On an expedition to the Syrian border on behalf of an old friend of her late father, the young archaeologist Bérénice, who has fallen into trafficking in antiquities, comes face to face with the realities of war. In the midst of all the upheaval, she finds herself in possession of an unexpected treasure: the young child of a refugee mother. Having retreated to the Turkish frontline, they make the acquaintance of Asim, a Syrian firefighter-turned-gravedigger who has fled into exile following the death of his beloved sister and the arrival of the Islamic State. He now makes fake passports, giving the dead a new lease of life by resurrecting their names. The challenge of this self- appointed task is of a piece with the grandeur of his ambition: to keep alive the memories of individual lives even as they are being extinguished all around him, to honour his sister’s resistance until her murder by Islamist militia, and to document the abuses and arrests so that one day justice can be done.
In Bérénice’s case, it is in Rojava, an autonomous and democratic enclave of Syrian Kurdistan, that she is won over to the cause as she comes into contact with the Peshmerga fighting for freedom and peace with a resilience that goes beyond a purely individual struggle.
Amid what she unearths and Asim buries, there is the story of a people that rises up and believes in the revolution. As events snowball and existences become constrained, coincidences alone can stitch back together what has been unravelled by the war.
A contemporary reworking of the Oresteia, this poetic and powerful debut novel astutely explores the disillusionments of history and ‘the courage of renaissances’ with an exalted heart but a clear eye, paying a salutary homage to the women who drove the Arab revolutions.
- Winner of the Prix Envoyé par La Poste 2021
- Longlisted for: the prix Stanislas 2021, Talents Cultura 2021, and the prix Littéraire Le Monde 2021
- Shortlisted for the Prix du Premier roman 2021