Novel Explores 'Silence' And 'Roar' Of Life In A Place Like Syria

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The Silence and the Roar follows a young man living in an unnamed Middle Eastern country that is in chaos. The book doesn't explicitly take place in Syria, but the similarities between its setting and author Nihad Sirees' home country are undeniable.

Sirees' work has been banned from publication in Syria, where he's considered an opponent of the government — another point at which Sirees' story and that of his protagonist, Fathi Chin, intersect.

Fathi is a writer who is banned from speaking freely after he refuses to praise his country's dictator. He's asked to live in silence just as the country begins celebrating its leader's 20th anniversary in power. The title of Sirees' book refers to Fathi's forced silence, as well as the sound of people on the streets showing their support — real or feigned — for their leader.

Eventually, Fathi is detained and held in a cell in the basement of a security services building. Surprisingly, Fathi welcomes the quiet and solitude of the cell, where he can finally begin to process the roar of life on the street.

"I had a similar story with the authorities," Sirees tells NPR's Rachel Martin. In the late '90s, when current Syrian President Bashar Assad's father, Hafez Assad, was in power, Sirees clashed with authorities. "They started to read every word, every line" that Sirees wrote, and began banning his works. "So the relationship between me and the authorities was very bad," he says.

Originally written in Arabic, The Silence and the Roar's English translation came out March 5.

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