Can a mother’s intervention save her son, falsely accused of murder and on the run in their home city of Damascus? In this hybrid novel—part thriller, part panorama of a troubled land—a Syrian-born German writer explores the characters, clans, culture, and emotions of his nation of origin.
Two Syrian tales wind through Schami’s (The Calligrapher’s Secret, 2011, etc.) epic new work: a scandalous love story between an aging couple, one Christian and one Muslim, and the episodic life of an ex-revolutionary who's successfully relocated to Europe. Karim and Aida are the mature lovers, immersed in a passionate romance despite the disapproval of their neighbors. And then there’s Salman Baladi, who, when young and idealistic, discovered socialism and, after the 1963 Syrian political coup, joined the armed resistance. But a crisis of disillusionment ensued and Salman fled. Now settled in Rome with a wife, a son, and a successful food-importing business, he still yearns for home: “My soul is in Damascus, wandering the streets of my childhood.” So, after 40 years away, when an amnesty is declared, he decides to risk a return visit to Syria, to salve the pain of exile. That trip and its ensuing problems eventually connect his story to Karim and Aida’s, the link being Sophia, Salman’s mother, who asks Karim to help her son in the same way she rescued Karim years earlier. Elegant and lucid, this literary saga offers a wealth of material, much of it consisting of extended biographies, flashbacks, and romances that pitch a richly remembered past against a corrupted present. Layered with revolution and dictatorship, faiths and philosophies, families and enemies, and many love affairs, the book offers humanity over politics and achieves its greatest impact in the quiet scenes, ranging from an account of torture shot through with black comedy to the unfettered, scandalous joy of a woman riding a bicycle.
An impressive, overwhelming story of love, loss, and nostalgia written from an exile’s perspective.