The first annotated edition of Syrian writer Nihad Sirees’s The Silence and the Roar, created for the Arabic language classroom

Al-Samt wa-al-Sakhab (The Silence and the Roar) is an award-winning novella by Syrian author Nihad Sirees. This edition—abridged and in the original Arabic with vocabulary aids, reading questions, and supplementary materials—introduces intermediate and advanced Arabic language students to the world of contemporary Arab literature.

In Al-Samt wa-al-Sakhab, Sirees weaves an Orwellian tale of freedom, love, and resistance amid a backdrop of bureaucracy and despotism. Fathi Sheen is a writer living in an unnamed Middle Eastern country whose work has been silenced by the ruling government and its despotic leader. On the twentieth anniversary of the regime, Fathi decides to leave the roar of the parade snaking its way through the city and visit his mother and his girlfriend, but when he stops to help a student being beaten by the police, his ID is confiscated. With no choice but to report to the police station, Fathi fights to stay sane against the oppressive—and increasingly absurd—state bureaucracy. This political satire, originally published in 2004 but no less relevant to our times, shows how to remain free even in captivity.

In this abridged and annotated edition for the Arabic language classroom, editor Hanadi Al-Samman includes a historical and cultural preface in Arabic, a biography of Sirees, footnotes for vocabulary aid, and pre- and postreading questions and activities to guide students through the book’s literary concepts and to teach literary analysis skills. An interview with Sirees and excerpt readings in his voice are available on the publisher’s website. Authorized by Sirees, this edition preserves the author’s original style while making the novella easy to use in the classroom or to read independently.

Isolement (Isolation)

Ik zat zoals altijd bij het raam naar buiten te staren. Er komt niets uit mijn handen deze dagen, want door de angst ben ik niet in staat om te werken. Dit raam is ongelooflijk: het kijkt uit op een groot, groen veld dat aan de linkerkant is omzoomd door een rij lindenbomen waarvan de knoppen enige tijd geleden zijn begonnen de bomen lichtgroen te kleuren. Read more in Dutch, Read in English, اقرأ القصة باللغة العربية

NY Times “A Song of Lament for Syria” by Nihad Sirees

MY grandfather had one question for the young man who asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage: “Do you like music?” His daughter — my mother — had a beautiful voice, and he would never accept a son-in-law who would stop her from singing. Luckily, my father answered correctly. When I was a boy, my mother used to sing herself to sleep. Nowadays she falls asleep to the thuds of cannons and the whizzing of bullets. read more

The newsweek: DADDY DEAREST Inside the mind of Bashar al-Assad

By Nihad Sirees

Why does war still savage Syria? When will it stop? Is President Bashar al-Assad a man trapped in his dead father’s web? Has his cruelty been thrust upon him by family and fate, or is it entirely of his own making? Does he want to flee in defeat? To admit he has been ruinously wrong?

Throughout its modern history, Syria has witnessed violence in the course of political conflicts which started during the rule of Hafez al-Assad, the fearsome father of Bashar. Going through the biography of the father, we see how an irrepressibly ambitious officer in the Syrian Air Force climbed the ladder, step by step, sacrificing all his comrades, till he seized power and ruled Syria in a totalitarian way, and bequeathed to his son a solid and brutal regime. read more

Geography Of Secrets

Nihad Sirees, author of the PEN award-winning The Silence and the Roar, writes for PEN Atlas about his memories of growing up in Aleppo, Syria, and the way his sensual memories of the past now struggle with the violence and horror of the present

Here in Rhode Island, I lie in bed at night where lately sleep does not come easily. The news coming from my home city of Aleppo has started to wear out my nerves. The war continues there, and from this faraway place, the war seems to me even more fierce and more destructive. I keep tossing and turning in my bed, tired from chasing sleep while alone. Huda, my late wife, died six years ago, and my worries over my daughter and my son in Aleppo are growing every day. I think of my daughter’s pleas for me to leave Syria, because the regime is killing the intellectuals in the country, and putting the blame on the opposition. Since I left Aleppo, the violence has intensified and became more brutal. No city or village in Syria has been spared from the destruction machine of the regime. Now the war is going on in the oldest city of the world and the most exotic city in history. read more

