A road to Damascus

Taha-Cover copyA road to Damascus
TAHA Meedo
Interlink, USA, 2018 , 460 pages

Summary

Summary

A botanic professor at a Lebanese university is conducting research on a rare kind of Acacia. The outcome of this research will determine the patch of his career, as he is up for promotion and the committee is waiting to read his paper. Professor, as he is often called in the novel, also has a brilliant girlfriend, Nancy, a former student of his.

One morning in November, Professor is off to the field, to visit an Acacia stub he spotted off a main road, the Damascus road. It’s almost dawn when he sets out. As he drives through his still deserted neighborhood, he collides with a bicycle. The young man, however, quickly gets back onto his bent bike, and yells “see you later Professor! Surprised, Professor wonders how this young man knows who he is.

He finally reaches his spot, parks his car, and walks down to the field. As per usual, Professor records his voice notes. The Acacia is there, but looks rather unhealthy. At that point, tires screech loudly, and a bus crashes into a large billboard. Professor heads to the bus and quickly gets in. Except one agonizing young man, all the passengers and the driver are dead. A pool of blood drips onto the road. Professor takes the surviving young man out of the bus. The young man is no other than the cyclist he collided into earlier. While Professor hears the young man’s last words, he is shocked by this macabre and utterly intriguing coincidence. This sends him on a quest for answers: Who was this man? Why did he know who he was? Why is he dead? Who killed them all? Leading him through national fears and family secrets, into a private underworld.

Indeed, as a politician was also on that bus, the bus killing quickly turns into a national matter, and the media wonders why the politician Doreid Fattal was traveling incognito on public transportation. The official investigation assumes Fattal was the target of this mass shooting; conspiracy theories and chaos spread. But Professor’s investigations seem to indicate otherwise, as he holds the only clue to the mystery: his injured Acacia.

A road to Damascus is a captivating detective story, featuring two main protagonists: Professor, and Nancy. Layer after layer, the mystery of the cyclist’s death unfolds, gradually bringing the reader closer to the truth. As politics and family history intertwine, the reader navigates Lebanese modern history and contemporary society. A multivoice novel, the story unfolds on two narrative lines: the murder investigation, and the Professor’s career and personal life. Though the second narrative line is less important, it interestingly develops the Professor’s character, giving it credibility and coherence. The book also features an omniscient narrator that helps putting the various bits and pieces together.

Fast-paced and tense, shaping up like a Hitchcock puzzle, A road to Damascus is a very entertaining read.

Excerpt

Excerpt

My eyes are off the road for only a second. No, I’m lying—for two, maybe three seconds. That’s all, three seconds! I glance into the messenger bag on the seat next to me and realize my recorder isn’t there. Just a glance! And before looking down, I inspect the predawn road ahead: murky, yes, but still empty.

As I look back up—I promise, not more than three seconds later—the nasty shriek of metal on metal fractures the delicate silence and ricochets across the hillside. The Volvo doesn’t even shudder when I bring it to a screeching stop. My forehead bashes into the steering wheel, my neck jolts back, and I catch a glimpse of a passengerless bicycle skidding off into the street.

My mind races with apocalyptic theories of phantom riders when, suddenly, a mass crashes onto my windshield. It tumbles off the hood with a sickening thud as it falls to the ground, out of sight.

Through the spiderweb now etched into the glass, I watch the bicycle’s front wheel skid into the side of the hill. Detached from its metal skeleton, it rolls and, like a spinning top coming to a halt, topples to the ground. I must have forgotten to breathe. A silence falls over the road and I remember to inhale.

My mind, spurned by the lack of oxygen, kicks into motion and I feel myself jerk the handbrake into place. I push the door open and a dreadful chill seeps into my chest as I wrench my suspended consciousness back into my body, still stiff with fear. I begin toward the front of the car, mind filled with grim expectation.

But before I can take two steps, the cyclist’s smiling face sprouts out from behind the car’s hood. He stands and nonchalantly brushes the dust off his shoulders, as if the entire ordeal was just a minor inconvenience. (…)

The words “hospital” and “help” cross my mind, but by the time I settle on a coherent question, he’s already reassembled the wheel.

Who rides a bicycle in Beirut anyway? The twisted metal looks only a tad better than its young rider, with its rear wheel dented and its basket bashed. When he gets on, it loses balance and slams against the retaining wall again, but he quickly adjusts to its misshapen dynamics, brings it in line with the road, and pedals away. “See you later, Professor!” he says, waving a bruised arm behind him.

Then he yells out my name.

Rights

Rights

RAYA has world rights to this title.

Check Meedo Taha‘s page for an updated rights situation on this title.

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