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Jonas Hassen Khemiri, born in 1978 in Stockholm, has a Swedish mother and a Tunisian father. He studied economy and literature in Stockholm and Paris. In 2002 he completed an internship at the UN in New York City. The idea for his first novel, published in 2003, “One Eye Red” (Ett öga rött), came to him during a trip to Israel and Palestine. Following its publication, the novel received the prestigious Borås Tidnings Debut Award. Together with impressive reviews and book sales of over 150,000 copies, the lasting response in Sweden soon led to the young writer becoming internationally recognized. His first work was translated into numerous languages, including into Dutch, Finnish, and Russian. In 2006 he published his second novel, “Montecore,” for which he received the Per Olov Enquist Prize. Other awards followed, and this novel too, was translated into several languages. In 2006 Khemiri celebrated his new calling as a playwright with the play “Invasion!” soon scheduled to be staged in the Netherlands, England, and France. In 2008 the German first performance, on the stage of the Kammerspiele in Munich, was well received. Khemiri lives in Stockholm. Currently at work on his next novel, he has also been commissioned by the State Theater of Göteborg to write a new play.

Should I be a Swede or an Arab? Halim, the hero and first-person narrator of “One Eye Red” wastes no time answering this question. Under no circumstances will he allow himself to be “Swedenized,” not even when the government claims to put into effect a radical, integration plan that will turn immigrants into authentic inlanders. If this happens, not only will instruction in Halim’s Arabic mother tongue be abolished, the price of hair cream will probably skyrocket astronomically. For Halim, all this is confirmed in the omens he comes across, day in and day out, making the rounds through Stockholm, reading newspapers—and roosting on the park bench, where he talks with old Dalanda, who makes him respect the magnificent achievements of Arabic culture: “She really knows everything. She told me that we have the best philosophers, the cleverest mathematicians, and the bravest soldiers. She even told me that us Arabs are nothing like other foreigners, because we’re a lot more civilized. Chills ran down my spine when she said that!” Naturally, Dalanda also puts great stock in a strict adherence to religion rules, this not being the only reason why she gains little approval from Halim’s liberal father, who admires the Persian poet Omar Khayyan, never refuses a glass of wine in the evening, and would be better off teaching his embittered son more tolerance. In this field of issues, inspired by Dalanda at the same time, Halim keeps a diary in which the rebellious “thought sultan” writes down everything that he experiences and feels. Also, he comes to value a curious Egyptian saying: “A man without a language is like a camel without a hump—worthless.” On the other hand, the value of Halim’s red notebook hardly lies solely in it being the comic-melancholic portrait of an immigrant’s young son, but rather in the way that everything it discusses—Halim’s father, his best friend Nourdine, and typical members of the more or less well-meaning society of Swedes in the majority—is brought to life so enticingly.

If for his literary debut, Jonas Hassen Khemiri exhausted the rich potential of Rinkeby Swedish—the Scandinavian counterpart of the linguistic trend created by Turkish male youths in Germany and known as “Kanak-Sprach”—he endows the protagonists of his second novel, “Montecore,” with a wondrously artificial language whose beauty is deeply moving, and whose humor invites side-splitting laughter. The novel is about the (rather one-sided) exchange of letters between a writer named Jonas Khemiri and the best friend of Khemiri’s missing father, a certain Kadir. The book’s sinuous, Oriental style is heavily seasoned with French expressions because Kadir, like Jonas’s father, comes from Tunisia. Kadir implores Jonas to write the biography of his father, a successful photographer with a turbulent past—and generously offers his collaboration. But how does Kadir happen to know so much about Jonas’s father? With this novel the author creates an arc of circumstance that stretches from Tunisia under French rule in colonial times to Sweden and on to New York, while expressing deep inner conflicts, both personal and cultural, which not only mark a human life in a positive way, but can also destroy it altogether.



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Publications translated into German: Das Kamel ohne Höcker (The Camel Without A Hump/One Eye Red), a novel; translated from Swedish by Susanne Dahmann; published by Piper Verlag, München, 2006 Montecore, ein Tiger auf zwei Beinen (Montecore), a novel; translated from Swedish by Susanne Dahmann; published by Piper Verlag, München, 2007 Invasion! a play; translated from Swedish by Jana Hallberg; published by Verlag Autoren-Agentur, Berlin, 2008

http://www.khemiri.se/english

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