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New Syrian fiction: Dima Wannous’s The Frightened Ones

Damascus-born Dima Wannous is a writer and cultural journalist. She has written for multiple Arab and international newspapers, managed the cultural section of the online magazine Modon, and hosted a cultural TV show from 2008-18. Her second novel, The Frightened Ones, focuses on the notion of fear and how central it is to dictatorship. Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2018, the novel is about to be published in Elisabeth Jaquette’s English translation. Dima Wannous reads from and discusses her novel and practice.

Suleima and Nassim meet in the reception of their therapist’s practice in Damascus. Some months into their relationship, before fleeing Syria for Germany, he gives her a manuscript whose protagonist’s life bears discomforting similarities to her own. Whose story is it? And how much of her history can she believe?

Written in a powerfully intimate voice, and narrated in alternating chapters by Suleima and by the mysterious woman in Nassim’s novel, THE FRIGHTENED ONES explores living under oppression and what it does to one’s sense of identity. As Suleima reads, her whole past comes bubbling up- her relationship with her mother, her attachment to her father and inability to accept his death, and the strains put upon an Alawite-Sunni family crushed by the tyranny of dictatorship.

And so she sets out on a journey with her lover’s book, to try to make sense not only of what has happened to her country, but also of who she is and what she has become.

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