June 28, 2018
La Repubblica reviews Wannous’ The Frightened: “An atrocious and beautiful novel”

La Repubblica reviews Wannous’ The Frightened: “An atrocious and beautiful novel”

Published by La Repubblica, April 15, 2018

Love and Xanax in Damascus

He escaped to Berlin. She remained in Syria: hoping to find her brother, who has “disappeared” at the hands of the regime. But is it possible to really love each other when your survival is conditioned by fear?

Two people who suffer from panic attacks and a Xanax dependency fall in love in a psychologist’s waiting room. A story of Western fragility? No, we are in Damascus. And the fear that paralyzes them, so similar to ours, has its roots in a completely different world: the Syria of the Assads and of the revolution. After all, literature has this gift: it does not tell you the story, it makes you live it. Dima Wannous (born in Damascus in 1982) is a talented young writer, already translated by the most important European publishers, such as Gallimard and Harvill.

Quelli che hanno paura (translated by Elisabetta Bartuli and Cristina Dozio, Baldini + Castoldi) is an atrocious and beautiful novel, which allows us to enter Syria devastated by war, among the ruins that it left in the soul of those who remained and those who ran away.

Suleyma and Nessim are separated by the 2011 revolution. He, a doctor and writer, after losing his mother and sister in the bombings of Homs, escapes to Germany with his father. She, the daughter of a couple who escaped the massacre of Hama, remains in Damascus with her mother, because her brother was made to disappear by the regime. One day, Nessim sends Suleyma the manuscript of his novel. It is the story of a girl in exile in Beirut, tormented by the same fear that afflicts Suleyma in Damascus.

Through these three characters we enter the Syria of the Assads, before the revolution, and then when the country becomes a terrible battlefield. We see them grow under the Ba’th party. Terror reigns at school already. You teach subjects such as military education or patriotic education and you immediately learn to undergo the humiliations of the powerful. With the daughters of political leaders, free to torment their comrades as they please. Then the revolution begins.

“There was no clear start, on a specific date, at an exact time. Suddenly, I realized that the tear had occurred.” And this tear, we see it inside the families. A cousin who suddenly writes: “I do not wish you to kill your mother, no. But I hope they will violate you and slit her in front of you, so that your life becomes a torture.” Because the girl’s mother is Sunni and her cousin is Alawite. The war plunges men into an abyss of ferocity and cruelty. “How does a human being become a beast? Does it happen suddenly or by degrees?” Read more in Italian