The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous

The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous

Syrian Fiction

Original title – Kha’ifoun

Translator – Elisabeth Jaquette

Source – personal copy

Over the last few years, I haven’t reviewed enough books translated from Arabic I have felt so when looking for potential booker international longlist books there were two titles that had been shortlisted for the Arabic international prize this and another book which won the prize. So I reviewed this first the other is in my tbr and if it makes the list will be read quickly if not in a month or two. Dima is a writer I had read a few years ago as part of the Beirut 39 collection of writers she had studied French literature at Damascus University and the Sorbonne. She then became a Journalist and worked on TV. She caught the eye of many literary critics for her 2007 short story collection Details. This is her second novel.

A few weeks later, it did all happen again. I left Kamil’s office and found the main sitting on the front steps. smoking. “Coffee?£ he asked. I thought about how he’d invited me for a cup of coffee and then ordered a beer. He’d abridged hir invitation this time, an enquiry with a question mak suspended in the air. I copuld see it flying around his head , attatched ti a string of letters jumbled on top of each other, obscuring one another. I nodded, agreeing reluctantly, and started walking; he followed me. Almost immediately I stopped.

The Frightened ones are based on two friends and former lovers when Suleima and Naseem meet at the therapist in pre-war Syria in Damascus in the waiting room and started an affair. They are from different backgrounds Suleiman is an anorexic woman with a number of anxieties and worries around men. She falls for the charming Naseem a doctor that has his own horrors he constantly smacks his face this is a broken pair in a broken country so when He leaves and then sometime later send to his former lover his first book as she reads on what she finds he has written the story of a woman with Anxieties and issues with her family as she loses her male relatives to the war that is tearing her homeland apart. she slowly starts to gather she is reading her own story that he has written into a novel. As he has taken her life as his own. Suliema hasn’t painted in a number of years since the death of a close family member. This lifts the lid on the horrors of living in fear and under constant terror.

I remember our living room well. i remember our carpet, green with dark dreen embroidery, and how I often rolled it out to play. The only thing that cut out the silence was the creek and chirp of the wooden shutters, I lived my childhood in silence, so much so that when I summon the few scenes I do recall to memory, they appear with out soundl They’re silent. No commotion. No voices. No ,music, Just windows chirping.

The electricty ofent wentin ur building for days at a time, those across the way would still be lit, while we alone were drowning in Darkness. Our power lines were connected to the close-knit neighbourhoodof Esh al-Warwar, some distance away, where most residents were from Alawite officers famlies.

The opening if Naseems manuscript does she Suliema see paraells in her own past !!

The book shows where reality and fiction can blur over time as the two lovers were separated over the war as she stayed and saw her family die and he left but he used her sorrows anxieties to build his novel. It shows the horrors that can be caused by the war on the mentality of the public and the busy therapist waiting room and those left in the country as it descends into madness.  As the constant threat of both death but living under a dictatorship with the fear of getting caught or worse. This isn’t a fast-paced book more a book that opens the reader’s eyes with it wonderfully insightful prose looking into the horrors of everyday life with a poetic mix of metaphoric insights into everyday life. Also, the anxiety of that also of love under those conditions and that is followed by betrayal has a powerful message about the horrors in Syria. As the book in the later part divides between Suleima story and her reading Naseem’s work as the two unfi=old and at times cross each other the lines of fact and fiction blur. Now if this was the Old IFFP prize I would have this higher up the list as it a book Boyd the old head judge would like. Have you read this book? or have any favourite recent reads translated from Arabic into English?

Winstons score – B great but in parts, it wanders

The confines of the shadow by Alessandro Spina

'The Confines of the Shadow' Cover by Luke Pajak

The confines of the shadow vol 1  by Alessandro Spina

Syrian fiction

Original title I confini dell’ombra

Translator -Andre Naffis-Sahely

Source – review copy

“Interzone”

I walked through the city limits,
Someone talked me in to do it,
Attracted by some force within it,
Had to close my eyes to get close to it,
Around a corner where a prophet lay,
Saw the place where she’d a room to stay,
A wire fence where the children played.
Saw the bed where the body lay,
And I was looking for a friend of mine.
And I had no time to waste.
Yeah, looking for some friends of mine.
I choose interzone as it was inspired by Burroughs book set in North Africa of the same title .

This is another book from the new translator Darf . This is the first in what is a three volume collection that brings together the eleven novels and short story collection that he wrote 70’s and 80’s to great acclaim from fellow writers in Italian such as Alberto Moravia and on the cover a great quote from Claudio Magris (an italian writer I really enjoy reading ) .Alessandro Spina was the non de plume of Basili Shafik Khouzam a writer of Syrian origin that was educated in Italy and settled running his fathers factories in Libya for 25 years til Gaddafi took over he factories when he retired to Italy .He died two years ago but saw the collected volume of this book win The Bagutta prize one of Italy’s biggest prizes .

