Review by Jade Craddock

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Black Swan (16 Sept. 2021)

ISBN ‏ : ‎ 978-1784164928   PB

Ten years ago, Syria was thrust into the global spotlight as a brutal civil war caused chaos and devastation. While the national media agenda has largely moved on, the war continues to wage, and its repercussions continue to resonate. The novel begins in protagonist’s Sami’s childhood and, but for an ominous and volatile political backdrop, his early life is much like any other adolescent boy.

Soon, though, the political situation changes, and Sami is thrust first into military life and then resistance. As his country implodes, his family separates and his hometown is ravaged. Sami must fight to survive, and he is forced to make the harrowing decision whether to stay in the place he calls home or try to escape to an unknown future.

Eva Nour has translated the real Sami’s lived experiences into a vital and affecting narrative. Following Sami from his childhood innocence gives the reader a real sense of the fundamental changes to people’s – and, in particular, young people’s – lives, as their freedoms, joys and simplicities of their formative years are cruelly taken away and replaced with atrocious alternatives. There is a tangible urgency and sense of threat that runs throughout the book, as well as moments that will catch readers unawares, but there are also moments of real tenderness and humanity. These tender moments give readers glimpses of hope amidst the brutality and tumult that reverberates throughout the book.

Nour’s narrative is imbued with emotional and personal authenticity, and the descriptions of hunger and food are some of the most palpable and powerful I’ve read. There is so much to take from this novel, not least a reminder of the Syrian crisis and those innocent lives derailed by war, and Sami’s story is one that, I suspect, readers will carry with them long after they’ve turned the final page.