What’s Behind Door #3: Mamdouh Azzam’s ‘Ascension to Death’

Behind Door #1, we found Hani al-Rahib’s The Epidemic and behind Door #2, Mustafa Khalifa’s The Shell. Now, participants in the And Other Stories series of book groups focused on Syrian literature will be looking at Mamdouh Azzam’s Ascension to Death:

1The group meets in three locations — NYC, Cairo, and London — and the NYC group will be meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. The location is TBA.

After the three groups have met, and And Other Stories has collected all the reader feedback, it’s possible that one of the books will be translated and published by the press. (If you have read part or all of the books, please do leave your feedback on their website.)

The first two chapters of Ascension to Death have been translated by multi-award-winning translator Max Weiss and posted to the And Other Stories website. The book’s original Arabic can be ordered online; those who have any difficulty in ordering it should contact book-group organizer Lissie Jaquette.

The novel has also been turned into a 1996 film, titled al-Lajat, directed by Riyad Shayya. It’s possible the AOS group will also do a screening.

More on Mamdouh Azzam and Ascension to Death from organizers:

Mamdouh Azzam is a Syrian novelist, whose social and political critique paints a vivid and condemning portrait of life under dictatorship in Syria. Much of Azzam’s work is set in his native southern Syria among the Druze community. His most celebrated and controversial novel is The Palace of Rain (1998), a powerful and daring treatment of taboos in the conservative Druze religion. The novel sparked political and social controversy over Azzam’s treatment of the Druze belief in reincarnation, and was banned in Syria by the Ministry of Culture. His novel Ascension to Death (1989) was turned into the award winning film Al Lajat in 1996, directed by Riyad Shayya. His most recent work is Women of the Imagination (2011), an epic story of love and politics in 1960s -1990s Syria that follows a book-obsessed teacher living under the regime. In 2008, Sabry Hafez mentioned Azzam in a list of under-translated Arab writers for The Guardian.

Ascension to Death is set in a village in the south of Syria. It tells the story of an orphan girl named Salma, in love with a boy from her village but trapped in a forced marriage. Her predicament is enforced by Salma’s tyrannical uncle and guardian, who was all too pleased to unload the burden of his brother’s daughter on to the first man who proposed. Salma’s uncle is a local community leader with connections to the government, and a true modern-day tragedy unfolds. The novel follows Salma’s attempt to escape with her lover, her family’s collusion with the authorities against her, and the ordeal of imprisonment, torture and abandonment that follows.