Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim has won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for his second short story collection, The Iraqi Christ, translated by Jonathan Wright (Comma Press).
It is the first time in the prize’s 24-year history that it has gone to an Arab writer and also the first time that a short story collection has been victorious.
Blasim and Wright share the £10,000 prize, which they received at Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014 ceremony supported by Champagne Taittinger at the Royal Institute of British Architects last night (Thursday 22nd May).
The Iraqi Christ combines reportage, memoir and dark fantasy to present Iraq, post-Saddam and post-invasion, as a surrealist inferno. From legends of the desert to horrors of the forest, Blasim’s stories blend the fantastic with the everyday and offer a harrowing insight into life in contemporary Iraq.
Accepting the prize, Blasim thanked his publisher, Comma Press's Ra Page, for supporting him, saying that for six years his writing had appeared only on the internet, with publishers unwilling to take the book on. "We know about Arabic countries through the media, why do you not want our literature?," he commented. "This prize has helped - but there are many great writers in Iraq."
The collection, the recipient of a 2012 English PEN Writers in Translation award, beat competition from five other titles on the shortlist, selected from a record 126 entries from 30 source languages. Judges also gave a special commendation to The Mussell Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, translated by Jamie Bulloch (Peirene).
Blasim is due to appear at the Hay Festival this weekend (Saturday 24th May).