Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Silence is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar

Silence is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar
Published by Borough Press on the 4th March 2021.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A young woman spends her days watching the neighbours through their windows. She is a refugee, who has seen the failure of the Arab Spring in her homeland and who has been traumatized into silence by her brutal journey from Syria to Britain. 

As an outsider, a mute voyeur, she sees everything, she hears everything: the love, the fighting, the families, the secrets, the lies, the sex, the shame.  Slowly drawn into the community that surrounds her, she begins to come to terms with all she has lost. After a brutal attack on the local mosque, she realises she is the only witness to the truth behind the violence. But will she finally speak of all she's seen? 

Rear Window meets Exit West, this beautifully written novel tells the powerful story of one woman’s trauma and her gradual healing.

Silence Is A Sense is the second of Layla AlAmmar's novels that I have read, the first being The Pact We Made which also spoke for an unheard woman although one in very different circumstances. I am so glad to have now had this opportunity, through NetGalley, to read another of her works, because Silence Is A Sense is an incredible creation. It's one of those books that kept me utterly glued to its pages - I read almost all of it in one (very long!) sitting - and I was entranced by its shifting layers, concealing and revealing truths about our mute voyeur herself, about her immediate community, and about wider British society, especially our selfish expectations of traumatised immigrants and ways in which we react to disability.

I found myself frequently wincing at magazine editor, Josie's, exhortations that The Voiceless should steer clear of political commentary in her articles because readers only wanted her personal story of loss, or details of her traumatic journey. We want to see grateful, nonthreatening refugee images that allow us to feel good about ourselves because 'our country' has taken these needy people in, whether or not we individually contributed to that effort. We don't want those same refugees to voice uncomfortable truths about less-than-hospitable treatment here or, indeed, British-made bombs having driven them from their homes in the first place.

I particularly loved AlAmmar's portrayals of the people in the tower blocks surrounding our narrator. She picks out the distinctive aspects of their lives as seen through one window across a courtyard, seeing both the humorous and the poignant. This one estate has a microcosm of modern British society from a juice-obsessed fitness fanatic to a young girl just discovering her sexuality, from an abusive husband to a noisy cook. Silence Is A Sense is a wonderful slice-of-life novel as well as a story with deeper messages. It kept me thinking in the hours immediately after I had finished it and aspects keep occurring to me still, several days after finishing, as I make more connections . I think this book would benefit from multiple readings, with each one allowing me to focus on a particular layer, developing my understanding as I do so.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Layla AlAmmar / Contemporary fiction / Books from Kuwait

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