He asked to be shown the merchandise , and despite knowing its inferior quality he praised it, became he knew he would be able to sell it. The was had paralysed commerce and depleted stockpiles.Hajji Semereth said he was prepared to purchase part of the cargo, but he wanted a discount .Trade as the market was slow that day and that first del might expedite the sale of the rest. Hajji Semereth paid in cash

The young maronite tries to sell his cargo on arrival in the city .

The first three section in this book follow Libya from just before the outbreak of World war one to the late 1920’s from The book opens young Syrian Maronite lie about some cargo arriving in Libya .This starting the story of immigrants in Libya from The arab world and also europe so what we see is the melting pot of North africa and Libya in particular .Then we see an Italian captain in the city Benghazi as the city slowly grows over this book but eventually into the second city of Libya . The book follows the end of 1911 war as we see people follow to the area in search of chances to make their way in the world this is the first two-parts in the book and the last follows the final ending of Libyan resistance after twenty years of fighting .

Captain Martello evoked empires and diverse influences that had dominated the country, conquests that belonged to the ancient past – Egyptians , the Greeks, the Romans, the Vandals, the Byzantines – with the intnet of forcing that young man to stay silent,in order to impress him so that, having overcome his diffidence .

The captain shows how many people over the years had been in Libya really .

This is one of those books that is a portrait of a place the place in Benghazi , which the writer lived himself for most of his life running his fathers factory , the story really starts with the story of some one like his father a Maronite from Syria arrive to start a factory in the town, just as the 1911 war end and we see this then the Italians ruling the area and the fact that the locals finally lay down their arms . I was drawn into this book I can see why it was such a huge hit when published finally as a whole it is the start of a journey through this place through the eyes of the local Spina has been called either the Italian Joseph Conrad or the 20th century Balzac, but to me this is one of those epic works that is written by a true one-off writer like Musil , Proust and yes Balzac Zola and those great realist writers of French literature but this is also a book from a writer of Arabic origin so it has a little of Arabian nights to it and can go off a small journeys of the mind .So it is hard to pigeon hole him just to say he may be one of the hidden gems of this year for me .

 

 

The Boy from Aleppo who painted the war by Sumia Sukkar

the boy from Aleppo who painted the war

The Boy from Aleppo who painted the war by Sumia Sukkar

British fiction (based in Syria )

Source Review copy

Well when I got an E Mail from Maddy who I have met a couple of times saying that the poetry Publisher Eyewear publishing was to publish its first fiction novel I couldn’t say no when I read the blurb on Sumia debut novel .Sumia is a young 21-year-old writer of Syrian – Algerian ancestry ,she grew up in London .

Mama died when I was 11.I miss her .She always told me I should be good and go to university to show people my paintings .I can’t wait to go to university .My classmates say I belong to the special needs class and not university .They are stupid and wrong , says Yasmine .I don’t like meeting new people , so I won’t speak to anyone in class at university .

This passage captures Adams world view so well I feel .

Well I’ve been hoping a novel would appear from the Syrian conflict and this is the first I have come across I know a few have been written in Arabic ,but haven’t yet been translated .The Syrian conflict was all over the British news as it started but has faded away from the headlines ,which is a crying shame as people are still suffering .Through this novel you get an account of the war for the every man of Syria .The novel focus on a family in Aleppo which as many of us that followed the horrors of the conflict was one of the main places hit by the Regime .The family is three brothers one of which is Adam ,he has Aspergers syndrome and it is his story there is also his Older sister Yasmine who is devoted to her younger brother .So as the war rages around them we see the family struggle to eat and get on with every day life ,the neighbours disappear and Adam takes in their cat .Adam seems the war through his Aspergers a detached view free of emotion so we as the reader  have to paint the world he sees into its full horror  .But he does paint the war and he use colours to show how it affects him and his feelings rather like Synesthesia we see the changes each chapter heading  is related to paints and painting .WE see the family try to keep together and the love between a brother and sister ,the lengths she would go to keep her brother safe .

“What’s wrong ?”

“Where’s … where’s …”

“Yasmine ?”

“Yes!…Yes!”

“She’ll be back soon ,just don’t think about it ”

“Khaled I miss Yasmine ”

Adam miss Yasmine when she is taken by a group of soldiers .

This novel captures the Syrian  conflict so well  ,we see the chaos at times ,But also the despair it can cause a family .As Adam  views the war he says nothing wrong boys are on the street ,not knowing they are involved in the fighting .Adam view of the world is like a play with the direction for the actors on how to feel and act out the scenes removed ,we see the world not through a vision of this side or the other or love or hate or pain or grief no Adam looks at the world  like it is a film or a news report thus we as the read through what isn’t said what is in-between the words written ,we  see the true  horrors of the war .Syria need to be in the foreground so we can help the people like Adam and Yasmine .

Have you read a book based in Syria ?

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