The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq
“The Green Zone Rabbit”
“The Green Zone Rabbit” is from Hassan Blasim’s collection CORPSE EXHIBITION: AND OTHER STORIES OF IRAQ (Penguin). Hassan Blasim is an author and filmmaker. Born in Baghdad in 1973, he studied at the city’s Academy of Cinematic Arts. In 1998 he left Baghdad for Iraqi Kurdistan, where he continued to make films under a pseudonym, fearing for his family in Baghdad under the Hussein dictatorship. In 2004, he moved to Finland, where he has made numerous short films and documentaries and he turned to writing.
His debut collection The Madman of Freedom Square was translated from Arabic and published in English is 2009. It was long-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2010, and has since been translated into five languages. His second collection, The Iraqi Christ, was published in 2013. He has won the English PEN Writers in Translation award twice. The Guardian recently called Blasim ‘perhaps the greatest writer of Arabic fiction alive’.
Blasim said this about his story: I was following all the reports and news items about corruption among the [Iraqi] government officials and how their bodyguards had been embroiled in killings and assassinations. The politicians were living in splendor in palaces and there was peace in the Green Zone, whereas the rest of Baghdad was bleeding and people were being killed savagely. Iraqis on Facebook were divided along sectarian lines, just like the politicians. Everyone was screaming and speaking at once while innocent people were dying every day.
I was sitting at home, here in the city of Tampere in Finland. It was winter, and I felt depressed and upset. A friend visited from another city. We went out for a walk and decided to visit the church in the town. In the cathedral in Tampere I saw a painting entitled The Garden of Death, painted by a Finnish artist in 1869. I sat in the church, looking closely at the painting, and the story of the “The Green Zone Rabbit” started to take shape easily in my mind while I was absorbed in the details of the painting.
About the painting: The Garden of Death is a painting by Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg. Like many of Simberg’s paintings, it depicts a gloomy, otherworldly scene. The central figures are reminiscent of the classic black-clad Grim Reaper, but paradoxically are tending to gardens; traditionally symbols of birth or renewal. In a note on one sketch of the painting Simberg described the garden as “the place where the dead end up before going to Heaven”. Simberg juxtaposes the traditionally frightening imagery of death with tenderness and humor to invite the viewer to consider mortality in a new light. An image of the painting can be found in Wikipedia.