x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Sarmada: heady stuff, but not for everyone

Fadi Azzam's fantastical stories are set in a real southern Syrian Druze village.

Sarmada by Fadi Azzam, published by Arabia Books, Dh57
Sarmada by Fadi Azzam, published by Arabia Books, Dh57

Sarmada is an isolated Druze village in the hills of southern Syria. It's a real place, though one wonders how many Sarmadans would recognise their home amid the fugue of fantastical stories that make up Fadi Azzam's debut novel.

Azzam is a journalist who has spent the past few years based in Dubai. In this he resembles Rafi, his narrator, who runs into a woman from his Syrian hometown during a trip to Paris. After a stilted discussion of the merits of faith and reason she announces to a sceptical Rafi that she carries within herself the spirit of the victim of a Sarmadan honour killing.

Returning to the village, Rafi picks up the threads of the murdered woman's story, and then the narrative expands in a ramshackle way to take in the wider community. Ramshackle and, it must be said, lubricious: among the magic realist conceits that enter the picture is an accursed beauty who takes to deflowering the town's male virgins after one too many of her fiancés drops dead. Heady stuff, but perhaps not for everyone.