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The Road from Damascus [Hardcover]

Robin Yassin-Kassab
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Hamish Hamilton; First Edition edition (5 Jun 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241144094
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241144091
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 3.5 x 23.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 702,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

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 now teaches English.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Smorgasbord of a Book 9 Sep 2008
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
5.0 out of 5 stars London set novel of ideas. 19 Mar 2009
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An uneven road 20 July 2009
I came to this novel with high hopes, being interested in the varieties of contemporary Islam, but overall was somewhat disappointed, although the author clearly has talent.
It narrates the spiritual journey of the central character, Sami, to find some identity and reconciliation between his Islamic ancestry and the militantly secularist outlook of his father. On the way, we learn of the stories of older members of his family, and hear debates on Islamic philosophy, mostly through the mouth of Sami's wife Muntaha: these were often moving and engaging. The main problem I had was with the central character. It need not have mattered that he was so utterly self-centred, charmless and immature (a 31 year old eternal student indulged first by his dead father, and then by his postgraduate institution - something highly unconvincing, knowing today's universities!), but he was also so BORING, lacking any interests or resources other than drink and drugs. I hastened through the pages in his company. Conversely, his wife Muntaba, seemed like a male fantasy - endlessly beautiful, reasonable, loving. Perhaps this book should be read as an allegory, not a realist work with convincing characters - but in that case the secularist mouthpiece should have been a substantial figure, not this overgrown child.
Having said this, the writing is lucid, and the author can both create good comic scenes (such as the arguments between Sami and Muntaha, or the funeral wake)and expound ideas. He will no doubt do better in future, but this is not yet a satisfactory whole.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine London-based cross-cultural novel 2 July 2008
The Road to Damascus is first of all, a very well-written novel. The style is accessible but also challenging, the use of language superb, occasionally stopping you in your tracks to take in the use of words and phrases from the best of traditional English through to the street language of various London cultures. Yassin-Kassab blends styles together in a way which mirrors the language of contemporary London in all its colour and vibrancy.

Essentially it is about a the summer of 2001 in the life of British-born (of Syrian parents), Sami Traifi, a struggling academic, who since graduating has been trying to write is doctoral thesis. He has just returned from Syria where he has been discovering his roots. Flash-back chapters trace his history, including his relationship with his beautiful and gracious wife Muntaha.

On returning from his year in Damascus, where discovering his family roots has not been as helpful as he had hoped, he finds his wife has taken to wearing a head-scarf as an expression of a renewed faith. Sami, an avowed secularlist, finds this deeply distressing, the more so as he himself is on a course of self-destruction, using drugs and drink to veil his own sense of failure and frustration. He fails to realise that Muntaha's hijab is not an expression of a new fundamentalism so much as a symbol of a quiet spiritual renewal and rediscovery of prayer. Muntaha's brother on the other hand, previously only committed to hip-hop music and drugs, has adopted an unthinking and ignorant fundamentalism, leading to some insightful exchanges between brother and sister on the meaning of Islam.

One of the most interesting features of the novel to me, is the use of characters from a variety of strands of contemporary Islam.
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