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The Road from Damascus Paperback – 30 Apr 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (30 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141035641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141035642
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 85,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A novel so packed with ideas it threatens at times to explode ... One of the author's gifts, and he has many, is to give us characters, who, even at their most wilfully one-dimensional, are believable and, at times, funny' Independent 'A fantastically enjoyable, wise and intelligent novel that grows in the telling and should cause the most feted of literary stars to sit up and take notice' Big Issue 'A rambunctious and daring novel, with scattered comedy amid the drama' Metro

About the Author

Robin Yassin-Kassab was born in Britain to a Syrian father and English mother. He graduated from Oxford University and travelled extensively, working as a journalist in Pakistan before moving to Oman where he taught English. He now lives in Scotland.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D. Eades on 16 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback
'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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Simon White on 9 Sept. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Some people have interesting experiences in their lives, and some people can write interesting prose. I think that both are applicable to this début from Robin Yassin-Kassab.

A beautiful, introspective wife with a great amount of tolerance asserts her identity and newfound religious karma with a headscarf while suffering her husband Sami's journey of discovery via Damascus, the London drug scene, bereavement and a police cell.

Questions of identity are at the heart of the book. The modern globalising world and the friction of cultures all feed the book's plot. Islam (and religion in general) are ingredients. Characters from beautifully métisse backgrounds give a backdrop to the narrative, and serve to raise the kind of questions we must all ask ourselves in today's world. Indeed is the central character a British Syrian or a Syrian Brit (does it matter)? A Russian/Hungarian naturalised Brit focuses on the romantic part of his origins... a London raised arab, once into Public Enemy and black underground cuture, is now a "born again" Muslim with a tendency to mix reggae, rap and and street slang before re-asserting his piety with Koranic references.

No longer is it simple to just state your identity according to nationality or birthplace. People move around a lot (as does the action in the book) and their allegiances change.

You finish this book with a sense that the journey upon which you embark to find the answers is more important than the answers themselves (perhaps there aren't any), that Robin is indeed an erudite and fascinating person, and that questions of tolerance and creed are far better explored by reading these pages than by watching western TV news or asserting your identity as a simple equation of birthplace, nationality, and the colour of your skin.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By MJ Clarke on 19 Mar. 2009
Format: Hardcover
i found Yassin-Kassab's brilliant debut difficult to put down and it deserves wide popularity.

The book has been reviewed in depth already on amazon so i won't regurgitate any plot but I will say that characters are cleverly used to delineate useful fictional boundaries around and between a few of the multifaceted aspects of Islam in London and, without ramming it in the readers face, Yassin-Kassab demonstrates just how ridiculous and cliched a vast swathe of the media's representation of contemporary British Islam is. It's to the authors great credit that even through employing this clever tactic, the characters remain well rounded and sympathetic instead of ham fisted ciphers and like any good novel, you genuinely miss them after closing the last page.

It's also extremely refreshing to read a new novel that's brim full of ideas, a novel not afraid to have ideas, sometimes radical ones. At times i was even reminded of Philip K. Dick at his drug twisted gnostic best.

I look forward to this talented new authors next novel, i suspect exceptional things are on their way.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By sevensisters007 on 15 Aug. 2010
Format: Paperback
An ambitious and in the main hugely successful first novel, The Road from Damascus charts Sami Traifi's dramatic fall from academic and marital grace, and his gradual reconciliation with Islam, his Syrian heritage, and his wife's decision to wear the hijab. Yassin-Kassab's writing is culturally and historically astute, deeply informed by politics, theology and poetry, yet always fluid, personal and intensely imaginative. The inner conflicts of a secular British-Muslim are richly drawn on a canvas that stretches from a family secret in Damascus to the destruction of the Twin Towers, from a coke-fuelled spree of rebellion to the private space of prayer. Fundamentalism is satirised, but gently - a young Brother with an excitable belief in jihad is also a loving brother, brother-in-law, son and step-son. Intellectually the book sizzles, exploring not only the subtleties of Islamic thought but also the volatile power-keg of global ideologies in conflict; emotionally the narrative simmers with a warm, aromatic brew of observations and insights. Some minor characters could have been more satisfyingly developed, but the author does a tremendously sensitive job of conveying the complex nerve-structure of family relations. Sami's calm and elegant wife emerges as a powerful and independent figure, while Sami's need to come to terms with the loss of his father and accept his own adult responsibilities to others forms the heart of this compelling book. Highly recommended.
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