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Summer with the Enemy

Summer with the Enemy
Shahla Ujayli By (author)
Michelle Hartman Translated by
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Interlink Books

Limited ***

5.3 X 8.0 in
256 pg

FICTION / Literary


Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction

An Intergenerational tale of life and love seen through the eyes of three women from Raqqa

The western popular imagination about the now devastated city of Raqqa, Syria is filled with static and clichéd images of the Arab world. On the news, Raqqa looks like a dusty and abandoned desert village overrun by ISIS and other brands of Islamic fundamentalists, making its desperate, impoverished people yearn to flee at all costs. In the Arab popular imagination, the image of Raqqa is not much different—this ancient city, nestled along the Euphrates river in northeastern Syria, is typically thought of by Arabs as a remote Bedouin outpost, far removed from the nearest large metropolis, Aleppo.

People’s real lives, however, are always more complex. Nothing could help bring these real and complex histories to more widespread attention than Shahla Ujalyli’s brilliant new novel, Summer with the Enemy. This novel is a compelling tale that follows the charming, if at times difficult, everyday life of three women—Lamis, her mother Najwa, and her grandmother Karma – and all of the complexities of their relationships with each other, their extended family, and the wider social worlds they inhabit. The diversity of life in Syria, especially Raqqa, is on display throughout this book, and the stories told in its seven chapters move back and forth between time and place, with attention to the intimate details of lives and relationships, and with an eye to the larger historical and political contexts in which they live.

An intergenerational novel, Summer with the Enemy traces the lives of these women not only in Raqqa where the bulk of the novel is set, but also in the places their families lived before — Turkey, Jerusalem, Aleppo and Damascus. It reminds us that Syria and Syrians have never been isolated from the world, and that indeed the lives of people stretched far beyond the confines of Raqqa’s city limits, long before the online world existed.

Author Bio

Shahla Ujayli is a Syrian writer, born in 1976. She holds a doctorate in Modern Arabic Literature and Cultural Studies from Aleppo University in Syria and currently teaches Modern Arabic Literature at the University of Aleppo and the American University in Madaba, Jordan. She is the author of a short-story collection entitled The Mashrabiyya (2005) and two novels: The Cat’s Eye (2006), which won the Jordan State Award for Literature in 2009, and Persian Carpet (2013).

She has also published a number of critical studies, including The Syrian Novel: Experimentalism and Theoretical Categories (2009), Cultural Particularity in the Arabic Novel (2011) and Mirror of Strangeness: Articles on Cultural Criticism (2006). In 2017, she won the Al Multaqa Prize for her short-story collection The Bed of the King’s Daughter.

Michelle Hartman is a professor of Arabic and francophone literature at McGill University in Montreal. She is the translator of several works from Arabic, including Radwa Ashour’s memoir The Journey, Iman Humaydan’s novels Wild Mulberries and Other Lives, Jana Elhassan’s IPAF shortlisted novel The Ninety-Ninth Floor, as well as Alexandra Chreiteh’s novels Always Coca Cola and Ali and His Russian Mother.