In the afterword of this book, Nihad Sirees, asks “Is it possible for the silence and the roar to co-exist?” Going on to state that The answer is most certainly yes, that in countries ruled by people obsessed with supremacy, authoritarians and those who are crazed by power, the ruler or leader imposes silence upon all those who dare to think outside the prevailing norm. Silence can be the muffling of one’s voice or the banning of one’s publication, or it can be the silence of a prison cell… or the grave.
The roar afflicts Fathi, the protagonist of this book from the moment he wakes and follows him throughout his day, it is in the voice of the hordes chanting their support in some spontaneously orchestrated marches celebrating the leader, it’s the leader, or his underlings, calling from the Television and the Radio and the TV crews filming it all for the leader to watch at his pleasure. It’s in the casting aside of classical Arabic music and replacing it with martial sounds. It is also in the stomp of the boot as it comes crashing down upon some individual deemed a traitor for not marching.
Silence can also be wisdom when all talk is praise for the Leader, as Fathi’s girlfriend says as he lays in her arms relishing the quiet sanctuary of their love.
The Silence and the Roar follows Fathi, a writer no longer allowed to write, as he makes his way across town to visit his girlfriend and his mother on the twentieth anniversary of some undisclosed leader. Along the way he meets various characters all trying to make sense of the chaos. Fathi, although silenced, still seems to command respect and this doesn’t sit well with the leader or his cronies.
It seems that Fathi’s own silence is not enough, the government wants more. They want total acquiescence, they want his unconditional and public approval and are quite happy to use any means or anyone to get it…
At one point Fathi describes all that is going on in his country as surrealist, but you quickly realise that farce is just as accurate a description of the world contained within the pages of this book. Somehow Nihad Sirees, has taken all the horror, anger, injustice and sheer terror of a brutal regime and created this slight, slender novel that is funny, in fact totally hilarious, although the anger is still there, still burning.
It says on the back cover that “ The Silence and the Roar is a personal, urgent funny and aggrieved novel. It asks what it means to have a conscience, or to laugh, or to endure in a time of violence, strangeness and roar of tyranny. This is a true statement and one that the writer is constantly seeking to answer, in the afterword, in the last passage Nihad, states that..
“There is another kind of roar that this author never thought the leader would ever be capable of using: the roar of artillery, tanks, and fighter jets that have already opened fire on Syrian cities. The leader is levelling cities and using lethal force against his own people in order to hold on to power. We must ask, alongside the characters in this novel: what kind of Surrealism is this?”
Nihad Sirees was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1950. He is the distinguished author of seven novels, several plays, and numerous screenplays. His work has been banned from publication in Syria since the 1998 screening of his television drama, The Silk Market, which described social turmoil in Syria in 1956 – 61 and the subsequent rise to power of the Baath Party. He was branded an opponent of the government and publication of several of his works was forbidden by government censors. His subsequent novels, A Case of Passion and Noise and Silence, were published abroad. A historical television drama about the life of Lebanese-born American writer and painter Khalil Gibran, written during a stay at the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa in 2005, was produced in Lebanon and screened in 2007 on Arab satellite channels, but Sirees continued to be excluded from public intellectual and cultural life in Syria and banned from publishing or producing work in his homeland.
He left Syria in January 2012, because he was being watched and followed by Syrian security services. Since that time he has lived in self-imposed exile in Cairo, Egypt.
Syrian Writers (BBC) Rana talks to Nihad Sirees &
Malu Halasa about writing in Syria.