or The Beginning of All Tales
Rafik Schami; translated by Monique Arav and John Hannon
published 2018 • 5 ¼” x 8” • 480 pages
ISBN 9781566560313 • paperback • $20.00 •
“A leading figure in European migrant literature, Schami (The Dark Side of Love) fled Syria for Germany in 1970. His fourth novel, beautifully translated into English, is a complicated tale with a central narrative that spans 50 years and tells of loves lost, then re-met, and acts of unselfish friendship and unanticipated betrayal. Salman settles in Rome after fleeing Damascus, charged with a crime he didn’t commit. Forty years later, he is drawn back home. But the city has changed. Four decades of dictatorship have leeched vitality from the vivacious Syrians: they survive now by not noticing, not speaking out. Salman is soon on the run again, and again for a crime he didn’t commit. He’s saved by an old love, Sophia, who has her own story to tell. This is a rich, multilayered novel, in which bad things happen but so do many good things. VERDICT Migrant literature is often suffused with a sense of loss, but Schami’s tale is not of regret but of joy, hope, and love, with a worldview that is tolerant and cosmopolitan. For lovers of fiction and strong storytelling.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
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A MASTERPIECE FROM THE BEST-SELLING AUTHOR OF THE DARK SIDE OF LOVE
A murder in Damascus, a love with the power to save a young man’s life… In his latest novel, Rafik Schami ventures to the land of his childhood, where he is now unable to safely return: Syria.
As a young girl, Sophia falls deeply in love with Karim, but weds a rich goldsmith instead. A few years later, Karim is accused of an assassination he did not commit and Sophia saves his life. He promises that she will forever have his loyalty, no matter the risk to himself. Long after the incident is buried in memory, Sophia's only son, Salman, returns to Damascus after forty years of exile in Italy; when his photo appears in the newspaper, he is forced into hiding and fears for his life. Remembering Karim’s promise, Sophia decides to call on him for help in spite of the many years that have passed, and the lost opportunity of their once-consuming passion.
Set during the tumultuous years leading up to the Arab Spring, Sophia delivers the intricate plotting and lyrical prose that Schami’s readers expect, and reveals the power of love to overcome all barriers of time and circumstance.Rafik Schami was born in Damascus in 1946, came to Germany in 1971 to study, and stayed on to become a leading German novelist and a pivotal figure in the European migrant literature movement. His novels have been translated into 22 languages and have received numerous international literary awards including the Hermann Hesse Prize. His translated works published by Interlink include Damascus Nights, The Calligrapher’s Secret, A Hand Full of Stars, and The Dark Side of Love, which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was a 2010 Winner of the Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal.
Praise for Rafik Schami’s The Dark Side of Love
“Romance, mystery, family saga, political exploration… This is an enthralling page-turner that will invite readers to find out how the pieces fit together; it also offers prose as succulent as sweetmeats that begs to be savored.”
“A doorstop of a novel, this story of love and blood feuds set in Damascus, filled with myths and legends and enough tragedy to last a few lifetimes, opens with a murder and goes deep into a century of Syria's history, politics and religion. Break out the baklava and let it rain.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“At last, the Great Arab Novel--appearing without ifs, buts, equivocations, metaphorical camouflage or hidden meanings... Schami's book is exceptional not only in the scope of his ambition... but also in its ability to juggle a vast cast of characters in a complex structure which the author himself likens to a mosaic of pieces that create their own patterns... the book is a compulsive read.”
"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."
“Fiction helps us connect with far-away realities, such that stories of individuals can make a land and its history come alive. Schami’s story of Salman and his return to Syria after 40 years in Europe feels like a guided tour of the region’s sociopolitical landscape. Forced to flee Syria in his youth, Salman is now a successful businessman in Rome with a passion to revisit the land of his childhood. When he’s falsely accused of murder during his trip, he is sheltered by his mother Sophia’s old love, Karim. In the lives of Sophia, Karim, and Aida, Schami provides glimpses of the religious diversity of Damascus and an understanding of the social dynamics. We also see through the surface normalcy to the brutality of the Assad regime’s political repression. Schami’s intense focus on singular moments of personal revelation is interwoven with sharp commentary, making for a gripping read. The harshness of life in Damascus and even in Rome and the way the world works shape this novel as it tackles radicalization and tolerance, rootedness and nostalgia, love and loyalty.”
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