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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Silence and the Roar

Nihad Sirees

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To purchase The Silence and the Roar

Title: The Silence and the Roar
Author: Nihad Sirees
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 154 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: The Silence and the Roar - US
The Silence and the Roar - UK
The Silence and the Roar - Canada
The Silence and the Roar - India
Silence et tumulte - France
Ali Hassans Intrige - Deutschland
  • Arabic title: الصمت والصخب
  • Translated by Max Weiss
  • With a new Afterword (2012) by the author

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Our Assessment:

B : fine if familiar spin on the individual vs. the (authoritarian) state

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Star . 6/9/2013 K. Wilson-Goldie
The Independent A 22/3/2013 R. Yassin-Kassab
Independent on Sunday . 13/1/2013 Lucy Popescu
The National . 15/12/2012 Malcolm Forbes
The Observer . 1/6/2013 Ben East
Publishers Weekly A 21/1/2013 .

  Review Consensus:

  Impressed by effective dark tale

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Silence and the Roar is not great literature. Sirees explains too much and leaves too little to chance or mystery. But the strength of his political allegory slots the novel into a formidable lineage of fictions illuminating the dark corners of dictatorship, repression and blinding bureaucracy" - Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, Daily Star

  • "This is a small dystopian treasure of Gogolian texture, nightmarish but light, self-referential but never pretentious. Eerie, banal, yet bearing the cold imprint of reality, Sirees’s vision of tyranny, superlatively translated, is distinctive enough to be ranked with Orwell, Huxley or Marquez’s." - Robin Yassin-Kassab, The Independent

  • "Weaving together their stories with Fathi's own experiences, Sirees creates a chilling portrait of a people whose lives are dominated by fear." - Lucy Popescu, Independent on Sunday

  • "Fact and fiction fuse too well: the novel's city and dictatorship are wonderfully vivid and consequently depressingly realistic. This is a land of kowtowing state functionaries and sadistic security (.....) While The Silence and the Roar is a slender novel, it is far from slight." - Malcolm Forbes, The National

  • "It should be required reading. (...) These passages are blushingly florid but it's Sirees's light touch with his subject matter that lends The Silence and the Roar so much of its power." - Ben East, The Observer

  • "Originally published in 2004, the novel indisputably connects to current events, but its value as art and political commentary is timeless. Sirees has written a 1984 for the 21st century." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The country The Silence and the Roar is set in is not identified, but the general description (as well as the existence of a mukhabarat -- an Arabic-style intelligence service) point to the Middle East. It is an authoritarian dictatorship, as for almost twenty years now the nation has been led by 'the Leader'. The narrator is Fathi Sheen, a young writer -- he's only thirty-one -- who enjoyed considerable success but now finds:

I'm banned from writing for the papers and my books are never approved for publication.
       Despite that, he seems to be doing okay, enjoying a fairly carefree life, madly in love with Lama -- whom he'd marry if she could ever finalize her divorce from her first husband.
       The Silence and the Roar is set on a sweltering day when the masses have, yet again, been instructed to march in praise of the Leader, and so practically everywhere Fathi turns he hears or sees the roar of the crowd (or flock) that obediently does as instructed. They march in front of his house, and of course everything is shown on TV as well, and pretty much everyone who isn't marching is watching. Meanwhile, public transportation is largely shut down (everyone should be marching, or watching the march !), and Fathi faces numerous obstacles in trying to go against the flow as he ventures around. Twice over the course of the day he comes to the assistance of those who are, in one way or another, trampled by the authorities or the marchers (apparently there's a pretty high death toll at these events, with the not-well-herded masses crushing and trampling fellow marchers in their Leader-led enthusiasm), trying to help where few others will.
       Early on Fathi gets his ID confiscated, and trying to get it back is one of the things that keeps him busy later in the day. Meanwhile, there's also big news on the homefront, as his widowed mother reveals to him that she's getting married again -- to a high-ranking Leader-lackey (whose story of how he more or less stumbled into his position Fathi is familiar with, and relates). Fathi suspects the main reason behind the marriage is because the regime wants to co-opt him, the well-known writer -- and as events unfold, culminating in a meeting with his mother's fiancé, it's clear there's some truth to that.
       The Silence and the Roar is a study of life in an authoritarian regime, where the dictator is an all-powerful figure who needs constant reassurance that he is at the center of this country-universe, where all revere him because that is the (un)natural order of things -- here: "Love for the Leader requires no thought; it's axiomatic". Fathi is stuck between the numbing roar of the crowds, mindlessly cheering the Leader, and his own frustrated silence. Sex with Lama helps -- "when silence was imposed on me we found that sex was a form of speech, indeed, a form of shouting in the face of silence" -- but of course it remains a private, intimate one. And the threat Fathi faces is, as Lama puts it:
They don't want you to be silent. They want you to talk, only in a way that benefits them. They want you one their side.
       The mass shows its blind allegiance, but individually there is a fair amount of criticism (though little active resistance) throughout the novel. Various figures, from Fathi's mother to a doctor he meets to people inside the state apparatus itself, express or suggest opposition to this outrageous state of affairs -- even as they accept its overwhelming might. And Fathi is pushed to decide how far he is willing to go along with the (intolerable) status quo.
       Sirees' novel is a fairly effective novel of the madness of the cult of the personality-driven dictatorship, and Fathi an appealing guide to this strange world. The silence/roar contrast is done and used quite nicely, and Sirees doesn't reduce everything too readily to a black and white level, showing how a variety of people manage to remain fairly true to themselves even under such circumstances. Nevertheless, the scenario is a very familiar one, and The Silence and the Roar is also yet another variation on a theme -- perhaps not quite interchangeable with but certainly very similar to much of the anti-totalitarian fiction of the Soviet era, or the African-dictatorship novels of the 1970s and 80s. Yes, as a novel from Syria it is particularly timely, given the current Syrian leader's blinkered focus on nothing but self-preservation, regardless of how terrible the cost to his country and its citizens, but the Leader (and the situation) described in The Silence and the Roar is, sadly, one that still resembles that in too many other countries as well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 August 2013

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The Silence and the Roar: Reviews: Nihad Sirees: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Syrian author Nihad Sirees (نهاد سيريس) was born in 1950.

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© 2013 the complete review

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