Born in Baghdad in 1973, he studied at the city’s Academy of Cinematic Arts, where two of his films ‘Gardenia’ (screenplay & director) and ‘White Clay’ (screenplay) won the Academy’s Festival Award for Best Work in their respective years. In 1998, after several arrests, he was advised by his tutors to leave Baghdad – the overtly political and critical nature of his films was drawing attention from Saddam’s informants at the Academy. He fled and ultimately in 2004, after years of travelling illegally through Europe as a refugee, he settled in Finland. Hassan’s stories first appeared on the website iraqstory.com, which he co-edited, and then first in print, with the anthology Madinah (commissioned by Comma Press in 2008). His debut collection The Madman of Freedom Square was published by Comma a year later, 2009 (translated by Jonathan Wright) and was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2010. His second collection, The Iraqi Christ (again translated by Jonathan Wright) was published by Comma in April 2013, and won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize – the first Arabic title and the first short story collection ever to win the award. Hassan’s work has been translated into over 20 languages.