Was Sâmi Rîschi erlebte

Jeden zweiten Tag stand Sâmi um sechs Uhr auf, ging zur Bäckerei und stellte sich in die Schlange derer, die für Brot anstanden. So hatte es ihm sein Vater aufgetragen. Wenn er gegen sieben zurückkam – sein Vater, seine Mutter und seine beiden Schwestern schliefen noch – wickelte er das Brot in ein alte Kleid, das seine Mutter immer für seinen Vater angezogen hatte, wenn dieser von der Arbeit zurückkam, legte es auf die Steinbank, ging aufs Klo und pinkelte in kräftigem Bogen in die Öffnung, aus der irgendwann einmal eine Ratte gekrochen war, die im Haus wütete.
Die gewaltige Explosion, die das ganze Haus erschütterte, schleuderte Sâmi mit erbarmungsloser Gewalt an die Klowand. Gleichzeitig brach ein heisser Luftstoss mit Staub und Splitter von Steinen, Holz, Glas und Gott allein weiss, was sonst noch, von der Strassenseite herein, nachdem er schon die beiden Schlafzimmer, das Wohnzimmer, den Flur und die Küche durchwütete hatte.
Nachbarn und Passanten eilten herbei, um zu helfen. Die Vorderwand des Gebäudes war völlig weggefegt. Hinter der zerstörten Tür der Wohnung fanden sie, unter Trümmern verschüttet, vier verstümmelte Leichen. Sâmi entdeckten sie, bewusstlos im Klo auf dem Boden liegend, die Kleider verdreckt mit Pisse und Blut. read more

States of Passion

Sirees spins astonishing literary beauty out of this tangled web of family secrets, and he writes with great humour and warmth about the conflict between past and present in this surprising and unique novel about a lost world.
He is transported by these stories to Aleppo’s golden age – a time of art, music, wealth and laughter – and the all-female society of the binat al-`ishreh, a society of women who live, love, and perform song and dance together. And as he gradually realises how these entanglements of love and passion, cruelty and resentment, stretch across the generations, he discovers that his own life is also in danger.
A hapless Aleppo bureaucrat is stranded in the middle of the deserted countryside as a violent storm sets in. When he seeks refuge in an isolated old mansion, inhabited by an aged gentleman and his sinister servant, he begins to uncover a captivating tale of family secrets, lost passions, and shady dealings.

Publisher: Pushkin Press, 06/09/2018
Translated by Max Weiss

Financial Times: States of Passion by Nihad Sirees — dance of desire:

