Books Of The Year #9: Sarmada

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December 10, 2012 by markstani

By Fadi Azzam; pub. Arabia Books

By Fadi Azzam (trans. Adam Talib); pub. Arabia Books

‘Sarmada’ was one of a number of excellent Arabic translations I read this year. It has one or two flaws, but there is a freshness and energy about it that sustain it in your memory long after the final page. Certainly one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.

It says: The village of Sarmada is an enchanting place, but the people who live there don’t much notice it. To them, the transmigrating souls, potions, soothsayers and animals in the rocky wasteland are all part of the landscape… Druze women are expected to marry a Druze man, settle down, and have children, and there’s no forgiving those who step out of line. And yet some brave souls still do. Some women risk their lives to follow their hearts and Sarmada is their story.

I say: ‘Sarmada’ is a unique and audacious book by pretty much any measure: drawing heavily on both the Scheherazadian tradition of stories within stories, and elements of magical realism… this is fitting, for ‘Sarmada’, named for a real-life Syrian mountain town perched in the far north-west near the border with Turkey, is as broad and ambitious as its influences. [Azzam] is a name to watch out for in the years to come.

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