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Byline: Clare Colvin

THE ROAD FROM DAMASCUS by Robin Yassin-Kassab (Hamish Hamilton)

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 and English mother, has as hisprotagonist one Sami Traifi, born in Britain to Syrian 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, who reveal that hisuncle had been betrayed to the Syrian authorities and was broken by 22 years oftorture in jail. Sami, like his father, has rejected his Muslim roots.

He doesnt understand his wife Muntahas deepening faith when she resolves towear a head-covering 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 a mosqueshortly 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 London. Attimes, though, the author crams in too much didactic argument at the expense ofthe plot.

THE RETURN by Victoria Hislop (Headline Review)

AFTER her first novel, The Island, stormed the bestseller charts with its storyof love and leprosy in wartime 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, which brought in the 40-year military dictatorship of General Franco,left lasting scars.

Hislop has researched the period thoroughly, and weaves in facts with the lifeof the fictional Ramirez family.

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