One of the most gripping events of our time is the conflict in Syria. It’s fitting that contemporary authors explore the human drama of this catastrophe in their work. Kati Waronka’s novel Mourning Sham did just that. The author explained its impact on the lives of four fictitious characters. As a fan of literature and a student of international relations I had high expectations when I began reading. Sadly, Mourning Sham failed to meet them.
I liked the characters’ diversity. Maha lived in Lebanon. She discovered her pregnancy while her husband performed some secretive work in Syria. Leila lived a luxurious life in Kuwait. Nisreen utilized blogging from inside Syria to express her disdain with the Assad regime. Huda joined a militia and took part in the armed rebellion against the government. All of these personalities could have made for extraordinarily compelling characters.
With that preface it even surprises me to admit they weren’t compelling. I found them lacking in depth and emotion. At one point in the story Leila succumbed to depression. This presented an exceptional opportunity to explore the character’s feelings. Here’s the author’s depiction of a tense scene. The doctor informed Leila’s husband about her condition following a suicide attempt.
In the Emergency Room, Hassoun was told by an American doctor who was a friend of the family that Leila’s situation was precarious. She was not too far gone, though, and they were pumping her stomach. Any further delay and it may have been too late. (Page 265-66)
In addition to not arousing any feelings of empathy in me, I found this segment rather trite and too cliché.
As the most egregious example of a passage lacking feeling, this paragraph describes Leila’s dark thoughts after the medical facility discharged her.
These feelings were all still there, and not a few times in the two days since she had been released from the hospital did she again contemplate ending it all. When on the highway in a taxi, she caught herself daydreaming about jumping out; when getting something in the kitchen, the sight of the knife block evoked the image of blood oozing from her wrists; and she wondered where Hassoun had hidden the medications and contemplated going straight to a pharmacy in Beirut for a refill. (Page 280)
After getting through the confusing opening sentence, the rest of this section read with the same passion and sentiment of a phone book. I couldn’t comprehend expressing thoughts of ending one’s life so dispassionately.
Unfortunately the book included other examples of poor writing. I found terrible use of exposition in this sentence: “’For sure,’ Leila agreed. She was proud to be a resident of Kuwait. A great place to live.” (Page 6) I thought the author used too many adjectives in describing Beirut’s “infamous smothering humidity.” (Page 15) I also read the cliché, “Wow! You haven’t changed at all!” (Page 17)
I cited these examples as a prelude to the following. This sentence went into exposition overdrive.
He would never let on that he, one of the few remaining stalwarts of the Christian-dominated French-speaking Lebanese Paris-of-the-Middle-East that had reigned before the Lebanese civil war began in 1975, approved of a Syrian reunion in his little shop. (Page 17)
Get all that?
To be fair to the author, she did include some good usage of language as well. I liked her use of simile in this passage:
She had no vocabulary for the disquiet she now began to feel as reality began to settle over her weakened heart, like a paperweight might land on a feather pillow. (Page 7)
I also liked the expressions, “To preserve her honor, she was turning in her dignity” (Page 315), “’But Mama, I don’t want to leave you, you are my home’”, (Page 215) and “By the time the sun awoke…” (Page 254)
I liked the overall story concept in Mourning Sham. I didn’t care for the presentation and character descriptions. The book read more like a first draft than a completed novel. Should Ms. Waronka revise and make the writing more sophisticated and infuse the characters with more emotion, I would be happy to read a subsequent edition of the book.