Saturday, 8 October 2016

An Ishmael Of Syria by Asaad Almohammad

An Ishmael Of Syria by Asaad Almohammad
Self published in the USA in April 2016.

One of my WorldReads from Syria

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'Adam is a tortured soul. Exiled from his homeland, forced to watch the horrors unfold from afar. His family, still living – or surviving – in war-torn Syria struggle daily to feed, clothe, and educate their children. Adam tries to be a ‘global citizen’ and become a part of his new community in Malaysia, but is constantly faced with intolerance, bigotry, and plain old racism. Opportunities are few and Adam finds himself working long hours for poor pay so that he can help his family. The increasingly distressing news bulletins, along with Adam’s haunting childhood memories, compel him to examine his own beliefs; in God, in humanity, in himself and his integrity as a reluctant bystander in the worst human catastrophe of the twenty-first century.'

I didn't know what to expect from Almohammad's debut novel having chosen it mainly based on the fact of its author being Syrian - another country for my WorldReads collection - and for the striking cover art by Judy Almohammad. I certainly wasn't prepared for its shockingly powerful streams of furious prose which frequently took my breath away. An Ishmael Of Syria is a truly contemporary novel and one whose writing, I think, is almost experimental. The timeline jumps seemingly randomly through Adam's life, unearthed memories from childhood being recounted at the moment of their remembrance, regardless of how that sits with the narrative. I found this difficult to get into initially and it wasn't until over half-way through that I felt comfortable. Comfortable with the writing style at least.

An Ishmael Of Syria must be intended to shock global bystanders out of our blind reverie and to force us to see into the heart of what is left of Syria. Adam's helpless rage, exiled and isolated as he is in Malaysia, is painful to witness. This novel reads as a first-hand account and it felt as if I were hearing this man speaking directly to me. I had no real idea of the complexities of the war or the people involved and this is a point Almohammad repeatedly hammers home. Other nationals see 'Syrians' and jump to preconceived conclusions about their beliefs and goals. Adam sees his own countrymen individually and argues philosophically and culturally with every one. Even the common ground of shared trauma is experienced independently.

As already mentioned, I did struggle with the time leaps and I was also sometimes lost by scholarly flights into long psychological monologues. This contrasted with other sections where conversations suffered from clunky dialogue and overuse of exposition. This is a difficult book to review and rate, hence my middle-ground three stars. Parts are truly inspired and I felt Almohammad's impassioned words emotionally, other parts reminded me that this is an indie author's debut. It feels so harsh and uncaring to criticise though when, although Adam himself may not actually exist, his story most certainly is far too real.

Etsy Find!
by Heartstrings Of Syria in
the United Kingdom

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Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Asaad Almohammad / Contemporary fiction / Books from Syria


  1. Excellent, sensitive review. Sometimes the works that challenge us the most are the ones that change our perspective and stay with us the longest. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you :-) I am sure An Ishmael Of Syria will be one of my most memorable books of the year.

  2. What were some quotes that portrayed the racism Adam was facing within Malaysia?

    1. I no longer have the novel to look up specific quotes, however the antagonism towards Adam was not portrayed as a particularly Malaysian response, rather that people of many nationalities have preconceived ideas about what being an exiled Syrian means.