| Thomas Noel | Avril 2021 |

 

 

Syrian-writer, translator and Palestine activist Dima Wannous’ Frightened Ones, true to its name, is a realistic portrayal of fear and depression in Syrian everyday life. It is tampered by the harsh reality of violent politics, radical change through revolution and love with a gripping psychological approach.

The narrative follows a young woman, Suleima, struggling with anxiety. Centred around her therapist Kamil’s practice, she meets Naseem – a struggling, unsettled writer that publishes his polemic works under a pseudonym. They both develop a passionate, loving relationship, interrupted however when Naseem flees in order to escape Assad’s dictatorship. They unfortunately both struggle to maintain a distance relationship.

Meanwhile, Naseem sends Suleima his manuscript with a missing ending up for interpretation; his manuscript tells the tale of a young woman shaped and confined by her fears of the world, similar to Suleima’s perception. Suleima explores his manuscript, relating to every detail of Naseem’s character. Wannous proceeds by rotating between Suleima’s narrative and Naseem’s manuscript. Suleima passionately reflects, in the writing, on her life in Damascus or her refuge in Beirut, to her parent’s memories of the Hamas massacre.

Naseem is the strangest of the characters, he’s described as a mysterious, powerful intellectual with a passion for writing. His character demonstrates how his country’s dictatorship affects normal citizens; by censoring and threatening them, leading him to flee.

Suleima, the main character, suffers from anxiety and frequent panic attacks that fluctuates in terms of severeness throughout the novel. She is troubled by her past but recognises her poor condition and actively seeks help. She regularly consumes Xanax to aid and soothe her intrusive, stress-inducing thoughts.

Other notable side characters include Kamil: Suleima and Naseem’s therapist. He sincerely wishes to help his patients, suffering mentally from the effects of war. Suleima’s mother is a woman described as having ‘aged overnight’. Heavy emphasis is placed on the simpleness of her everyday life: she is always reading page 24 of her book for weeks, and simply cares for her children. One of which, Foued, has been detained (illegally) by the Syrian government, Suleima and her mother both desperately hope he has been killed, instead of being barbarically tortured.

The writing in this novel works delightfully for the awareness it attempts to raise. The long and interrogative sentences work to convey Suleima’s anxious and intrusive thoughts. Furthermore, Naseem’s mysteriousness adds to his troubled, fortified character. Wannous highlights the simpleness of life that conflicts with revolution and harsh dictatorship: a paradoxical relationship. Further, Wannous humanely presents a raw insight into how Syrians cope in times of war.

 

Thomas Noel
Thomas, 15 ans, est élève du Lycée français Charles de Gaulle et intégrera une 6th Form londonienne en septembre 21.

 

 

 

Ceux qui ont peur
Dima Wannous
Traduction de l’arabe (Syrie) par François Zabbal
Gallimard

The Frightened Ones
Dima Wannous
Translator: Elisabeth Jaquette
Penguin

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