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In Praise of Hatred: A Novel Hardcover – April 8, 2014
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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Given the current situation in Syria, this book could not be more relevant, even though it is set in the 1970s. Taking place mostly in Aleppo, In Praise of Hatred is the story of a young Muslim girl raised in the confines of a walled house by her three aunts, secluded from the dangers and temptations of the outside world. Within those walls, she learns of the misdeeds and transgressions of her own family as her aunts gossip and share tales that span the Middle East, including Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and beyond. Outside the walls, a radical change is coming about that can’t be guarded against, and the girl must choose whether to remain in the protection of her secluded life or to join the fight for her religion, nation, and beliefs. Add this one to the growing list of thought-provoking novels about Muslim women caught in the crossfire of politics and personal life. --Heather Paulson
“This beautiful, powerful, and terrifying novel should be read by anyone trying to understand the crisis in the Middle East today.” ―Library Journal
“A Balzacian tale full of romance and murder that ranges from Afghanistan to Yemen to Syria.” ―The New York Times
“Given the current situation in Syria, this book could not be more relevant, even though it is set in the 1970s....Add this one to the growing list of thought-provoking novels about Muslim women caught in the crossfire of politics and personal life.” ―Booklist
“That Khalifa has chosen to profile fanaticism from a feminine perspective, rather than the more predictable 'male martyr', is this book's great innovation. It is a courageous endeavour.” ―The Independent (UK)
“Khaled Khalifa's In Praise of Hatred...is powerfully seductive in its exploration of hate.” ―Egypt Independent
“Khalifa has now produced a genuinely important novel, even a great novel, the kind of novel that makes us see in patient and exacting detail what the world is really like.” ―The New Republic
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That said, once I acclimated to the style, I found the story and characters compelling and believable. I've never lived in a politically unstable or dangerous country, and I've never lived anywhere where I wasn't ever allowed to be in public unsupervised, so I really enjoyed reading a story from a perspective so different from my own. Also, usually when I read about female terrorists, they're described as motivated entirely by personal vendettas. I've always felt like this claim was patronizing and facile, and the narrator in this story isn't spurred on by a vendetta, but rather fueled by a complex mix of repression, ideology, and trauma. She lives a tightly regulated life, but she still has ferociously held ideals that she's willing (and eager) to die for. She seemed like a real person.
That said, there are some good reasons to read this novel: author Khaled Khalifa is Syrian, born in 1964 near Aleppo, where the novel is set. He would have been a young man, probably in college, when the chaotic historical events that are the novel's backdrop happened. We are told that this novel, which depicts the horrible sectarian violence and bloody dictatorship in Syria in the late 70s and early 80s, is banned in Khalifa's own country, and that doesn't really surprise me. This is a frightening place and the regime is responsible for a lot of the killing and torture.
Because many of the same things are happening in Syria today, some of them in this same embattled city, I kept reading to get a sense of what life is like inside the maelstrom, and how people, especially women, cope. The novel's answer gives us several models, but the chief one is that of the lead character, who worships and nurtures hatred not just of the ruling government but of any sect not her own. In part, this novel is that girl's coming-of-age story, and I know I'm not the only reader put off by the fact that she remains nameless, even while we learn (and try hard to remember) the names of her very large, extended family.
It makes me sad to report that the narrative itself is clunky and awkward, and we rarely get inside the narrator's head. Then, there will be an abrupt shift to a lengthy passage about the life of Khalil, her grandfather's driver, or Abdullah, a Yemeni rebel who is a friend of one of her uncle's and marries one of her aunts. Abdullah has a lengthy political journey, starting out Marxist and then becoming more of an Islamist, buying arms from American arms dealers to sell to Afghan rebels trying to oust Russia from Afghanistan. If this paragraph is confusing you, this book will frustrate you far more, because the transitions between the narrator's life at home and later in prison are abruptly broken up by switches to Abdullah's travels and other side stories.
That isn't to say there aren't powerful passages in this book, and fine writing. Here is one sentence midway through the book, where the narrator is about to meet her brother Hossam, who is on the run from the government, at a restaurant in Aleppo. (Later, Hossam is imprisoned, and at one point, the people running the horrible desert prison are told to go there and shoot every single prisoner, while still chained in the cells. This is said to be a true incident that people in Syria are still not allowed to discuss.) Any way, in this bleak time, the narrator says of one of her aunts, who is trying to comfort her: "She wove ropes of hope in the air and clung to them, like a child finding a swing in a pile of rubble that used to be a house."
This is not a light novel. It can be a very daunting book to read and difficult to digest at times. This is the sort of book that gives me a reminder of why I enjoy reading and learning. Much of it reminds me of a person's detailed reports of their day interwoven with life, thoughts, beliefs, and desires. I found this book's mysterious nature very intriguing and I could not put it down. How could I? I felt as if I was a stranger in a strange land, hungry to learn and understand what I was reading. I was getting a glimpse inside the mind of terror.
Yes, it is a novel. Fiction. But, it is a story that mirrors the violent events that are happening in the Middle East while being presented to you from the mouth of a character living it. There is a lot that gave me reason to stop and meditate on what I had just read as I attempted to wrap my head around it.
Beneath the rainbows and sunshine dwells a darkness leaking fear into all the rivers and streams on our planet. A darkness that prays we drink its waters and be one with them or die. This is a book that will change how you view the world. A bit of innocence you didn't realize you still had, lost.
This is a book that holds powerful fictional words reflecting the truth we don't want to face.
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