Damascus Nights

 

Storytelling is among the oldest forms of communication. Storytelling is the commonality of all human beings, in all places, in all times. – Rives Collins, American author and Northwestern University professor.

Thus through the ages from Homer to Chaucer to Scheherazade to Shakespeare to Dickens, and to all the modern day tale tellers, and from mythological tales, to fairy tales, to fables, to tall tales, to novels, and to plays, storytelling has been significant in every culture and is therefore important to human existence and understanding of the human condition.  Thus, Rafik Schami’s theme of storytelling in Damascus Nights reinforces what storytelling means in the life of a people and culture that have lived through centuries of hardship and arbitrary power, while at the same time demonstrating the universality of storytelling. He uses the oldest method of communication to create delightful stories within a story, with an array of characters offering their own individuality and giving the reader insights into the human condition and breaking the silence of untold stories.

Damascus Nights is set in the Syrian capital in 1959. Salim, a famed and beloved storyteller in the city and a retired coachman, has regaled people with fabulous stories since the 1930s when he drove people from Damascus to Beirut. Salim has been gifted with a wonderful voice in which to tell his stories. Although he uses lies in his stories, he does not exaggerate. He hates exaggeration. One night, however, his voice is mysteriously taken from him, and he can no longer tell stories. He is silenced. His connection is broken. The people of the city are shocked, including the seven old friends who come every night to visit with him and hear stories.

In trying to solve the mystery and get Salim’s voice back, the friends discover it will return if he is given seven wondrous gifts. They make many suggestions for gifts, but with reservations conclude that they, the seven friends, on seven different nights must each tell him a story. Seven friends. Seven nights. Seven stories. Each a wondrous a gift. Thus, Salim will be redeemed and will regain his voice. His silence broken. Salim must become the listener. American writer Flannery O’Connor believes that there is something in, as storytellers and as listeners to stories that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored.  In Damascus Nights the listeners become the storytellers and storyteller becomes the listener; thus, giving the Salim’s voice the chance of restoration, which ultimately the seven stories achieve. Further, the seven friends are restored as they tell their stories and give insights into the human condition. Their silence is broken.

Furthermore, Schami weaves the real lives of the storytellers with tales, each offering something wondrous, of the past, effectively using a framed-narrative structure, stories within a story. Some tales tell about reality while others journey into mythology, fairy tale, fable, or political conflict. Schami creates wonderful characters, such as Fatmeh, one of the friends’ wives who tells his story because he cannot. Schami’s amazing characters come alive with individuality.

All in all, Damascus Nights is an enjoyable, magical book filled with wondrous stories that examine the past, the present, and thus the future. They connect readers to the universality of storytelling and the human condition. In conclusion, by examining the human condition, the stories in Damascus Nights make a human connection and break the silence.

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Laurel Rhoads is from Wichita, Kansas, USA. She has a Masters Degree in English Literature and a Bachelors Degree English from Wichita State University, Wichita Kansas, USA. She also has a Bachelors Degree in Communications from Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas, USA. She has been teaching ESL in Turkey for four years. Previously, she taught English at Butler Community College in the USA. She also has extensive work background in the medical field, child welfare, and radio and television. In addition to reading, writing and studying folklore, her interests include walking, trekking, swimming, and cycling.

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