Click to listen!
Title: Silence is a Sense
Author: Layla AlAmmar
Published: 16th of March 2021 – Algonquin Books
Format: Digital – 304 pages
“I don’t think anyone is ever just one thing and then that’s it, forever, you know? Like strong or weak or good or bad or whatever. It’s a spectrum. It’s always a spectrum.” – Silence is a Sense
Hello Hello! How are you?
I am thrilled that today is my stop on the Algonquin Books blog tour for Silence is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar, a beautiful and poignant book that I read over the weekend and loved.
I’m so glad that I got invited to this tour by Algonquin Books because this is definitely not a book that I would have picked up on my own, but it just goes to show that sometimes books can surprise you.
Thank you so much to the team over at Algonquin Books and the author for my invite to this tour and for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
A young woman sits in her apartment in an unnamed English city, absorbed in watching the small dramas of her assorted neighbours through their windows across the way. Traumatized into muteness after a long, devastating trip from war-torn Syria to the UK, she believes that she wants to sink deeper into isolation, moving between memories of her absent boyfriend and family and her homeland, dreams, and reality. At the same time, she begins writing for a magazine under the pseudonym “the Voiceless,” trying to explain the refugee experience without sensationalizing it—or revealing anything about herself.
Gradually, as the boundaries of her world expand—as she ventures to the neighbourhood corner store, to a gathering at a nearby mosque, and to the bookstore and laundromat, and as an anti-Muslim hate crime shatters the members of a nearby mosque—she has to make a choice: Will she remain a voiceless observer, or become an active participant in her own life and in a community that, despite her best efforts, is quickly becoming her own?
With brilliant, poetic prose that captures all the fragments of this character’s life, and making use of fragments of text from Tweets and emails to the narrator’s own articles, journals, and fiction, Silence Is a Sense explores what it means to be a refugee and to need asylum, and how fundamental human connection is to survival.
Silence is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar is a poignant adult fiction novel in which our main character is mute because of what she has gone through while living in Syria and fleeing the war across Europe and to England where she now lives.
I was at first a little sceptical about picking up this book because I’ve not read many books about the current state in Eastern countries and I am not the biggest fan of reading stories with religious elements. However, there was just something about this book blurb that completely pulled me in and I’m so glad I took the plunge because as soon as I turned the last page of this book, I knew I was giving it 5 stars.
We learn the MC’s name in the last line of the book and that is something which would usually bother me, but here, I was not bothered because her story and her narration were so strong and poignant, and I knew that we would eventually find out her name.
I really love how this book was set up. It flips back and forth between present-day in England where the MC lives, the things she does, the people she watches from her flat and the events around her; and going back to when she lived in Syria, a few years ago and at first happy memories of family life, university and her boyfriend. This second narrative slowly bleeds into recollections of the start of the war, the resistance, things that were done to people she knew and what she had to go through to get out alive. If you are squeamish, don’t like reading about violence, war, abuse, and other triggering topics, then I would steer clear of this book because it has some very vivid and graphic descriptions of all things I mentioned in the trigger warning section below.
This is not a book that has a heap of triggering content just for the plot, it has it because these are things that are happening to people every single day in different places in the world and no one is speaking about them. This story really enlightened me to the situation in the East, but also the mental anguish, torture, pain and thoughts of an immigrant who has survived but still has one foot in the past and in their homeland. My heart broke so many times reading this book, but it was also executed in such a way that I was breathless by the end of it.
The prose is one that I would not read usually. This is a contemporary novel, which again is not something I often read, but I didn’t need setting or plot in this book because the narrator’s voice is so strong despite being mute that I was instantly hooked. The writing style is poignant, raw, beautiful, shocking, tragic and so many more things that I can’t possibly put into words. If you like literary fiction, any fiction, any nonfiction, I urge you to pick up this book because it is a beautiful rendering of an impossible and terrifying situation.
Trigger Warnings: mutism, war, trauma, rape, torture, death, murder, choking, sex scenes, graphic violence, graphic narrative of trauma, hospital environments and medical treatments, war zones, losing loved ones, religion, racism, immigration, vivid depictions of domestic abuse, self-harm.
MY THOUGHTS AND RATING
Overall, this was a fantastic book. I knew when I closed it that I would instantly give it 5 stars and I won’t be giving it an ASPECTS rating because I knew what rating it deserved for me and I just would not know how to split the categories and rate them.
I have realised that I haven’t even spoken about the plot of this book or the different characters, but honestly, if you are anything like me and you don’t have any of those triggers, then go into this book blind because the reading experience I got was amazing. The main character’s voice is still with me now, days after finishing this book and I know it will be with me for a long time, and I even think I’ll need a physical copy to reread and to pass on to everyone I can think of.
I gave this book 5 stars and I absolutely loved it. This sounds weird because this is a book that recounts horrific events, trauma, torture, rape, displacement, mutism, and so many other tough and hard-hitting topics, so it is weird to say “I loved it” but I did and I don’t know how to phrase it otherwise. I didn’t “love” the events, but the book itself was fantastic and I highly, highly recommend it. If you love poignant stories about current events, real and multi-faceted characters, a simple day-to-day plot and a raw narrative voice, this is the book for you.
Thank you once again to Algonquin Books for letting me read this fantastic book, I will definitely be on the lookout for more books by this author and hopefully will push myself out of my reading comfort zone more often.
That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading this post, see you soon, stay safe,
“How long can a silence last before it, like the human body, like the human psyche, cracks? The waterwheels have stopped, but will someone finally speak of all those griefs we hoard so diligently?” – Silence is a Sense
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Layla AlAmmar
Layla AlAmmar is a writer and academic from Kuwait. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Edinburgh. Her short stories have appeared in the Evening Standard, Quail Bell Magazine, the Red Letters St. Andrews Prose Journal, and Aesthetica Magazine, where her story “The Lagoon” was a finalist for the 2014 Creative Writing Award.
She was the 2018 British Council international writer in residence at the Small Wonder Short Story Festival. Her debut novel, The Pact We Made, was published in 2019. She has written for The Guardian and ArabLit Quarterly. She is currently pursuing a PhD on the intersection of Arab women’s fiction and literary trauma theory.
This list includes some affiliate links. If you decide to purchase a book from one of my links, I may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you.
If you would like to purchase this book, you can find it here: Amazon UK – Amazon FR – Amazon US – AbeBooks – The Book Depository – Audible FR – Waterstones – Barnes and Noble – Audible UK – Scrib’d – Blackwell’s – BetterWorldBooks