Sinan Antoon’s Ave Maria is out from Hoopoe! A first review by The National – “A novel of rare brilliance”

31 March 2017 422 views No Comment Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post

AveMaria-SmallThe National, March 29, 2017

he Baghdad Eucharist is a short read but one that lingers long in the mind due to its characters’ candid testimonies. Antoon entrances with both his lavish set-pieces and tight thumbnail sketches. Maha’s miscarriage, together with Youssef’s doomed love affair with a Muslim girl 20 years his junior, show suffering of a different kind. Antoon also manages to convey Youssef’s anguish at the felling and burning of Baghdad’s date palms – “so that the Americans can see the snipers and the snipers can see them”.

Punctuating the gloom and tempering the foreboding are moments of supreme tenderness, such as Youssef comforting Maha as a little girl in a makeshift air-raid shelter in 1991, passing off Allied bombs – or “American fireworks” – as heavy rain. Complementing this, Youssef’s visit to see his old friend Saadoun is a heartwarming portrait of two indefatigable survivors who refuse to be beaten by war and terror.
Antoon has crafted a novel of rare brilliance which highlights the divisions within a family and their struggles within their city. Through two pairs of eyes we see how the past is a different country, and learn that in the present only resilience and reconciliation can keep families together. By the last dramatic act we’re cheering Youssef and Maha on, and applauding their creator for his depiction of, if not triumph over adversity, then courage under fire.

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