No one prayed over their graves

No one prayed over their graves

Publication Date: 2019

Publisher: Naufal

Country of Publication: Lebanon, Beirut

Pages: 424

Lam yusalli ‘alayhim ahad

Hanna and Zakaria reached Hosh Hanna, their village located not far from Aleppo, on a dreadful morning of December 1907, a few hours after the flood. The river had taken the lives of most the villagers, including their loved ones, Hanna’s wife and baby, as well as Zakaria’s baby, not to mention destroyed most of the homes, and Zakaria’s precious stables. Their insatiable pursuit of pleasure is what saved them from drowning. As per usual during the winter season, Zakaria and Hanna had spent the night in the Castle, several kilometers away. That building, commissioned by Hanna and designed by their architect friend Azar, was the palace of luxure, a place where Hanna, Zakaria and their friends would spend time laughing at life – and death – drinking the best wines, and enjoying the company of the most beautiful women. This life of carelessness ended with the flood. From a powerful, libertine, and rich land owner, Hanna will turn into a mystic, obsessed with death and the meaning of life. While he only seeks to be free from human constraints and as close as possible to nature, Hanna will find he has gone from being a slave of the Castle, to being a slave of the Monastery of Zahr El Rumman. He is the one to have commissioned both buildings, and while pleasure is what kept him a captive of the Castle, people’s faith and thirst for miracles (aided by the ambitions of Marianna, another flood survivor), made sure he would never leave the Monastery.

While the flood is the cornerstone of the novel and of Hanna’s transformation, the former, which ranges from the 1880’s to the 1950’s, with the death of Hanna, is punctuated by catastrophes (such as an earthquake in the 1880’s, or the famine in the 1910’s), wars, and violent political tensions that caused people to die by hundreds.

Along with death, love is the heart of this novel: The impossible love that caused the Muslim Aicha and the Christian Michel to die at the hand of a jealous Ottoman officer – a tale that lived on the tongues of the city folks long after the events, and also doomed Michel’s family; the love of the Christian Hanna for his dear friend Zakaria’s sister, the Muslim Suad; the love of Maryam, an Armenian refugee, for Michel, the second son of Zakaria, named after their slaughtered friend.

Going through Hanna’s childhood, following the massacre of his family by Ottoman officers, which led him to being raised by the Bayazidis (his father’s business partner and Zakaria’s family), through to his death, the novel covers Hanna’s personal as well as Aleppo’s societal transformations during this time.

Beyond the deeper, and timely, considerations of the novel regarding the meaning of life in the face of recurrent mass graves, No one prayed onto their graves, is the beautiful and captivating depiction of the Aleppine society at the turn of the 20th century. The reader discovers a liberated modern people, many of which embraced progressive ways of life; a diverse people, with Muslims, Jews, and Christians, united in their love for their city, and their dream of a bright future.

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No one prayed over their graves