In Mamdouh Azzam’s ‘Ascension to Death’ love is the enemy

In Mamdouh Azzam’s ‘Ascension to Death’ love is the enemy
Updated 08 October 2018

In Mamdouh Azzam’s ‘Ascension to Death’ love is the enemy

In Mamdouh Azzam’s ‘Ascension to Death’ love is the enemy
  • The author describes in meticulous detail an environment where love is an enemy, happiness is only available to those who can afford to buy it and traditions — however outdated — are treated as unbreakable laws

CHICAGO: When this novel was originally published in Arabic in 1987 as “Mi’raj Al-Mawt,” the subsequent acclaim only bolstered the fame of celebrated Syrian novelist Mamdouh Azzam. 

Now, just over 30 years later, the book has been published in English with the title “Ascension to Death.” And it’s now enthralling a new audience with the story of a young girl’s fate in a southern Syrian village. In this heartbreaking tale, Azzam plays out the devastating love story of Salma, in the conservative Druze village in which she was born and in which she will die.

Azzam first introduces Salma to the reader as a captive. She has been locked in a shed, her body has begun to wither and her will to live is slowly fading away. All she has are her memories of fleeting happiness, a rarity in the life of the young orphan girl who was abandoned by her mother and raised by an uncle who has never shown her any affection. Salma sees marriage itself as her potential savior, rather than a husband — because to choose the man she wants to marry is not an option.

Azzam’s account of Salma’s life, her fate and the lives of the villagers is akin to a secret confession. He reveals the terrible truth of his main character’s life and the almost-automatic complicity of the villagers as they destroy her for falling in love with the wrong man.

The villagers constantly betray Salma, meaning her relationships are often fleeting and built on shaky ground. The author describes in meticulous detail an environment where love is an enemy, happiness is only available to those who can afford to buy it and traditions — however outdated — are treated as unbreakable laws.

Azzam delicately convinces the reader that Salma “is a sad bird in a wicked hunter’s cage,” painting an unremittingly bleak picture of her existence in a harrowing reminder that the world can be full of misery, especially when neither your life nor your fate is yours to decide.


What We Are Reading Today: Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory by Gregory S. Kavka

What We Are Reading Today: Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory by Gregory S. Kavka
Updated 14 January 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory by Gregory S. Kavka

What We Are Reading Today: Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory by Gregory S. Kavka

In recent years serious attempts have been made to systematize and develop the moral and political themes of great philosophers of the past.

Kant, Locke, Marx, and the classical utilitarians all have their current defenders and arc taken seriously as expositors of sound moral and political views.

It is the aim of this book to introduce Hobbes into this select group by presenting a plausible moral and political theory inspired by Leviathan.

Using the techniques of analytic philosophy and elementary game theory, the author develops a Hobbesian argument that justifies the liberal State and reconciles the rights and interests of rational individuals with their obligations.

Hobbes’s case against anarchy, based on his notorious claim that life outside the political State would be a “war of all against all,” is analyzed in detail, while his endorsement of the absolutist State is traced to certain false hypotheses about political sociology.

With these eliminated, Hobbes’s principles support a liberal redistributive (or “satisfactory”) State and a limited right of revolution.

Turning to normative issues, the book explains Hobbes’s account of morality based on enlightened self-interest and shows how the Hobbesian version of social contract theory justifies the political obligations of citizens of satisfactory States.