Nilanjana Roy SEPTEMBER 14, 2018
“The world is so strange. Syrian writer Nihad Sirees is an invitation to step into a circle of old-world storytellers. Max White, “The Tale of the Tale, or the Prologue, or the Preface, or Whatever Heading Novelists Typically Use Their Introductory Novels”. It introduces the unnamed narrator, who works at the Agricultural Bank, and disclaims any storytelling prowess. Aleppo, near the village of Abu al-Fida, he and his colleagues are caught in a fierce rainstorm. In search of shelter, he abandons his companions and, after a skirmish with wild dogs and hyenas, finds his way to inviting, stately home in the wilderness. Shaykh Nafeh becomes his host and the plate of a tale within a tale, of lost love and the romances between golden age Aleppo. Shaykh Nafeh tells the story of Khojah Bahira, a beautiful wedding singer, and the delicately beautiful Widad, daughter of one of Bahira’s former lovers. Khojah Bahira rules her home, Farafrah House, and her flotilla of dancing girls and lovers, or banat-al-ishreh, with a firm hand. In Shaykh Nafeh’s words, the banat al-ishreh are “women who are with other women the same way men with women”. Bahira, whispering words of seduction to the young Widad, has no time for the male gauze: “When a woman loves another woman, the goal is love and love alone. Without children, the two of them co-operate and serve one another. It’s the purest form of love. Our love is like the love of mystic. “In a time when contact between men and women was not socially sanctioned, the banat-al-ishreh had a long, flowering reign in the city of Aleppo, especially among the professional entertainers. Shaykh Nafeh and Widad, who is still seductive love stories, wants to have little difficulty guessing the connection between Shaykh Nafeh and Widad , Shaykh Nafeh is old and in uncertain health. Sirees, with something of the elegance of writers as Sandor Marai, turns the story into a race against time and the elements. This is a relaxed and romantic novel and the sections are beautifully recreated. Isayakh’s villainous companion-servitor Ismail, who has his own (and predictable) reasons for wanting the story to be told. Ismail’s progressively ludicrous attempts to solve the problem by bumping off the narrator involving scorpions, snakes, pistols, assorted poisons and possibly the hyenas, and this does little to raise narrative tension. Their performances in the public baths, their performances of the salacious “bee dance”, that capture our attention. Sirees brings them to life – Widad’s shy courage in finally claiming her own right to love whom she wants, her mother Badia’s pragmatic boldness in sending forth her young daughter to Aleppo, choosing for her the relative freedom of the entertainer’s world over a stifling small-town life, and Bahira’s struggle to accept the waning of her sexual allure in middle age. Sirees left Syria in 2012, forced into exile by the surveillance and censorship of the times, and now lives in Cairo. He is the author of seven novels and three plays. So he wrote a series for television, The Silk Market, first broadcast in 1996, which documented 1950s Syria and the rise of the Ba’ath party and was banned in the country. His best-known novel The Silence and the Roar, translated by Weiss in 2013, is about a writer no longer permitted to write. Along with the devastation of war, one of the subtler losses of conflict is the erosion of the memory of cities as they were before the bombs and bullet holes. States of Passion takes us back to Aleppo’s golden age when it’s busy, musical city filled with dance and life.

The National: Nihad Sirees’s new novel is a study in storytelling set in the golden age of Syria

A Life in Books: States of Passion by Nihad Sirees (transl. Max Weiss): A tale of old Aleppo

Publishers Weekly: Silence and The Roar one of the Top Ten Books of 2013



The top 10 books, which PW does not rank, include the novels The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (Riverhead), The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees (Other Press), Sea of Hooks by Lindsay Hill (McPherson & Co.), The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday) and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (Random/Hogarth).

This year’s selection “rewards the famous as well as the undiscovered,” according to PW v-p and reviews editor Louisa Ermelino. She added that PW “avoids popularity contests, aiming instead for a wide-reaching spectrum of books,” noting that the top 10 includes a translation from the Arabic, The Silence and the Roar, from the independent publisher Other Press.

Sirees’s deeply philosophical and satirical novel echoes Kafka and Orwell. Its hero is a banned writer in an unnamed Middle Eastern country that is shamelessly reminiscent of Syria (the author’s hometown is Aleppo), and the book is set on the day of a parade celebrating the 20th anniversary of the dictator’s ascension to power. With incisive wit, Sirees marks the celebration that affects freedom, romance, and the right to simply walk down the street unmolested.


Syria, before the storm, through the eyes of author Nihad Sirees

NIHAD Sirees wrote a far-sighted allegory of his native Syria in 2004. Its newly published English translation could not be more timely. By GEORDIE WILLIAMSON read more

