A slightly shorter version of this review appeared in The Independent.

Places have moods, this novel reminds us. Sometimes Sarmada, a mountain village rising from the Hauran plain of southern Syria, is all “oblivion, dust and tedium”; at other times it’s a shimmering delight, each rock, tree, spring, cliff and cave owning rich meanings and histories. Sarmada is also “a Sheherazade”, a generator of tales, so many tales we can’t possibly hear them all. “I thought about telling her the joke about the overweight fortune-teller,” Azzam writes, “but..”

Like the Arabian Nights, “Sarmada” contains stories within a frame story. The frame and trigger is a meeting with Azza Tawfiq, an expert in chaos theory at the Sorbonne who (following the Druze tenet of transmigration) believes she lived in Sarmada in a past life as a murdered girl called Hela Mansour. Bemused, disbelieving, the narrator returns from “chasing dreams in Paris and delusions in Dubai” to excavate the village’s memories, at first on Azza’s behalf.

Continue reading “Sarmada”

%d bloggers like this: