“Silence is a Sense” Book Review

Refugee stories are so critical right now (especially in the US). It’s so important for people to understand what drives refugees from their homelands so that we may better understand immigrants and how unfairly we treat them. “Silence Is a Sense” is told from the perspective of a young woman who has fled to the UK from Syria. She’s also a writer who describes her experiences in a magazine under the pseudonym, The Voiceless. The novel follows her as she becomes enmeshed in the lives of her neighbors and as she tries to create a new life for herself after living through extreme trauma. Her story feels valuable and educational.

AlAmmar is a beautiful writer – her prose is haunting and honest and it’s easy to get wrapped up in her character descriptions. However, I felt myself feeling confused a lot during the reading of this novel. Current events are told while sprinkled with flashbacks to Syria, mixed in with dreams. This back and forth left me unable to connect as much to the horrors of her experience (especially when crucial present-day events are told after the fact). I wanted to immerse myself in the story but trying to figure out who different characters were (it was hard to tell them apart for me) and in what time period they were being described left me feeling frustrated. Other readers who desire plot won’t find it in this novel. It’s definitely more of a character study and a look at the refugee experience versus a novel with clear-cut events.

I’m interested to see what the other reviews would be for this book since the difficulties I had with it might just be personal preference. I do think that AlAmmar’s unique voice is necessary in the publishing world and I’m glad she’s able to share her work.

3 stars

*Free ARC provided by Netgalley and Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review*

One comment

  1. I just finished reading this and really enjoyed it, it’s certainly more about coping with exile and the aftermath of trauma than the actual war or even the escape. I recently read an excellent memoir by Yusra Mardini called Butterfly, which details Yusra and her sister’s escape from Syria, their lives there before they left, the dangers they were in as teenage girls unescorted on that journey across the sea and through Europe. So in reading Silence is a Sense, I had the memory of that story in the back of my mind. The two certainly make great companion reads.

    I wondered how Layla AlAmmar could write about the refugee experience and went looking to see if she too was a refugee, which she isn’t, but her academic specialty sits at the intersection of Arab women’s fiction and literary trauma theory, so that gave me a little more insight into and understanding of this novel, what it attempts to do, which I think it does very well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s