Porträt Nihad Siris, by Susanne Schanda

Susanne Schanda, http://www.faust-cultur.de

Seit anderthalb Jahren ist der syrische Schriftsteller Nihad Siris heimatlos. Der Krieg hatihn aus seinem Land vertrieben. Dies ist umso dramatischer, als der 1950 in Aleppo geborene Autor stets eng mit seiner Heimatstadt verbunden war. In der Altstadt Aleppos spielte bereits seine Fernsehserie “Khan al-Harir” (Der Seidenmarkt), die im lokalen Dialekt gesprochen ist und den Schriftsteller in den 1990er-Jahren beim arabischen Publikum weit über die Landesgrenzen hinaus bekannt machte. Der internationale Durchbruch begann 2008 mit der deutschen Übersetzung seines satirisch-politischen Romans “As-Samt was-Sachab” (“Das Schweigen und das Gebrüll”) unter dem Titel “Ali Hassans Intrige” im Lenos Verlag. Inzwischen ist der Roman auch ins Französische und Englische übersetzt und mit dem englischen PEN-Preis und dem Coburger Rückert-Preis ausgezeichnet worden. Wer diesen Roman heute zur Hand nimmt, wundert sich, dass er überhaupt erscheinen konnte. Es ist eine bissige Satire auf den Führerkult in einer Diktatur, die unschwer als die syrische zu erkennen ist. Im Libanon publiziert, konnte das Buch in Syrien nur illegal verteilt werden. read more

No solace in silence for Syrians, then and now

By Kaelen Wilson-Goldie – The Daily Star

BEIRUT: During a performance in May at the Hamra Street theater Masrah al-Madina, five excruciating minutes passed as half a dozen members of the Belgian dance company Damaged Goods tied themselves into a human knot and rolled slowly, awkwardly from one corner of the stage to another. Legs extended and contracted. Arms groped, strained and embraced. Taking a diagonal path, the dancers repeatedly picked up and stuffed various props into the strange, solid mass that was constantly being created by the densely packed proximity of their lithe, entangled bodies. read more

Words Of An Exile: An Exclusive Interview With A Displaced Syrian Novelist

by Angélique Mounier-Kuhn
LE TEMPS/Worldcrunch

Nihad Sirees: “We knew there would be a price to pay for democracy. But no one imagined it would cost so much.”

BERN — “Should we work now or after dinner?” Nihad Sirees was taking this meeting very seriously. Punctual, and with a welcoming handshake and smile, he sat down at Jack’s Brasserie, the Schweizerhof Hotel’s restaurant in Bern.

This is the Syrian novelist’s first Swiss interview. He splits his time between Cairo, the United States and Europe since leaving his hometown of Aleppo in early 2012. After a quick look at the menu, he decides to have the daily special and a glass of wine, which he enjoys even if he does “not know anything about it.”

Let’s be clear: As sophisticated as it may be, Jack’s cuisine will not be essential to this meeting. The imperceptible comings and goings of the serious waiters allow us to converse without interruption. But how naïve was it to think that we could calmly discuss the situation in Syria here, in the middle of all these muffled voices. Enjoying our starters while discussing people losing their jobs, houses being destroyed and loved ones dying? Rejoicing in fresh scallops as we evaluate Bashar al-Assad’s mental health? Questioning the country’s future over chocolate-vanilla ice cream deserts? Impossible. Anyway, Nihad Sirees “really” misses the Syrian gastronomy, especially the stuffed eggplant that his mother cooks with an almost “professional” talent. read more

Interview: de Syrische schrijver Nihad Siries

Interview: de Syrische schrijver Nihad Siries for vn.nl
Door Jeroen Vullings

De Syrische schrijver Nihad Siries over de burgeroorlog in zijn land. ‘In Assads geest werkt het zo: als de massa ophoudt van hem te houden, dan moet hij die massa doden.’Nihad Siries gaat mij in hartje Amsterdam uitleggen hoe een dictatuur functioneert. Dat doet hij in de schrijversresidentie aan het Amsterdamse Spui, boven boekhandel Athenaeum; hij is hier een week als ‘writer in residence’.. Read more

The Silence and The Roar in Czech
Sirees, Nihad: Ticho a vřava

Český překlad knihy Ticho a vřava nemohl být lépe načasovaný. Spisovatel Nihad Sirees sice odešel ze Sýrie do exilu před dvěma roky a navíc knihu napsal už před deseti lety – po nedávných prezidentských volbách v Sýrii, které znovu ovládl Bašár Asad, se ale , jak moc je toto dílo nadčasové a univerzálně platné. Ne náhodou autora v tomto ohledu kritici často srovnávají s Kafkou nebo Orwellem.. more Nihad Sirees: Ticho a vřava. Přel. Alexandra Pfimpflová, Euromedia Group – Odeon, Praha, 2014, 160 s.Ticho hrobu, nebo vřava moci? Tak trochu jiné zpravodajství ze Sýrie… read more

