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The Silence and the Roar

by Nihad Sirees

Paperback, 154 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $13.95 |


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The Silence and the Roar
Nihad Sirees

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NPR Summary

When Fathi Chin, a banned author living in a Middle Eastern country resembling Syria, helps a student being beaten by the police, his ID papers are confiscated. To retreive them, Fathi enters an ever-widening bureaucratic labyrinth, with only his sense of irony to protect him against the irrationality of the government employees.

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Excerpt: The Silence And The Roar


It was intensely hot. I could feel that the sheet underneath me was completely soaked through without even opening my eyes. I was having trouble breathing it was so hot, as sweat accumulated in pools that would trickle down my neck. I wiped the spot just above my lip where I was accustomed to finding sweat collected in thin little rivulets. I rolled over onto my left side to look up at the clock hanging above the window; dazzling light streaming in made it impossible to see its hands. It turned out to be eight thirty, though the hubbub in the street made it seem as though the day was already half gone.

I peeled off my sopping wet undershirt and sighed, a sigh that betrayed my irritation at having to go out and buy a fan. I was annoyed at myself because I had already asked my mother for money several times, but instead of actually buying the fan I would always spend it all on food and tobacco. I preferred to stay in bed, refreshing myself by pouring a bottle of water over my head and bare chest. This was a trick Lama taught me. She would also moisten a towel and press it against my naked body until I cooled down. Then, with two fingers, she'd slide it across my chest, gliding over my midsection and all the way down to my feet. Until the water soaking the towel warmed up I felt an invigorating coolness, at which point either I got hard and Lama would respond, or else I played dumb and pretended not to know what she was up to with this towel game, which would only make her succumb to pampering me even more.

Barely eight thirty in the morning and the sounds outside were all chaos. Sounds turned into noise as a bullhorn amplified a goddamned voice reciting inspirational poetry, utter gibberish that was only interrupted by the occasional barked instruction. The meaning of all those words got lost because another loudspeaker was simultaneously blaring motivational anthems. Meanwhile schoolchildren parroted the refrain, "Long live ... Long live ..."

Why didn't I get some kind of a curtain to shade my eyes from the blinding daylight instead of taping white paper against the glass? My mother had told me on more than one occasion that she was willing to sew one for me; all I had to do was take the measurements of the window. I promised to do so just as soon as I could get my hands on a measuring tape, but I couldn't find a single person who had one of those contraptions that reels the tape back up with a spring mechanism as soon as the measurement has been taken. My mother suggested that I could even measure the window with a long thread but I never did that either.

One of these days I'll just lug the wardrobe over and use it to block the window so I can get some relief from the noise and light.

Lama's flat is warmer than mine because its only window faces south. She has a bigger bed that doesn't squeak the way mine does. Her bathroom is adjacent to the kitchen, that is, at the opposite end of the two-room flat. One room for sleeping (the one with the window), the other for living, and a spacious hallway connecting the two that leads to the bedroom at one end and the kitchen and the bathroom at the other. My flat has three rooms: one where I sleep, another where I work and a third where I entertain my friends when they come over. Each room has a window and the kitchen has a door leading out onto a small balcony. My flat gets a lot of light and has good airflow; still, whenever I am here I'm always hot and incessantly sweating. I wake up drenched in my own sweat. Light and street noise and the loudspeakers all flood the flat because my building overlooks two streets with a number of mosques, a government building and a school. Whenever I complained to my mother about the heat and the noise, she would tell me my flat is in an "articulate" neighborhood. I never quite understood why she would describe a neighborhood as articulate! I think what she meant to say is that it's a desirable neighborhood, that it gets a lot of foot traffic and that it's located at the junction of several main thoroughfares. Our neighborhood is not articulate, though. No, it's just loud because of the tremendous amount of noise that fills it up, piercing it, piercing my eardrums, obliterating my calm. Not only is Lama's flat quieter, it's also more serene. She can barely hear the sounds of her neighbors' footsteps. The sounds of cars and muezzins don't travel very far inside and none of the building's residents has any children. Her bed doesn't even squeak. What a luxury! Here when I shut the windows in order to block out the noise, I end up roasting in an infernal desert summer.

I wished Lama were with me so that I could ask her to moisten the towel, hold it between her thumb and forefinger, and slide it over my naked body, but she wasn't; she was in her own private oven. Whenever I slept at her flat she was amazed at how sweaty I got. Imagine her going to the bathroom every once in a while, getting in the shower and then coming back without drying off. She would rub herself against me in order to cool me off and then start sobbing because I was too hot to do anything, least of all to be caressed in that hellish climate. I would always get dressed and slip out before dawn.

From The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees. Copyright 2013 by Nihad Sirees. Excerpted by permission of Other Press.