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Diane P. (Concord, MA)
In Praise of Hatred
If you are willing to suspend clarity of place and time, entering into Khaled Khalifa's dreamscape novel, In Praise of Hatred, immerses the reader in an intimate sense of modern Syria (1980s) through the eyes of a radicalized, young woman. Her home, albeit the home of her relatives, and the city of Aleppo, provide a backdrop for many of the events and characters that inhabit the story.
Vivian T. (Charleston, WV)
One Strange Read
Vivid, if only occasional, details punctuate Khalifa's metonymous prose and provide the novel's sense of authenticity and place: the barking of wild dogs, the parsley and aubergines needed from a Souk, a charred corpse that suffers an onslaught of unnecessary bullets. Despite the title, the unnamed narrator's hatred emerges as malleable, as she confesses toward the conclusion of the novel, "The hatred which I had defended as the only truth was shattered entirely….My life was a collection of allegories that belonged to other people." Khalifa's prose is poetic; his story is poignant.
Reading this novel against the background of present-day Syria elevated the works importance, even though the author hopes his novel will not be read as a political screed. It is, nonetheless, a painful reminder of the absence of threat with which most of us live.
I found this to be a very difficult read, primarily because I couldn't really connect with any of the characters. I thought the sequence of activity within the story to be a little chaotic, jumping randomly (or it least it seemed random to me) from past to present and past again. I found some of the references too esoteric for understanding. The religious practices were a little too bizarre, and again quite possibly cultural, for me to relate to even though I'm Muslim. I can't say that this was a bad read or even poorly written (or possibly translated) book, it is quite simply one that didn't work for me on a number of levels.
Darlene C. (Woodstock, IL)
The Power of Oppression
A powerful, stark story of the power of oppression to create and sustain hatred. Against the backdrop of one of Syria's many uprisings, the narrator ( a young teen age girl) struggles with her identity and loyalties. As the country's struggles intensify, the narrator's beliefs solidify until her life is ruled by only one emotion - hatred.
Viqui G. (State College, PA)
In Praise of Hatred
I almost gave up on this book before reaching the halfway point. I found the first half of the book to be scattered and unfocused. It was almost impossible to follow the story or feel it had any coherency. It took some time before I realized this was purposeful on the author's part. The flow of the story closely mirrors the narrator's life as she moves from confusion and unfocused beliefs to a laser focus on hatred as various events and relationships shape her outlook on life. As the narrator becomes more radicalized, the book becomes more focused and coherent.
This was a very difficult book to read on many levels but worth the effort. I believe it would be an excellent book for book clubs as it would provoke much discussion on the content of the book, the current status of women in countries such as Syria, the power of oppression, and the style the writer chose to relate this story. I finished this book with a much greater understanding of the long term and radical effects of oppression, no matter what form it takes.
In this novel I learned a lot about the conflict in Syria in the 1980's which has unfortunately spilled over into present day revolution and war in Syria today. For this reason I enjoyed reading the novel. However, I feel the female narrator of the story was not a character that was believable. Her attitudes were not realistic for an innocent 17 year old girl.
Kimberly H. (Stamford, CT)
a young girl's perspective, written by a male author
In general I find that male authors often cannot put themselves in a woman's mind and write a believable story as if they are a woman. I certainly believe this is the case with this novel. Khalifa writes a very descriptive political novel which evokes a time and place that is distinctive, but he is not successful at convincing the reader that the narrator is a real person. In fact most of the female characters were difficult for me to believe. They were often depicted as 2 dimensional and either reprehensible such as Marwan who was chained to her room for loving an inappropriate man, or almost saintlike like Saafa. I also found the story line disjointed and often confusing. The reader learns great details about a certain minor character, but then never hears about the character again. I enjoyed learning about the Syrian political conflict, but the characters in the novel were a disappointment.
In Praise of Hatred was banned in Syria when released in 2006, unsurprisingly. A realistic inside view of religious and political strife, which still continues.
Mary O. (Boston, MA)
I had some difficulty getting into the book- lots of characters, challenging names (hard to keep track) but overall a way to better understand - or try to understand-a country and culture that us, as Americans, have difficulty comprehending.
The title "in Praise of Hatred" perfectly describes the book and it's characters. Sequestered in a small home, three aunts and the protagonist live in a world of vicious hate. At times disturbing but well drawn out characters reflecting the conflicts in the Muslim world and Middle East. A book people should read to gain insight into that tragic world.
Barbara G. (Lisle, IL)
In Praise of Women
The news is full of stories of disaffected young Muslim men, who pledge themselves to become martyrs for their faith, but not until this novel do we see what is/was happening to the equally fervent young women, many of them educated, who take up the cause beside them.
Linda H. (Glasgow, KY)
In Praise of Hatred
It's a layered tale that shows the reader the many levels of intrigue within the community where everything from position to power to sexual favors is available for a price and corruption at every level is rampant. I loved learning about this community we never really hear much about. I think as world citizens, it is up to us to try. There is much to learn here about the inner workings of family life, culture, customs and the intricate ways women navigate in a culture that outwardly relegates them to second-class citizens. Prepare yourself for grisly description if death and torture and the way detained women are humiliated. Yet our unnamed endures and that seems to be the message.
Aleppo native Khaled Khalifa first published the searing, prescient novel In Praise of Hatred in 2006 to great acclaim in much of the Arab world although it was promptly banned in Syria. The recent English translation should be a welcome addition to book club and individual readers, particularly for those who embraced the works of Afghan author Hussein Hosseini. The narrator is an unnamed girl, the youngest in a wealthy family who resides in comfort in her grandparents' home, raised by her three aunts and tended by their blind, male servant. The young woman becomes increasingly involved in the Islamic green fundamentalist movement. Her arrest, torture and lengthy imprisonment are shocking punishments for the seemingly mild protests and distribution of leaflets. The novel is set against the backdrop of the decade of violent clashes between the Syrian government and Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980's culminating with the Hama siege and massacre of upwards of 25,000 citizens. In Praise of Hatred reminds us of Syria's decades long abysmal human rights record with continued kidnappings, torture, executions and use of chemical weapons wreaking havoc and suffering on its civilian population. Khalifa's nameless heroine gains self-awareness and resiliency in her continued struggles for freedom for herself and her country. It is a powerful book to read and share.