'The Road from Damascus' is a well-written and very enjoyable novel. It is about Sami Traifi, a struggling PhD student who was born in Britain to Syrian parents. The story is set in the summer of 2001 when Sami has just returned from a month's trip to Syria in a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to find his roots. Upon his return to London he finds that his wife Muntaha has begun wearing the Muslim headscarf (hijab) as an expression of her newly found spirituality. Sami, a staunch secularist, is outraged. In a state of frustration and uncertainty, he embarks on a journey of drinking and drugs,which ultimately lands him in a police lock-up for the night. Having reached a state of mental and physical exhaustion, he then begins to find some answers to the questions that have been troubling him for so long.
The novel is an entertaining and often moving tale of Sami's relationships with his wife and others close to him, and through these relationships much bigger themes are explored: secularism and religion, modernity and tradition, love and loyalty. For the reader with limited exposure to Arab and Muslim society, the novel offers a refreshing take on the complexity of culture, identity, race, and religion in a globalising world. Indeed, the novel takes a daring, and timely, approach to issues which are often framed in the western media within the narrow paradigm of a "clash of civilisations".
The depth and breadth of the issues dealt with do not make light reading. However, the novel is entertaining and in parts very funny, and I found it difficult to put down. The story is told in a style which is engaging, employing beautiful turns of phrase, at times capturing the flavour of its setting with the language of the London streets. Overall, 'The Road from Damascus' is boldly original, in parts challenging, and an excellent read. I highly recommend it.