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Sarmada by Fadi Azzam and Adam Talib (Translator)

'Sarmada' is small and remote village in the Northern hills of Syria, close to the Turkish border. And for much of Azzam's novel it seems a forgotten village, lost in the rituals and mysticism of ancient Druze belief and folk tales that inform the collective consciousness of the place. For the novel weaves the tales of three Syrian women and their relationships with each other, the men of their lives and the fabric of a life almost caught in the timeless past of the Middle East.

Sarmada by Fadi Azzam and Adam Talib (Translator)

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Andy Lancaster
Reviewed by Andy Lancaster
Summary: The best authors use their words to spin a web and inveigle the reader into a world which has its own logic, meaning and reality. Fadi Azzam does this and much more in a small gem of a novel located in in Druze village in Syria – a brilliant jewel of modern Middle Eastern fiction. If 'Sarmada' is in part the product of the Arab Spring, then we should be on the lookout for a feast of new literature about to reach our bookstores.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 201 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Arabia Books
ISBN: 978-1906697341

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The novel does have moments of action and drama, and extreme sexuality, but essentially the focus is upon the almost pagan rites and beliefs, the deep soul of Syrian womanhood, and the twists and turns of fate and circumstance which create the lives of the three women. It is as though we inhabit a Biblical tale, mixed with rites and beliefs which are completely alien, but threaded through with a potent sexual force – this is almost D H Lawrence of Syria!

Azzam is able to both retain a simple and direct almost primitive narrative line of the folk tale with a more intense spiritual and mystic prose, a style which combined makes it feel almost as if we engulfed in a cloak of ancient belief, of a more essential reality, of something which is as deep and dark as the jars of 'birth milk' which Farida extracts from Umm Salama, or the fatalism that made Heal Mansour return to the village knowing she would be slaughtered by her brothers, or the death of the village's most productive cow as it plunges from a cliff before the whole village.

For this novel exists in a world of almost symbolic, timeless and mythical action. But there is another parallel dimension here too. The novel begins in contemporary Paris, it collides with the struggles of the Lebanon, the politics of the Middle East and the twisted logic of the Marxists and Ba'aths as they battle for the soul of Syria. In one sense, Azzam throws this contrast at us so we see the demise of the old village, the coming of the road, of electricity, of the modern world. Thus this is almost a lament for the old certainties (or uncertainties) of mystical living.

But in another sense, he helps us see the more than rational roots of Middle Eastern conflicts by revealing the swirling magical and metaphorical belief world, a state of mind in which events are never mere events but the workings of great forces beyond our understanding, where it would be possible to simultaneously believe in the iPad and the Great Shatan himself.

This novel inhabits such a unique world that it is hard to draw comparisons, but I was always dimly aware as I read of having been somewhere like this before. But it was only in scanning through the Bookbag's reviews that I recalled where… it was the world of Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, and it is hard to find greater praise than that.

Adam Talib also translated The Dove's Necklace by Raja Alem.

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