Welcome to Travel Readings
Melbourne: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Books, Movies and Beyond…
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Washington, DC and New York
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Rome
Rio de Janeiro: Crimes of August (Agosto) by Rubem Fonseca
Istanbul: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Liège (Belgium): Pedigree by Georges Simenon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Lisbon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Cambodia
Hyde Park, Chicago: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
Paris: Flowers of Ruin and Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Naples
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Tanzania
Sri Lanka: Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
Books, Movies and Beyond… : Venice
Dublin: The Dead by James Joyce
Books, Movies and Beyond: Iran
Santa Cruz, Bolivia: The Matter of Desire (Materia del Deseo) by Edmundo Paz Soldán
Books, Movies and Beyond: Syria
Djibouti: Passage of Tears (Passage des Larmes) by Abdourahman Waberi
Books, Movies and Beyond: Armenia
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo
Bangkok: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
Périgord, France: The Caves of Périgord by Martin Walker
Books, Movies and Beyond: Brussels
Naples: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Books, Movies and Beyond: Rio de Janeiro
Tajikistan: Hurramabad by Andrei Volos
New-York: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Israel and Palestine: To the End of the Land by David Grossman and Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh
Books, Movies and Beyond: Bavaria and Southern Germany
Cape Town: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime by J.M. Coetzee
Books, Movies and Beyond: India
Blue Ridge Mountains: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Books, Movies and Beyond: Algeria
Austrian Alps: A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) by Robert Seethaler
Books, Movies and Beyond: Africans in America
Zimbabwe: The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
Books, Movies and Beyond: Colombia
Belgian Ardennes: The All Saints’ Day Lovers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Côte d’Ivoire: Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
Japan: Haruki Murakami and Amélie Nothomb
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Rope and The Denial of Saint Peter by Charles Baudelaire
Books, Movies and Beyond: Cairo
Vancouver: What is Remembered by Alice Munro
Ghent (Belgium): War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
Haiti: An Aroma of Coffee and Dining with the Dictator by Dany Laferrière and The Comedians by Graham Greene
Iceland: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
Siena and Tuscany : Il Palio delle contrade morte by Fruttero & Lucentini and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
China : Wild Swans. Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
Amsterdam: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
Former Soviet Union: The Unwomanly Face of War  by Svetlana Alexievich
Provence: The Horseman on the Roof by Jean Giono, La charrette bleue by René Barjavel, Madame de Sévigné and Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp
Moscow: The House of Government by Yuri Slezkine, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère
Books, Movies and Beyond: Vietnam
Books, Movies and Beyond: The Wars in Vietnam

Books, Movies and Beyond: Syria

I am starting with a new overview of a few novels about Syria, a country currently at the heart of news, often for dramatic reasons. Xavier suggested this search. In 1993, during a long overland trip in Asia, we spent a few weeks in Syria. The country was still peaceful, even if tensions were visible: bus controlled by security services agents carrying machine guns, traces of the massacres that crushed the insurrection in the city of Hama in 1982.



We visited Palmyra, since then destroyed by the barbarians from ISIL. We wandered in the bazars in Damascus and Aleppo, two of the oldest cities in the world. I recently read four books written by Syrian authors. All cover the period before the current civil war, but in addition to being very good novels, they offer great insights into life in Syria: its multiple religious, tribal and political fractures, how love is difficult in a very traditional society, and the daily frustrations and exactions under the iron fist of the Assad regimes.


The Ummayad Mosque, Damascus

A book which I read with a lot of pleasure is “The Dark Side of Love” by Rafik Schami, a Syrian writer living in Germany. The novel, initially written in German (“Die dunkle Seite der Liebe”) is 850 pages long, but it is a page turner. Farid and Rana come from two clans which have been hating each other for generations in a mountain village close to Lebanon. They meet secretly and love each other in Damascus. The city is the third central character in the book. Schami composed his novel like a mosaic where the Syrian history, the political struggles and repressions, the religious antagonisms, the family feuds and the daily life in Damascus’ streets are the colored stones that create the backdrop and enrich one of the most passionate love story I have ever read.


I also read the novella “Just Like a River” by Muhammad Kamil al-Khatib. First published in Arabic in 1984, the book is still very relevant. This is another difficult love story, a recurring theme in Syrian literature. But the obstacles to their love are Yussuf and Dallal’s own hesitations, their misplaced prides, their fears to commit to a « modern » love in a very traditional society. The book is very subtly written, flowing « just like a river ».


I also liked « The Silence and the Roar” written by by Nihad Sirees in 2004. In the streets of a city that is not named but which is likely Damascus, the masses are celebrating the 20 years in power of the Supreme Leader. This is a never ending series of loud marches and processions. Fathi, a famous writer tries to avoid the roar by going his girlfriend Lama’s flat and forgot it all in bed with her. But as soon as he sets foot in the street, he is taken in a whirlwind and ends up at the police station and then in a hospital. The regime even pursues him within his family circle since one of the President’s advisers is planning to marry his mother and offers him to become a spokesperson for the government. For Fathi, the only remaining issue to avoid the regime’s grip is silence.


Sarmada”, a novel by Fadi Azzam tells the surprising stories experienced by several generations of women over the last 50 years in Sarmada, a village in the Druze Mountains.  In the vein of magical realism, the book addresses the issues of forbidden love and honor killings. It appears very difficult to love freely in Syria. The book also offers an interesting window into the Druze culture, a little known heterodox Muslim sect.


For a very good article about the Syrian refugee crisis, I recommend « Ten Borders » by Nicholas Schmidle in « The New Yorker » (10/26/2015 issue). A long and well documented article which follows the Ghaith’s epic escape from Syria. He is a law student who wants to avoid the civil war and being drafted in Assad regime’s army. He is seeking to reach his brother who already made it to Sweden.  He leaves behind him his wife hoping that she will be able to be reunited with him once he is established in Sweden. After long waits and many attempts, via Lebanon and Turkey, Ghaith crosses ten borders and arrives in Gothenburg. An article which gives a very human dimension to the refugee crisis.


I usually end my overviews with one or two movies. However, unless I am mistaken, decades of censorship in Syria have only allowed propaganda or poor quality productions. The documentary « A Syrian Love Story » by British director Sean Mcallister follows during five years a couple and their children who oppose the Assad regime: from jail in Syria to exile in Europe, from love to separation. This seems like a great movie, but it has not yet been released in US even as video on demand. If you have seen it, I would be happy to have your opinion. Here is the trailer:




2 Replies to “Books, Movies and Beyond: Syria”

  1. This is such a good collection for someone to get to know Syria closely. I have two Rafik Schami novels which I shall be reading very soon. After reading this post, I am also interested in Sarmada. Thanks for writing this.

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