REVIEW: “The Here and Now Prison” by Jalal Hasan

Review of Jalal Hassan, Max Weiss (trans.), “The Here and Now Prison”, Iraq+100, edited by Hassan Blasim (Comma Press, 2016): 139-153 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

If I had to sum up the theme of this story in one line, it would be the question “How do we deal with continuity in the face of radical discontinuity, before and after?” Or perhaps, “How do we understand the present as history from the point of view of a radically different future?” This is, in a sense, the question that shapes the entire anthology, but it is more clear in this story than in some of the others, and Hassan makes it clear how our language is simply not up to the task. In the opening scenes, a teacher tells his students:

We call it the world whether it is our own world or that which we no longer know, the way it was before the year 2021. As if nothing changed.

It was a strange, beautiful, and sweet story, but also one which was never entirely explained. In particular, the reader is left to guess at what the title is meant to mean. I can think of a number of interpretations, but I am hesitant to articulate any of them, because they seem to be nothing more than idle guesses or speculation.

There are a handful of minor typographical/editing errors: missing commas on p. 143 and p. 146, an extra “the” on p. 152, and one occurrence of “effected” on p. 149 which I am pretty sure should have been “affected” (although there is a reading of the sentence in which “effected” works.)