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Susannah Tarbush reviews Breaking Knees: Modern Arabic Short Stories from Syria by Zakaria Tamer Translated by Ibrahim Muhawi Garnet Publishing, Reading, UK, 2008. ISBN: 978 1859642030 Pbk, 176pp, Pbk £8.99. Kindle/ ebook £7.00

The rhythm of mixing realism, fantasy and dreams

The stories in Syrian writer Zakaria Tamer’s tenth short story collection are entertaining, humorous and often ribald, yet have a pronounced vein of darkness running through them. They portray a society riddled with violence and corruption, from the level of family and neighbourhood up to security forces and government. Arbitrary arrests, interrogations, torture and unjust imprisonment are everyday occurrences in a dictatorship.

In one story a woman is moved when a young man about to be hung in public looks at her as if pleading for help. His crime was to kill the family of his brother’s murderer. “This is the state of the world,” says her husband. “He who kills only ten people is a criminal to be hanged. But he who kills hundreds of thousands is a hero among heroes.”

Tamer’s tales critique social and religious hypocrisy and explore the power struggles between the sexes. There are marital betrayals, honour killings, rapes, attempts to control women through religious justification, and uncertain paternity. The men dread inadequacy, whether this is sexual impotence and failing to “measure up”, or a more general loss of power. But the stories also contain flashes of

106 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015

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