From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. LIke the mythopoeic India of Salman Rushdie™s Midnight™s Children
, the main protagonist of Schami™s encyclopedic, jigsaw puzzle of a novel is a country: Syria. In telling the story of a Romeo and Juliet–like romance between Farid Mushtak and Rana Shahin, two teens in Damascus in the late 1950s, Schami goes back through their family history, to the Ottoman era, and forwards to 1970. The baroque feud between their families is a microcosm of the internal, patriarchal violence from which the whole country suffers. George Mushtak and his bride, Laila, appear in the Christian village of Mala and begin to make inroads on the power base of Mala™s most powerful man, Jusuf Shahin, beginning a multigenerational feud that creates a legacy of violence—George persecutes his own, Elias, who flees to Damascus, and Elias in turn persecutes his son, Farid; Rana well remembers how her aunt was the victim of an honor killing. Rana™s bullying brother, Jack, marries her off; Farid goes from a punitive stay in a monastery to intensifying persecution and incarceration because of his dissident politics. Through Farid and Rana™s romance, Schami gives voice to the entire chorus of Damascus life. Which is why, despite the grim plot line of revenge, this is essentially a joyous book, an exile™s book of love and a surprisingly fast read. Schami, a major international talent, has a broad range, from the scatological to the sexually comic to the painful, and deserves to establish an American audience. (July)
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A doorstop of a novel, this story of love and blood feuds set in Damascus, filled with myths and legends and enough tragedy to last a few lifetimes, opens with a murder and goes deep into a century of Syria's history, politics and religion. Break out the baklava and let it rain. Louisa Ermelino --Publishers Weekly
"Romeo and Juliet meets Arturo Pérez-Reverte and John le Carré in the dusty streets of Damascus in this novel from Syrian-born Schami, a bestselling author in his adopted homeland of Germany. The setup: the body of a Syrian intelligence officer is found in a rather unnatural position that rules out suicide. ... What lies beneath Madhi Said's murder... is anything but monosyllabic. Bit by bit, Schami "This first American edition of a novel initially published in Germany in 2004 introduces Syrian-born Schami to English-speaking audiences. At the forefront of the migrant literature movement in Germany, Schami replicates Romeo and Juliet s tale in his complicated and embellished story of two star-crossed lovers, Farid Mushtak and Rana Shahin. The young lovers meet and fall in love in Damascus during the 1950s and encounter numerous obstacles because of a long-standing family feud between their two Christian families. Schami establishes context by recounting the 1907 events that initiated the feud. Moving forward, the narrative spans Syrian social and political history during the first half of the 20th century; a discussion of Farid s experiences as a political dissident reveal the range of political alliances and coups at that time. VERDICT At almost 900 pages, this book is daunting, but patient readers will enjoy rambling through the streets of Damascus, a city that Schami clearly loves and evokes effectively and affectionately. An important contribution to Syrian literature." --Library Journal
"...may turn out to be the first Great Syrian Novel. In "The Dark Side of Love", Rafik Schami exploits all the resources of the classic realist novel and then goes a little further, forging a new form out of Syrian orality. His basic unit is not chapter or paragraph, but story; a thousand bejewelled anecdotes and tales are buried here, ready to spring, but each is melded with such dazzling surety into the whole that reading the book is always compulsive...Tolstoyan in its marrying of the personal, social and political spheres, of private with national life...The canvas is vast and closely painted. It feels encyclopedic, in psychological observation as well as social breadth. There are no faux-magical pyrotechnics in the telling, but richly detailed characters working through real situations, characters whose inherited wounds the reader comes to care deeply about. Each is vividly drawn, with quiet and acute intelligence..."The Dark Side of Love" is a fiction that accurately (if selectively) documents Syrian social history. Its sweep reaches from 1907 to 1970, through the French occupation, the chaotic coup years, the rise of the Ba'ath and the disastrous June war. Farid and Rana swim on the great currents of 20th-century Syrian thought - communism, feminism, nationalism, Islamism - and witness the poisoning of the waters. Farid's torture scenes are painfully, brilliantly narrated. Relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims, between the countryside and the city, between men and women, and between political factions, are explored with subtlety and honesty. It is translated very well from the German..."The Dark Side of Love" illumines almost every side of love, as well as fear, longing, cruelty and lust. Darkness and light alternate like the basalt and marble stripes on Damascene walls, and the novel's structure is just as strong...as expansive, as comprehensive, as War and Peace." --review