'The struggle of the Syrian citizen to come to terms with the history and political truths of Syria and the interests and beliefs of his or her sect is at the heart of the story of how Syria will forge a national identity, and how any future government will achieve legitimacy. So while “Sarmada” may not be full of the immediate thrills of riots or protests, it’s politically meaningful. The novel’s gaze reaches toward an understanding of what Syria will need to grapple with in order to bring about a true Syrian Spring.'
'The novel is cleverly constructed and lavishly executed, and Sarmada's mystical, magical aspects are rendered as everyday aspects of an extraordinary place. Azzam's writing is lyrical and clear and he draws the reader with graceful charm from brutal murder to mass melancholy, to erotic delight.'
'This is a very Syrian novel, illustrating sectarian co-existence and providing glimpses of the country's mystical and literary wonders. Political history is integrated smoothly into the narrative. Azzam's criticism of dictatorship is scathingly precise. There's a devastating portrait of a Baathist faux-intellectual: a child-hating headmaster who arranges to have a boy tortured. Sarmada is, indirectly, an early novel of the contemporary Arab revolutions. Liberty, Azzam hints, must break out as surely as smothered sexuality.'
'Through all this writing down and erasing of collective memory, Azzam has an appealing tenderness for his characters, both female and male.'
Sarmada, Arabic for ‘perpetuate’ or ‘the eternally-not-changed, is the name of the novel’s fictitious setting. In the title, Fadi Azzam creates a new word (a derivative female form of noun-verb, which does not exist in Arabic) and in so doing immediately lets the reader know that women are the protagonists of this story that spans several generations, from Syria to Paris and back again. The novel is set in the Druze area and is a declaration of love for tolerance and for the peaceful coexistence of the many religious groups that live in close proximity. The Druze baptise their children and celebrate Christian holidays; however, the priests regularly collect money to build houses for Muslims and Druze alike. Myths, communists, nationalists, murder, illicit love, superstition, erotic trees and women’s breasts make up the tapestry of this strange novel. Fadi Azzam narrates, just as he writes poetry, meaning Sarmada is direct, ruthless and full of fire. The story is a concentrated collection of poetry, irony and satire all told in a language and voice that is entirely unique.
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