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Road to Damascus (2008)

by Elaine Rippey Imady

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3016626,179 (3.74)4
The story of Elaine Imady's "... journey from life as a college student in New York to that of a respected matriarch in today's Syria".--p. [4] cover.
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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book gives the reader a great picture of Syria in the 1960s and is a great antidote to all the 'western women escaping horrible arab marriages' genre which seems to be a growing subcategory of literature. Through stories of her own marriage as a naive American student to a Syrian, and stories of his family history Elaine Rippey Imady gives an affectionate account and demonstrates how tolerance can enrich lives. Whilst the writing is sometimes a bit pedestrian this book is well worth reading, and contributes to an understanding of the situation in the middle east today. ( )
  lizaandpaul | Apr 6, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This memoir tells of the life of a young American from New York who moved to Damascus in Syria after having fallen in love with her husband to be Mohammed at University. The life of an immigrant living with her extended family is honest and touching. We read much about the family of her husband, the customs, the conflicts of the 1960s and 70s and her life as the wife of a cabinet minister.

Whilst this was not a gripping story it gave an insight into life as an immigrant and there was much to admire. The love with which it was written is evident and in places moving but I would have loved to have become more involved with some of her thoughts and reflections upon events – as it was I was left wanting. ( )
  juliette07 | Nov 4, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This should have been a fascinating memoir: young American undergraduate student meets Syrian postgraduate student in New York university library in the 1950s. They fall in love, marry, and have their first child in the US and then move to Syria . . .

Having studied Arabic and travelled in the Middle East, I was hoping to enjoy this account of an adult lifetime spent in a country and within a culture that were so different, in so many ways, from those of the author's childhood. But it was a slow read and, had this not been a review copy, I probably would not have continued to the final pages.

To be fair, the substance is interesting but is not best served by the style, which is rather plodding and repetitive, especially towards the end of the book, where the author appears to be running out of steam. Moreover given the number of typos, I assumed that this must have been an unchecked proof copy. (Wrong.) And why is it designed and typeset like an old-fashioned textbook?

A lighter touch, a willingness to be ruthless about the overuse of adverbs and adjectives (and any hint of smugness) and less reliance on exclamation marks would have helped. Had this been an entirely private memoir, intended only for the family, these would have been minor considerations and the family members are probably proud and delighted to have this very detailed account of a particular time in their recent history. However, if you put a book into the public domain, you need to consider your audience more carefully; this is where a sensitive but firm editor can make such a difference. A sub-editor would have been useful too, to iron out all those typographical errors and a good designer could have transformed the appearance of this book.

As it happens, I was reading Shappi Khorsandi's A Beginner's Guide to Acting English at the same time; it makes a useful comparison, albeit in reverse. Iranian-born Khorsandi arrived in the UK as a small girl in the 1970s. She and her family were refugees who needed to move as far away as possible from the reach of Ayatollah Khomeini and those who served him, in the wake of Iran's Islamic revolution. Like Rippey Imady, Khorsandi intersperses her narrative with the history of grandparents and other family members, as well as references to her country's changing political and religious landscape. But there the similarities end. Khorsandi's writing is wild and funny and has the pulse and immediacy lacking in Rippey Imady's.

Road to Damascus is, sadly, something of a lost opportunity. ( )
  60GoingOn16 | Oct 31, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
While moving in places, this book could have done with some good editing. An obviously talented writer who will hopefully continue to publish. ( )
  ForrestFamily | Sep 21, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Road to Damascus is an engaging and memorable memoir of an American woman’s life in and relationship to her adopted country of Syria. The author’s fluid style transports the reader from snowy New York City to sun-baked Damascus, examining her relationship with her Syrian husband Mohammed, her family’s interaction with her newfound Syrian family, and her adjustments to life in the Middle East. Along the way, the reader discovers enticing tidbits of Syrian history, the Imady family history, and what life is like for a growing multiracial family in Syria.
The author’s family has many compelling characters that provide variety and enjoyable anecdotes throughout. After reading this book, the reader will feel connected to and empathy for Tete, Kawsar, Susu, and many other family members. Far from focusing on sensational or exaggerated family feuds and outlandish tales, the author finds interesting stories in the quotidian events and communications that one normally thinks of as boring. When one visits a new country for the first time and then spends a great deal of time there, every little detail can be interesting and serve as a point of comparison to one’s former life.
As someone who has lived overseas in developing nations for years at a time, this reader found the author’s joys and frustrations regarding cultural differences keenly poignant. For example, this quotation stood out and rang true: “By now, I’d lost count of how many friends had left [Damascus] and you would think I’d become used to it, but I had not. Sometimes I told myself I should keep my friends at arm’s length and never get too close or too fond of anyone, but I made the same mistake over and over again in the coming years” (208). Indeed, that is a gut-wrenching and near-impossible task for most people. Trying to find one’s equilibrium in a new part of the world while also settling in with a new family must have been unimaginably difficult, but fortunately the author provides plenty of intriguing stories and opinions on her experiences.
The reader is also able to envision a grand sweep of Damascene history thanks to Imady’s own observations (having lived there for almost half a century) and the many brief but fascinating historical interludes. The author’s account of the “October War” of 1973 and its effects on the family is especially taut and gripping. Road to Damascus thus not only chronicles a remarkable life but also places it in a larger context from which a wide range of readers can benefit—while also enjoying the stories and fluid pace of the prose.

A Note on Production

What grips the reader immediately is the beauty and elegance of the front cover, which evokes the ancient landscape of Syria and its culture and hints at the family-centric nature of the narrative. The design is a complete success in this reader’s opinion, and Lina Ghalbeh deserves much credit for it. However, the back cover is too text-heavy and suffers from a lack of sufficient contrast. The spine is, unfortunately, misaligned and also facing in the wrong direction for the U.S. market—that is, the text should be flipped 180 degrees.
It is disappointing and unfortunate that such a wonderful book has been so riddled with typos (e.g., the frequent “Statute of Liberty”)—even on the back cover—as to render it painful to read. This kind of mistake is always avoidable, and one wonders why the same care and love shown to the narrative was abandoned during the editing process. Several other design choices also contribute to the reader’s sense of frustration, drawing his or her attention away from the emotionally gripping and fluid storylines. Blank pages do not require page numbers, and the first instance of “Tales of a Family and a City …” is confusing—why use Roman numerals for these chapters? Consistency of design could have been retained had each “Tales” section simply appeared without the numerals, because each instance is already distinguished by the range of years involved. One such chapter (II) also mistakenly appears as “Tales of a City and a Family …”
However, there are some redeeming qualities to be found. The typeface and leading are pleasing and easy to read; the paper stock is appropriate and easy on the eyes; the glossary is helpful and laid out well; the bibliography is a welcome bonus. The photograph section, although interesting, might have been better placed somewhere in the middle of the narrative rather than at the end. Still, it is interesting for the reader to see how the images in one’s head stack up to the real people. ( )
  ichliebebueche | Sep 10, 2009 |
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Arabs say that from the day of your birth the name of your beloved is invisibly engraved on your forehead. Perhaps this is true and explains the mysterious flicker of recognition I felt the day we met.
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The story of Elaine Imady's "... journey from life as a college student in New York to that of a respected matriarch in today's Syria".--p. [4] cover.

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