New Fiction Reviews

Article excerpt

Byline: Clare Colvin

THE ROAD FROM DAMASCUS by Robin Yassin-Kassab (Hamish Hamilton, [pounds sterling]16.99)THIS ambitious debut novel is an eye-opener on what it is like to be a Muslimin Britain post 9/11. Yassin-Kassab, born in London to a Syrian father andEnglish mother, has as his protagonist one Sami Traifi, born in Britain toSyrian parents.

Sami, a 31-year-old academic, returns to Damascus to research a thesis for hisunending doctorate. There, he gets a hostile reception from his relatives, whoreveal that his uncle had been betrayed to the Syrian authorities and wasbroken by 22 years of torture in jail. Sami, like his father, has rejected hisMuslim roots. He doesn't understand his wife Muntaha's deepening faith when sheresolves to wear a headcovering hijab.

In an identity crisis, he goes on a bender of drugs and alcohol, and is caughtwith a nose full of cocaine by the police.

Attempting to clean up his act and rediscover his faith, he is in trouble withthe police again when he is seen, now devoutly bearded, emerging from aWhitechapel mosque shortly after 9/11.

In writing about present-day religious fundamentalism, Yassin-Kassab has chosena subject rarely touched on in fiction.

The novel is richly evocative in its descriptions of multi-cultural Londonaround the Harrow and Edgware Roads. At times, though, the author crams in toomuch didactic argument at the expense of the plot.

THE RETURN by Victoria Hislop (Headline Review, [pounds sterling]17.99) AFTER her first novel,The Island, stormed the bestseller charts with its story of love and leprosy inwartime Crete, Victoria Hislop returns with a similar formula.

Her second is set in the 1930s at the time of the Spanish Civil War, and shouldbe required holiday reading for anyone going to Spain this year. The war, whichbrought in the 40-year military dictatorship of General Franco, left lastingscars. Hislop has researched the period thoroughly, and weaves in facts withthe life of the fictional Ramirez family. …