Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Review: 'Anissa of Syria' by Jonah Pierce

Jonah Pierce is a Harvard graduate (literature, psychology, philosophy, film) who initially published another version of this story known as THE SYRIAN VIRGIN: he could not have published this book at a more propitious time. Jonah witnessed the 911 attack and was moved to become involved in the study of the middle East. The recent San Bernardino California massacre by Islam extremists is still shaking the country and the threat of further terrorist attacks is having the sad side effect of citizens here buying military style arms and ammunition – all of which places the subject matter of Jonah’s story into the limelight.

But stepping away from the events of the day that make this story even more interesting as an examination between radicalism on both the Christian side and the Islam side, Jonah simply writes very well. He has elected to present this saga written in the form of a diary (by the Syrian woman) and a journal (by her professor) and his opening chapter sets the tones well: ‘~ Friday, February 7, 2014 To My Dearest, With mere words, how do I tell you about the destruction of everything in my young life – all that I loved and lived for? How can I explain to you what sustained me through unimaginable evil, when I myself don’t know the answer? And after I survived it, but with a soul that was hollowed into a nihilistic ache, how did I manage to carry on, even as unbearable memories pursued me everywhere, like a pack of wolves hounding their prey? As much as I wish I could tell you everything, there are details that I just can’t talk about right now. They’re too overwhelming – I’ll never make it through the telling. No human being should ever have to remember, much less share, certain events. Sometimes emotional survival means deceiving everyone – including yourself. And ever since that infernal night, on January 18, 2012, I’ve been trying to lie to myself by pretending that certain things didn’t happen – because sometimes it’s the only way for me to stay sane. So I don’t know if I’ll ever tell you those details. With God’s mercy, maybe I’ll finally believe the falsehoods that I recite to myself every night in bed, in the hope that I can, at last, sleep with some solace. And if that happens, then even you, My Dearest, will never know those details, because the lies of my imagination will be all that I can remember.’

Jonah’s synopsis is seductive: ‘ Anissa is traumatized by the most brutal conflict of the 21st Century: the Syrian Civil War. In 2012, Islamists in Homs terrorize a Syrian-Christian community and destroy everything that a young woman holds dear. Narrowly escaping death, Anissa restarts her devastated life as a college student in New York City. She is bewildered and lost, but hopeful for a better life in a new land. Anissa is soon drawn to two powerful individuals: Michael Kassab, the Syrian-American leader working to found the first Mideast Christian state, and Julien Morales, her Columbia University professor who runs a $20 billion hedge fund. Complicating matters, Michael is still attached to his ex-girlfriend and Julien is the most sought after bachelor in Manhattan (and has hidden demons that even his therapist can’t extract). Anissa’s heart and her communal ties pull her in different directions, as she seeks hope and renewal in a dark world.’

Read the book, discover many aspects of Christianity in Syria and throughout the Middle East that have probably not come to mind in this environment. There is much to learn here as well as a very fine novel by a gifted author. Grady Harp, December 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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