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where love is an enemy, happiness is only available to those who can afford to buy it and traditions — however outdated — are treated as unbreakable laws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where love is an enemy, happiness is only available to those who can afford to buy it and traditions — however outdated — are treated as unbreakable laws.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: Extra Life by Steven Johnson

What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson
Updated 14 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson

What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson

In Extra Life, Steven Johnson, a writer of popular books on science and technology, tells the stories behind what he calls, in an understatement, “one of the greatest achievements in the history of our species.” 

As in his previous books Where Good Ideas Come From and How We Got to Now, Johnson argues convincingly that critical changes occur not from the endeavors of lone geniuses but from a network of researchers, activists, reformers, publicists, producers, and marketers.

Human interest aside, Extra Life is an important book, said a review in The New York Times. 

Johnson “shakes us out of our damnable ingratitude and explains features of modernity that are reviled by sectors of the right and left: Government regulation, processed food, high-tech farming, big data and bureaucracies like the US Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. He is open about their shortcomings and dangers. But much depends on whether we see them as evils that must be abolished or as lifesavers with flaws that must be mitigated.”


What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne
Updated 13 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories. 

The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. 

The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: The epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.

Although readers may be more familiar with the tribal names Apache and Sioux, it was in fact the legendary fighting ability of the Comanches that determined just how and when the American West opened up.

The book delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroads — a historical feast for anyone interested in how the US came into being.

S. C. Gwynne’s account of these events is meticulously researched, intellectually provocative, and, above all, thrillingly told.


What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden
Updated 12 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden

In Blood, Sweat and Chalk, Tim Layden takes readers into the meeting rooms where football’s most significant ideas were hatched. He goes to the coaches and to the players who inspired them, and lets them tell their stories. 

The modern game of football is filled with plays and formations with names like the Counter Trey, the Wildcat, the Zone Blitz and the Cover Two. 

They have become part of the sport’s vernacular, and yet for many fans they remain just names, often confusing ones. To rectify that, Layden has drilled deep into the core of the game to reveal not only how these chalkboard X’s and O’s really work on the field, but also where they came from and who dreamed them up. 

These playbook schemes, many of them illuminated by diagrams, bear the insignia of some of the game’s great innovators, men like Vince Lombardi, Don Coryell, Tom Osborne, Bill Walsh, Tony Dungy and Buddy Ryan. 

In this book, Layden provides a fascinating guide to the game, helping fans to better see the subtleties of America’s favorite sport.


Renowned US authors Tayari Jones, Brent Weeks join Abu Dhabi Book Fair lineup

US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)
US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)
Updated 11 May 2021

Renowned US authors Tayari Jones, Brent Weeks join Abu Dhabi Book Fair lineup

US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)

DUBAI: Renowned US fantasy author Brent Weeks, US author Tayari Jones, Emirati writer Eman Alyousuf and Kuwaiti writer Taleb Alrefai are all set to participate at the upcoming Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Organised by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre at the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, the 30th edition of ADIBF will see the participation of more than 800 exhibitors from 46 countries around the world, and will comprise more than 104 virtual and physical sessions.

Dr. Ali bin Tamim, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, said: “Despite the challenges we have faced in the wake of the pandemic, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is committed to ramping up its efforts to support the publishing industry and to promote cross-cultural dialogue. We are proud to host this event which reinforces our position as one of the most prominent intellectual and literary forums in region, and gives us the opportunity to highlight Arab literary output while simultaneously celebrating the pioneers of arts and culture from across the world.”

As part of its cultural programme, the fair will feature the artistic and literary works of authors and artists from multiple fields. Among those will be American author Tayari Jones, considered one of the most important writers of her generation, who will hold a session to discuss her latest work. In another session, the fantasy great Weeks will talk about the importance of science fiction novels in transporting readers away from the monotony of their daily lives. Providing a regional perspective, Kuwait’s Alrefai will participate in a dialogue with Emirati writer Alyousuf, to discuss how the pandemic has encouraged reading.

British television presenter and historian Bettany Hughes will join a conversation about the impact of plagues and pandemics on civilisations, while Emirati writer Sultan Al-Amimi will speak about with the importance of short stories and their role in enhancing literary diversity. .


What We Are Reading Today: Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombard

What We Are Reading Today: Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombard
Updated 11 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombard

What We Are Reading Today: Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombard

In Gridiron Genius, former NFL general manager and three-time Super Bowl winner Michael Lombardi reveals what makes football organizations tick at the championship level. 

From personnel to practice to game-day decisions that win titles, Lombardi shares what he learned working with coaching legends Bill Walsh of the 49ers, Al Davis of the Raiders, and Bill Belichick of the Patriots, among others, during his three decades in football.

In this book, Lombardi provides the blueprint that makes a successful organization click and win — and the mistakes unsuccessful organizations make that keep them on the losing side time and again.  

He explains how the smartest leaders script everything: From an afternoon’s special-teams practice to a season’s playoff run to a decade-long organizational blueprint. From how to build a team, to how to watch a game, to understanding the essential qualities of great leaders, Gridiron Genius gives football fans the knowledge to be the smartest person in the room every Sunday.