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Book Reviews   |    
The Silence and the Roar

by Nihad Sirees; New York, Other Press, 2013, 154 pages

Reviewed by Harriet P. Lefley, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2014; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.650312
View Author and Article Information

Dr. Lefley is professor emerita of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida.

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This book is a translation of a book originally published in Arabic by a Syrian author. Initially, I thought its relevance to readers of Psychiatric Services was obscure. But as a commentary on the human condition, on how people adapt to intolerable demands on their integrity, its basic interest becomes increasingly apparent. This is a story about the interplay of social and individual psychopathology, about the survival techniques required in an all-controlling dictatorship where maintenance of personal morality becomes increasingly maladaptive. Evocative of dystopian novels such as Orwell’s 1984, it also depicts recognizable realities of life in various regimes today.

The basic content deals with suppression of individuality by a repressive dictatorship, in which fear is transmuted into adoration of a leader. Daily marches, posters, banners, blaring TV sets—all are organized expressions of the people’s thanks and adulation of a dictator who makes little contribution to their welfare. People are required to pledge not only fealty to but love for a ruthless dictator. The first part of the book evokes the worshipful public demonstrations of Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, or today’s North Korea. They are outpourings of organized homage in which the novel’s hero, Fathi, refuses to participate. Until he is presented with an intolerable dilemma, his major coping strategy, like that of his lover, Lama, has been ridicule and laughter at the excesses of the regime.

The plot is simple enough. Fathi is a well-known, widely respected writer. The dictatorship plans to benefit from his unblemished reputation for honesty by blackmailing him into directing their vast propaganda mill. His refusal jeopardizes not only himself but two people he loves. Fathi’s widowed mother is pledged to wed the dictator’s right-hand aide, a marriage she profoundly desires. Disruption of their marriage plans means a lonely, impoverished life or even prison. The adored lover, Lama, with whom Fathi shares a vibrant sexual life and presumably a tacit opposition to the regime, is nevertheless unlikely to select a life of exile. Yet if she stays, their known affair makes her highly vulnerable. The book disappointingly ends without resolution.

An afterword from the author, now living in Egypt, acknowledges a connection of this novel with current events in his homeland, Syria.

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