Mamdouh Azzam is a Syrian novelist, whose social and political critique paints a vivid and condemning portrait of life under dictatorship in Syria. Much of Azzam’s work is set in his native southern Syria among the Druze community. His most celebrated and controversial novel is The Palace of Rain (1998), a powerful and daring treatment of taboos in the conservative Druze religion. The novel sparked political and social controversy over Azzam’s treatment of the Druze belief in reincarnation, and was banned in Syria by the Ministry of Culture. His novel Ascension to Death (1989) was turned into the award winning film Al Lajat in 1996, directed by Riyad Shayya. His most recent work is Women of the Imagination (2011), an epic story of love and politics in 1960s -1990s Syria that follows a book-obsessed teacher living under the regime. In 2008, Sabry Hafez mentioned Azzam in a list of under-translated Arab writers for The Guardian.
Featured Reading Group Title: معراج الموت (Mi’raj al-Mawt – Ascension to Death)
Ascension to Death is set in a village in the south of Syria. It tells the story of an orphan girl named Salma, in love with a boy from her village but trapped in a forced marriage. Her predicament is enforced by Salma’s tyrannical uncle and guardian, who was all too pleased to unload the burden of his brother’s daughter on to the first man who proposed. Salma’s uncle is a local community leader with connections to the government, and a true modern-day tragedy unfolds. The novel follows Salma’s attempt to escape with her lover, her family’s collusion with the authorities against her, and the ordeal of imprisonment, torture and abandonment that follows.
- Ascension to Death features as part of our autumn 2013 Arabic reading group.
- Azzam’s novel was adapted as the film al-Lajat in 1996, directed by Riyad Shayya.
- You can order the book in Arabic from the Arabic Book Shop here.
- You can read an extract of Ascension to Death, translated into English by Max Weiss, here.