Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Jonas Hassen Khemiri was born in Stockholm in 1978. The son of a Tunisian father and Swedish mother grew up speaking three languages; Swedish, Arabic and French. He studied International Economics and Literature in Stockholm.
He travelled to Paris on a study visit and New York for an internship at the UN. His first novel »Ett öga rött« (t: »One Eye Red«, 2007) was published in 2003. This work was awarded the Borås Tidnings Prize for Best Literary Début and became the best selling paperback in the country in 2004. The film adaptation, directed by Daniel Wallentin, was released in 2007.
»Ett öga rött« describes a teenager’s search for identity. He feels unwelcome in Sweden due to his North-African heritage and establishes himself as an outsider. In his diary he writes – in a hybrid language – about his attempts at self-assertion. Although he has a good command of Swedish, he imitates the radical and awkward slang used by migrants but expands it through innovative vocabulary and word order. He thus creates his own hybrid identity, whilst disparaging all signs of assimilation as »Swedishisation« and romanticising his Arab roots. According to Barbara Wahlster at Deutschlandradio, the book makes the »inner realms visible … as the sometimes difficult and nonsensical, sometimes desperate and comical search to find one’s own place in the world is taken seriously, something which is easily lost in idle talk about parallel societies or the masculinity of Muslim youths.«
Khemiri’s second novel »Montecore – a unique tiger« (2006) positions the traditional ideal of homogenous identity against a reality that consists of numerous facets of living as conformist and outsider, of self-denial and self-assurance, courage and uncertainty. A complex and contrasting image of a North-African immigrant is developed through the correspondence between his son and his friend – whilst in this dialogue the youth slang and the correct Swedish of the son come up against the flowery mix of Swedish, Arabic and French used by the friend.
At the request of the Stockholm City Theatre Khemiri wrote the play »Invasion!«. The arbitrariness with which foreignness is construed and perpetuated is shown both humorously and dramatically, alongside a portrayal of the difficulties of communicating across this barrier. Following its premiere in 2006, the play was sold out for two seasons and subsequently staged in France, Britain, Norway and Germany. In 2008 it was published under the same title alongside a further play, short stories and commentaries.
Khemiri’s works have been translated into nine languages. The awards he has received include the PO Enquist Prize, Swedish Radio’s Prize for Best Novel and for Best Short Story, in addition to a residency at Royal Court in London. Currently the author lives in Berlin as a guest of the German Academic Exchange Service. For more information about Khemiri and his works please consult www.khemiri.se.
© international literature festival berlin