Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction
An Intergenerational tale of life and love seen through the eyes of three women from Raqqa
The western popular imagination about the now devastated city of Raqqa, Syria is filled with static and clichéd images of the Arab world. On the news, Raqqa looks like a dusty and abandoned desert village overrun by ISIS and other brands of Islamic fundamentalists, making its desperate, impoverished people yearn to flee at all costs. In the Arab popular imagination, the image of Raqqa is not much different—this ancient city, nestled along the Euphrates river in northeastern Syria, is typically thought of by Arabs as a remote Bedouin outpost, far removed from the nearest large metropolis, Aleppo.
People’s real lives, however, are always more complex. Nothing could help bring these real and complex histories to more widespread attention than Shahla Ujalyli’s brilliant new novel, Summer with the Enemy. This novel is a compelling tale that follows the charming, if at times difficult, everyday life of three women—Lamis, her mother Najwa, and her grandmother Karma – and all of the complexities of their relationships with each other, their extended family, and the wider social worlds they inhabit. The diversity of life in Syria, especially Raqqa, is on display throughout this book, and the stories told in its seven chapters move back and forth between time and place, with attention to the intimate details of lives and relationships, and with an eye to the larger historical and political contexts in which they live.
An intergenerational novel, Summer with the Enemy traces the lives of these women not only in Raqqa where the bulk of the novel is set, but also in the places their families lived before — Turkey, Jerusalem, Aleppo and Damascus. It reminds us that Syria and Syrians have never been isolated from the world, and that indeed the lives of people stretched far beyond the confines of Raqqa’s city limits, long before the online world existed.
About the authors
Shahla Ujayli is a Syrian writer, born in 1976. She holds a doctorate in Modern Arabic Literature and Cultural Studies from Aleppo University in Syria and currently teaches Modern Arabic Literature at the University of Aleppo and the American University in Madaba, Jordan. She is the author of a short-story collection entitled The Mashrabiyya (2005) and two novels: The Cat's Eye (2006), which won the Jordan State Award for Literature in 2009, and Persian Carpet (2013). She has also published a number of critical studies, including The Syrian Novel: Experimentalism and Theoretical Categories (2009), Cultural Particularity in the Arabic Novel (2011) and Mirror of Strangeness: Articles on Cultural Criticism (2006). In 2017, she won the Al Multaqa Prize for her short-story collection The Bed of the King’s Daughter. Michelle Hartman is an associate professor of Arabic and francophone literature at McGill University in Montreal. She is the translator of numerous novels from Arabic, including Iman Humaydan’s Wild Mulberries, B as in Beirut, and The Weight of Paradise, Alexandra Chreiteh’s Always Coca-Cola, and Jana Elhassan’s The Ninety-Ninth Floor.
Michelle Hartman is a professor of Arabic and francophone literature at McGill University in Montreal. She is the translator of several works from Arabic, including Radwa Ashour’s memoir The Journey, Iman Humaydan’s novels Wild Mulberries and Other Lives,Alexandra Chreiteh’s novels Always Coca Cola and Ali and His Russian Mother, Shahla Ujayli’s novels A Sky So Close to Us and Summer with the Enemy as well as Jana Elhassan’s IPAF shortlisted novel The Ninety-Ninth Floor.
“In Summer with the Enemy, the characters are paramount. None of them are typical, much less fit into any stereotype; each opens up a different world of perception. The author, Shahla Ujayli, dedicates her book to ‘the Raqqa of my memory,’ and her characters’ personalities, each one uniquely molded, are her main vehicle for recreating the city as it was in the 1980s—seemingly isolated but actually with many ties to the outside world … Instead of focusing on the war or politics, she tells a story of great loves, heartbreaks, betrayals, disputes and reconciliations among family and friends.”
The Jordan Times
“In a beautiful poetic language, the narrator describes her belonging to her homeland, the Euphrates River, which is the reason for existence and destruction at the same time. The feeling of belonging to the place and the story of evacuation, landmines, her mother’s severed legs, the city's destruction, the journey of uprooting, the resettling, and the resilience that comes with hardship are widely shared by millions of displaced people in Syria. This novel speaks for them, empathizes with them, empowers them, and gives them a voice.”
Arab World English Journal for Translation and Literary Studies