Tuesday, November 8, 2016

An Ishmael of Syria by Asaad Almohammad

BORN IN THE 80s, Asaad Almohammad was raised in Ar-Raqqa, Syria. A member of the International Society of Political Psychology and a research fellow, he has spent years coordinating and working on research projects across the Middle East and North Africa. To date he has addressed a number of psychological aspects of civil unrest, post-conflict reconciliation, and deradicalisation. In his spare time Asaad closely follows political affairs, especially humanitarian crises and electoral campaigns. He is especially interested in immigration issues. An Ishmael of Syria is his first novel.
Adam is a tortured soul. Exiled from his homeland, forced to watch the horrors unfold from afar. His family, still living – or surviving – in war-torn Syria struggle daily to feed, clothe, and educate their children.
Adam tries to be a ‘global citizen’ and become a part of his new community in Malaysia, but is constantly faced with intolerance, bigotry, and plain old racism. Opportunities are few and Adam finds himself working long hours for poor pay so that he can help his family.
The increasingly distressing news bulletins, along with Adam’s haunting childhood memories, compel him to examine his own beliefs; in God, in humanity, in himself and his integrity as a reluctant bystander in the worst human catastrophe of the twenty-first century.
I have always associated reading the news with growing up. When I was a kid it always was a big deal for my family, we always fell in deep, profound discussions of the world's doings and that always resulted in passionate arguments for days. I do believe that especially today it is really important to try to be on top of what is happening, of course with so much going on, that is not an easy task, but it is worthy attempt. 
When I read the blurb for Ishmael of Syria I was instantly intrigued. I took me a day to read the book, and one more to reflect on it, because indeed it is a big bite to swallow. The main character of this book, Adam, is a bitter, cynical young man and a native of Syria living in Malaysia. Through his first hand accounts of growing up in Syria and relocating to another country, he shares with the reader his experience of witnessing the public shaming of women and homosexuality and rape, the ignorance and prejudices against him because of his dark skin and his Arabic background, and the struggle and helplessness of watching the destruction of his homeland from afar.
As you can see it is an extremely heavy read, that digs deep into issue that are troubling. It is daring, powerful, provoking and heartbreaking at the same time.This is a grim, uncompromising novel, beautifully but brutally crafted. 
If you are looking for a stereotypical western read, you'll definitely have problems with this one, because it is nothing like journal. The narrative jumps back and forth between past and present, first and third person, Syria and Malaysia. The prose style varies between polished and rough around the edges, and Adam himself swings back and forth between sensible and almost incoherent with rage and sorrow at what his country is undergoing and the international response to it. The overall effect is disjointed and occasionally disconcerting, but the text crackles with energy and emotion.
A definite must read!