Een dag van stilte en lawaai van Nihad Siries
Intereview for the Bibliotheek (in Dutch)
door Guus Bauer (Schrijver, ex-Exuitgever, vast medewerker van De Standaard en freelance literair journalist)

Hoe kan een weldenkend mens reageren op het megalomane karakter van een dictatuur, op de absurdistische maatregelen van een Grote Leider om vast in het zadel te blijven? Het surrealisme van een door een regime bestuurde gemeenschap kan voor buitenstaanders achteraf bezien kolderiek zijn, maar voor diegenen die er onder zuchten is de angst de dagelijkse realiteit. Er blijft hen weinig anders over dan stille protesten, maar zelfs binnenkamers moet men uitkijken. Uitgesproken types zoals schrijvers worden de mond gesnoerd. De taal is het eerste dat dictators zich toe-eigenen omdat ze ergens toch de macht ervan onderkennen. read more

Alleen maar lachen
recensie: Nihad Siries (vert. Djûke Poppinga) – Een dag van stilte en lawaai
Tien jaar nadat de Syriër Nihad Siries Een dag van stilte en lawaai schreef, is het boek in het Nederlands vertaald. Deze korte roman is nu misschien nog wel actueler dan toen.

‘U geeft me dus de keuze tussen de stilte van de cel en het lawaai van de macht,’ zegt Fathi Sjien, dissident schrijver en intellectueel, aan het einde van Een dag van stilte en lawaai tegen zijn ondervrager. ‘In uw geval vrees ik eerder voor de stilte van het graf,’ antwoordt deze. Sjien verkiest de stilte, of hij die nu in een cel of een graf vindt, want het lawaai is vreselijk ) read more

Nihad Sirees al Pisa Book Festival

di SiriaLibano (sito)

Nihad Sirees, scrittore, drammaturgo e sceneggiatoreoriginario di Aleppo, sarà tra gli ospiti del Pisa Book Festivaldi quest’anno e presenterà in anteprima nazionale la traduzione italiana del suo famosisssimo romanzo al Samtwa’l sakhab (Il silenzio e il tumulto), edito da il Sirente.. read more

The Silence and The Roar in Italian

Il nostro silenzio, il loro rumore: esce in italiano “Il silenzio e il tumulto” dello scrittore siriano Nihad Sirees (con presentazioni a Pisa e Roma)
In libreria lo troveremo da inizio novembre, pubblicato dalla casa editrice Il Sirente nella collana di narrativa araba contemporanea “altriarabi”, tradotto dall’arabo da Federica Pistono.
Dopo essere stato tradotto in tedesco, inglese e francese, arriva anche in italiano il romanzo Il silenzio e il tumulto, dello scrittore siriano Nihad Sirees.. read more


Riccardo Michelucci

Più profetico di 1984 di Orwell, più surreale della Metamorfosi di Kafka. Quando dieci anni fa il romanziere siriano Nihad Sirees scrisse The Silence and the Roar, non poteva immaginare che quella riuscitissima satira politica avrebbe rispecchiato così fedelmente il futuro del suo paese.. read more

German Rukert-Coburgian Prize 2013

The German Coburg Rückert Award goes this year to the Syrian author Nihad Siris.

Literarisches Leben

13.05.2013Coburger Rückert-Preis für Nihad Siris

“Ironisch gefärbter Humor”

Der syrische Autor und Systemkritiker Nihad Siris erhält den mit 7.500 Euro dotierten III. Coburger Rückert-Preis. Er gehört zu den Literaten, die “mit ihren Schriften mutig das Wort erheben”, würdigt die Jury den Preisträger.. read more

De Arabische cultuur is meer dan couscous en falafel

Nihad Sirees is een van de bekendste schrijvers van Syrië. In 2012 vluchtte hij uit Aleppo naar Duitsland om aan de censuur door het regime van Assad te ontkomen. In zijn memoires beschrijft hij hoe de inwoners van Aleppo vóór de oorlog leefden. “Door het Arabisch te vertalen en de cultuur toe te lichten help ik de Duitsers de migranten beter begrijpen.”

