Arrival in Malta

Hassan Blasim's 'The Iraqi Christ'

Hassan Blasim’s ‘The Iraqi Christ’

By Dan Gorman

Following on from meetings held in Istanbul and Beirut, we’ve now arrived in Malta for the Literature Across Frontiers conference ‘Towards a Literary Exchange and Translation Strategy for the Euro-Mediterranean Region’. The conference is grounded in years of research and solid partnerships, and one from which there is clear determination for concrete outcomes, with delegates from around the Mediterranean and beyond attending.

I’m just emerging from the Reel Iraq festival, which took place over 9 cities across the UK with over 50 events focused on literature, poetry, films, music and exhbitions from and for Iraq. Perhaps in homage to this one of the books I’ve brought with me is Hassan Blasim’s upfront and excellent ‘The Iraqi Christ’. Blasim was one of the guests at the Reel Iraq festival, and gave readings in both Edinburgh and Glasgow as part of it. However I’m shamefaced to admit that I personally am only half way through his latest book. Blasim has been acclaimed as ‘perhaps the best writer of Arabic fiction alive’ and whilst in Scotland his book received a 5 star review from the Skinny. The fact that his work is available in translation is to be celebrated, he defiantly rejects the two dimensional caricature of victim or aggressor shorthand which is liberally applied to those living in conflict.

The beauty of an organisation like Literature Across Frontiers is that through them a whole world of possibilities opens up. In order to cross borders both physical and imagined, literary exchange and translation plays a vital role. As ever more restrictions to migration appear and with an increasing focus on migrants as the problem (in the UK the caricature of ‘Benefit Tourists’ is appearing with increasing frequency), literature in translation permits voices outside the national boundary or dominant language to speak, it provides a ‘voice’ to counter dehumanising policies.

As Reel Festivals we have borne the brunt of evermore restrictive migration controls on numerous occasions, with artists, musicians and writers being refused visas for the UK. Alongside Blasim for Reel Iraq 2013 we aimed to host four Iraqi poets in the UK. Of these three managed to attend (Awezan Nouri, Zaher Mousa and Ghareeb Iskander). However audiences across the UK were denied the opportunity to hear Sabreen Kadhim read, as her visa was refused. An emerging and dynamic voice, Kadhim would have allowed audiences in the UK to have direct interaction with a female poet based in Baghdad. We are hopeful she will be able to join us later in the year.

Malta is a perfect location to host these discussions. For millennia Malta has been seen as a place of refuge and resilience, a resilience which was demonstrated in the Siege of Malta in World War Two, where over 3000 bombing raids were carried out by Axis troops. Malta has been a place of migration, to, from and through. And so it continues to be. As Valetta is awarded European Capital of Culture for 2018 a discussion focused on the possibilities of exchange and translation couldn’t be more timely.

Dan Gorman is the director of Firefly International and coordinates Reel Festivals, a project which focuses on dialogue through arts events. He is Literature Across Frontiers’ guest blogger in Valletta this weekend.

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