Cover Image: My Road from Damascus

My Road from Damascus

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Member Reviews

In this memoir, the author tells of his life in Syria with some content about his childhood and family of origin and later on, he includes anecdotes about his wife and sons. In the majority of the book, Mr. Saeed tells of his time spent in prison and of the torture that he endured and survived. Fortunately, he and his family were able to leave Syria and settle in Canada following a near kidnapping of his wife and sons.
The book is not written chronologically which I think makes it somewhat difficult to follow at first. Initially, I couldn’t even figure out why Mr. Saeed was imprisoned. I finally understood that he was a political prisoner taken into custody for his communist views. The information about the prison conditions, mistreatment and torture was difficult to read but enlightening around the ongoing political issues in Syria. I felt like the story came together better in the end and enjoyed reading about the author’s family, home and lifestyle following his release from prison. I was also touched by the emotional details around leaving the country that he loves in order to protect his family. The description of their actual escape by passing numerous checkpoints and having to bribe officials at each stop was very good and had me on the edge of my seat.
Overall, the memoir is informative but I think readers would enjoy it more if it was written in the order of the occurrences of events. The book is long and some of the random information about things like past girlfriends seemed unnecessary and not important to the story of this man’s life. I also got lost in many of unusual names and the importance of including all the different people encountered by Mr. Saeed but will blame that on my Americanism.
Warning: this book contains graphic descriptions of violence.
Thanks to NetGalley and ECW Press for the Advanced Reader Copy of this book.

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My Road to Damascus is a finely detailed book about the life of Jamal Saeed. As a young man in Syria, long before the war, Jamal develops political beliefs that were not in alignment with his country. He makes a radical choice and becomes known as a Communist. He is impressionable as one realizes that his world view is very narrow. Even though he is reading books, and has interactions with elder educated people, these people have a narrow view of the world too, based on sects, religion, and their own history which is long and complex.

The book is about Jamal’s journey, like a diary, in and out of prison, insults, torture, death, and humiliation ending in a difficult escape to a new life. It is eye-opening to see how he navigates this difficult world. Religion, fixed ideas, and just plain bullying are all part of his story. He is lucky to have a strong family, eventually starting one of his own, and an education that ultimately helps him to get free. This book is long, we learn from every beating, cut, humiliation, and deprivation that humans are strong, even in such situations.

I do think this book can get one closer to understanding some of the dynamics in Syria, but as the situation is so stalled, I am sure it is even more complex than we know.

Jamal presents a story, sometimes going forward and back as the book is not all linear. I learned a lot and am glad that I got the opportunity to read it.

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This book is really touching. It is told non-chronologically, yet all the events fall into place according to a theme. At times, it is harrowing, given the mistreatment the author received when in prison and the many challenges he faced. Yet it is a story of resilience and courage. I felt I learned about what life was like in Syria. The book was entertaining and insightful, as it recounted his loves and the evolution of his thought process. I was impressed by his writing style, which at times read like poetry.

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My Road from Damascus is a memoir telling the story of Jamal Saeed, an activist, editor and author who spent 12 years as a prisoner of conscience in Syria before he was invited to Canada where he now resides.
This is an important book-and I think many could benefit from reading these experiences, but it was hard to follow. The author/translator moves fluidly between memories, and experiences without a very set timeline. As a reader, a more steady progression- even if moving between two ( say Syrian life and Canadian life) timelines- would have helped me engage more fully. Reading this felt a bit like reading someone's stream of consciousness. Initially I felt like this helped me to understand the emotions and physical experiences of being in prison, but eventually it left me with some confusion about what was happening when. This did get better as the book progressed, but in the beginning, - I really would have preferred a more chronological timeline. Secondly, for readers who are less familiar with Syrian/Middle Eastern history, some additional context would be helpful. Since the timeline is somewhat jumbled, for someone who isn't really familiar with various events, it's hard to connect the author's experiences with events that shaped them. Overall, a memoir that is qutie painful to read, but does give hope in the end, hope for the Author, maybe not hope for the region he came from . I just really struggled with the movement between different decades and time frames.

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