Set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country resembling Syria, The Silence and the Roar is equal parts parable, political satire, and love story. With a Kafkaesque sense of the absurd, it spins a timely tale that catapults the strangeness of tyranny and the toll of dictatorship on individual freedom into sharp focus.
A mix of wisdom, humor, and heartbreaking story-telling, The Silence and the Roar follows a day in the life of 31 year-old writer and well-known public figure, Fathi Sheen. Banned from publishing after his refusal to write propaganda for the ruling party, Fathi becomes a target of ever increasing physical and mental abuse. On this day, when the entire country has mobilized to celebrate the twenty-year anniversary of 'the Leader', tensions come to a head. The heat is oppressive, loudspeakers blare with an endless cacophony of chants extoling the reigning despot, and a monolithic mass takes to the streets to demonstrate their allegiance to the ruling party. But Fathi's inner yearnings run counter to the repressive agenda of the regime and he finds himself at the center of the psychological struggle of his life. Ironically, Fathi's steadfast embrace of humor and love prove the most effective in his fight to protect his humanity.
Acclaimed author Nihad Sirees penned The Silence and the Roar in 2004 during a period of 'internal exile' when he and several other intellectuals were banned from public cultural life in Syria. In early 2012, under surveillance and intense pressure, he left his family and home city of Aleppo for exile in Cairo. Spun with dreamlike prose, yet grounded by its uncanny resemblance to historic developments in the middle-east today, The Silence and the Roar is a meditation on the threat authoritarian rule exacts on human life, employs the surreal as a lens through which to understand human behavior, and raises unique questions about art's prophetic quality.
This brilliantly conceived and fast-paced novel is essential reading for anyone hoping to understand the forces at work under any authoritarian regime but particularly in the recent upheaval of the Arab Spring and its implications for the future.
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I have to admit I disliked this book from the start as the writing is both repetitive and simplistic. To be fair, I'm not sure if the problem for me is the author's writing or the translation, I suspect partially the latter. I also expected more than the novel delivered. For such a short book, far too much narrative was spent describing the main character's relationship with his girlfriend (which ultimately had nothing to do with the point the author was trying to make, at least as far as I can tell). It was obvious the book had a message - portraying life under a despotic ruler, but the author chose to concentrate on just a tiny part of despotism (the insistence of the despot that his people praise and adore him).
Nothing about the plot seemed to have any depth and it lacked the sense of menace or darkness that I would expect from a novel dealing with such a grim topic. All the scenes meant to convey the evils of life in this type of society were way too short, never really engaging my feelings and not establishing the sense that the abuses described are widespread. It also lacked a sense of place; I realize that this is to some extent intentional as it is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was intended to be the Middle East and not Communist China. As the author descends into the bowels of the bureaucracy the narrative does become more interesting and Kafka-esque, but this section is entirely too brief."
"Since language is important to both the writer and his culture, it's hard to tell from the translation whether what is rendered as slangy cliché is meant to be, as the protagonist's reflections don't seem particularly well-written." - Kirkus
" an excellent novel about a brutal despot and an unlikely hero... Sirees, a Syrian who fled his homeland after increased surveillance and intimidation from the government has clearly imbued his protagonist with his own indomitable courage and frustrations While The Silence and the Roar is a slender novel, it is far from slight." - The National
"With biting humor Nihad Sirees reveals the extraordinary injustices of ordinary life under the oppressive rule of the 'Leader.' This country remains unnamed but the richly rendered story illuminates the hard reality of the many Middle Eastern states in political transition today." - Shahan Mufti, journalist and author of The Faithful Scribe
"A chillingly prophetic novel. In spare, razor-sharp prose, Sirees describes the effects of authoritative rule on the psyche of an unbreakable and irrepressible artist. Timely, powerful, and searing." - Randa Jarrar, author of Map of Home
"The theatre of the absurd that is everyday life in a totalitarian society is the subject of Nihad Sirees's urgent new novel, a searing political allegory in the tradition of Orwell and Camus. The portrait of a banned writer wandering the streets of a nameless dictatorship that Arab readers will recognize all too well, Sirees's book would be unbearably bleak if it weren't so funny: its narrator's caustic irreverence is his rebellion against the tyrant's roar that would reduce him to silence." Adam Shatz, Contributing Editor, London Review of Books
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Nihad Sirees is a celebrated Syrian novelist, playwright and screenwriter. He was born in Aleppo in 1950 and lived there until 2012. He has written TV dramas and six novels, including Cancer, The North Winds, A Case of Passion and The Silence And The Roar, which was penned in 2004 during a period of 'internal exile'. His TV series The Silk Market received widespread acclaim across the Middle East and remains popular today. Under constant surveillance by security services and intense pressure by the regime, he was forced to leave Syria for Cairo in January, 2012. He later entered into a five-month International Writers Fellowship at Brown University during the fall of 2012, where he currently resides. His children and extended family remain in Aleppo.
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