Nihad Sirees zit op de binnenplaats van een jeugdhostel in Den Haag. Hij rookt een pijp, terwijl hij met een enig misprijzen de jongeren die op de trappen liggen te zonnen gadeslaat. De tabak zit in een leren buideltje dat naast hem ligt. “Zo’n hotel, hoe kom ik hier nu weer?” bromt hij. “Ze zullen wel denken: wie is die oude man?” read more

Vždycky je naděje, říká syrský spisovatel Nihad Sirees

Nihad Sirees (1950), syrský spisovatel a scenárista, žije už několik let v Berlíně, kam uprchl před režimem Bašára Asada. Na festival Meeting Brno přijel představit svůj román Ticho a vřava (přeložila Alexandra Pflimpflová, Odeon 2014), v němž pátrá po společenských kořenech diktatur, read more

Syrian Writer-in-Exile Nihad Sirees: “There are Signs We Failed as Intellectuals”

If he wants to, Nihad Sirees can go down to the restaurant near where he lives in Berlin, and enjoy a beer or a glass of wine. And, at the same time, not enjoy it. Images of war in his native Syria bombard his head and crowd his imagination., read more

English PEN award

English PEN, the literature and human rights charity, today announces that six books are to receive the 2013 English PEN Award for outstanding writing in translation.

The Award uniquely recognises translated works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry which contribute to inter-cultural understanding and promote freedom of expression. An expert panel of publishing and literature professionals, chaired by Ros Schwartz, one of Britain’s foremost specialists in literary translation, met in November to review a long list of books in translation put forward by their UK publishers.The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees, translated from the Arabic by Max Weiss, Pushkin Press.. read more

IoS book review: The Silence and the Roar, By Nihad Sirees

Free expression is the first casualty under any dictatorship. The work of dissident writers and intellectuals is banned and, when this doesn’t have the desired effect, they are imprisoned, tortured or simply “disappear”. Nihad Sirees’s own experiences in Syria inform his profound and topical 2004 novella, which has now been translated into English.

The Silence and the Roar follows a day in the life of Fathi Sheen, a once popular writer condemned to obscurity for being “unpatriotic”. As he makes his way across town to visit his mother and girlfriend, an unnamed leader is celebrating his 20th anniversary in power, and people pour onto the streets to express their devotion. Fathi encounters characters who, like him, are struggling to make sense of the marches, military music and speeches – all the “noise of the regime”. An unlikely hero, he intervenes to stop government thugs beating a student, and attempts to rescue a woman from being trampled. read more

The Silence and the Roar an excellent novel about a brutal despot and an unlikely hero

In The Feast of the Goat, Mario Vargas Llosa’s 2000 novel about the tyranny of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic, we learn that the dictator went by a variety of grandiloquent titles. Not content with just the Chief, Vargas Llosa informs us that Trujillo was also the Generalissimo, the Benefactor, and the Father of the New Nation. Even his wife had to be addressed as the Bountiful First Lady by social chroniclers. But then this was the 20th century, civilisation’s bloodiest to date, and one which gave us Der Führer, Il Duce and the Supreme and Dear Leader. If despots wanted to rule with an iron fist, they needed a correspondingly vainglorious sobriquet. read more

Arabic Poetry: Transformation or Roar?

Two beautiful books that I read recently

— Nihad Sirees’s The Silence and the Roar and Nostalgia, My Enemy – give two very different reports on the life of poetry.
Early in Nihad Sirees’s sharp The Silence at the Roar (trans. in clear, ninja-warrior style by Max Weiss), the protagonist Fathi Sheen decries the influence of Arabic poetry: read more