Book Review: 'In Praise Of Hatred'

Alan Cheuse reviews the novel In Praise of Hatred, by Khaled Khalifa. The book, which was recently translated to English, features a young Muslim girl in 1980s Syria.

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In Syria, the 1980s were marked by a bloody civil war between the Sunni majority and the minority Alawite Muslim government. That's now the setting for a novel titled "In Praise of Hatred." It's by Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa. It's now available in the United States and a translation by Larry Price. And Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The unnamed narrator opens her episodic story as she's studying a family photograph. For a number of chapters after this she embellishes the faith and the foibles of the family. Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, all appeal to her inquiring mind as she tries to make her own full dressed portrait of an extended Syrian household caught in a moment of time.

As the government begins to crack down on the politics of the majority Sunni clans, that changes everything for the girl's family. Her early life of girlish dreams and family pleasures disintegrate. Skirmishes in the street become commonplace. And with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the war between the Sunni majority and the Alawite government minority grows in intensity. Family members go into hiding. Others stand tall against the opposition.

Eventually the girl, now a young woman, is arrested for revolutionary activities and she spends more than five years in prison. But only after this does she realize, or so she tells us, that hatred was worthy of praise as it lives within us exactly as love does, it grows moment by moment in order to settle finely in our souls. And we don't want to escape it even when it causes us pain.

The episodic design of the story doesn't lend itself much to a dramatic rendering of these difficult years in Syria's history. I went around and around from fascination to boredom to pleasure and back again. Overall, if you can muster the patience, this novel will teach you some important things about this still mysterious time and place.

BLOCK: The book is "In Praise of Hatred," written by Khaled Khalifa and translated by Larry Price. Our review came from Alan Cheuse. His recent story collection is "An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring."

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