Book review: A witty story of love in the upper echelons of Syrian society

Book review: A witty story of love in the upper echelons of Syrian society
At the heart of the book is Dunya, her romance and a mystery, but there is also a skillful lightness to Haddad’s writing. (Photo courtesy: Amazon.com)
Updated 19 May 2018

Book review: A witty story of love in the upper echelons of Syrian society

Book review: A witty story of love in the upper echelons of Syrian society

CHICAGO: “The Unexpected Love Objects of Dunya Noor” is the exceptional debut novel by Rana Haddad. Satirical and witty, Haddad takes the reader on a journey with Dunya Noor, a young photographer who lives in Syria in the 1980s. Dunya Noor lives among the highest echelons of society in Latakia, Syria, until she decides to make a decision for herself. Then chaos ensues.
Haddad has worked as a journalist for the BBC and Channel 4. She grew up in Latakia and moved to the UK as a teenager. Haddad is also a published poet and, in 2018, her first novel was published by Hoopoe, an imprint of the American University in Cairo Press.
Along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea sits a harbor city known as Latakia, “a satellite beach resort of neo-Stalinism.” The seaside city is home to heart surgeon Dr. Joseph Noor, his English wife Patricia and their daughter, curly-haired Dunya Noor. They look like the perfect family, but Dr. Noor believes his country is the best in the world, Patricia wants to go back to England and Dunya is just looking for the light. She falls in love with photography at the age of eight and is told that buying a camera “was like buying an oud, but instead of playing with musical notes, one needed to learn how to play with light.”
Years later, Dunya moves to England and meets Hilal, an astronomer who is the son of tailors from Aleppo. They fall in love and ten years after leaving Syria, they decide to journey back. But the Syria they love and the families they left behind are no longer the same.
At the heart of the book is Dunya, her romance and a mystery, but there is also a skillful lightness to Haddad’s writing, even when she writes about dense ideologies, such as misogyny and patriarchy. Her prose is clear and her wit is sharp. Haddad tells a story without embellishment or subtlety — her charm lies in her ability to write about the nonsensical motivations of power-hungry people and the consequences that befall ordinary people in an entertaining way.