Syrian Brides, by Anna Halabi

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Anna Halabi for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Anna Halabi recently contacted me, asking if I would read and review her collection of short stories set in her homeland of Syria. Creating a collection on the theme of love and marriage, Halabi has pulled together fourteen tales that depict Syrian life and values. Some are amusing, like the young bride who tries to cash in on a rich, elderly husband, while others show a deeper sense of angst in the household, such as the woman who is forced to play mind games with a greedy and disrespectful husband. The reader travels through these pieces, each of which can stand on their own, while learning a little more about the regional culture and the nuances of love than transcend race, religion, or socio-economic situation. Halabi comes at the theme from a number of angles, each of which differs from the others, while weaving in a proverb that precedes each story. This approach is not only entertaining, but helps the reader to see the goal of the story and what message the author might be trying to portray. Marriage need not be perfect, but it also need not be entirely serious, as Halabi seeks to explain to the reader who makes their way through the entire collection. Recommended to those who love short stories to pass the time, as well as the reader whose interest in other cultures is piqued by reading.

While the world has been hearing so much about Syria, little can be called uplifting or highly promising. That being said, Halabi, who left the country for Europe two decades ago, brings a lighter spin on the region with this collection. While I am no expert, I felt a better understanding of Syrian culture and views on marriage, love, and the connection to Allah when reading these fourteen stories. Halabi chooses a vast array of characters to tell the story of Syria and its views, some of whom are less than grounded in stern values, while others hold what the Western World might call ‘traditional views’. The stories are well-written and keep the reader guessing as to how they will tie-in to the proverbs offered before each. There is also a highly entertaining factor in that some have twists I did not see coming, while others delivered the precise punch to the gut one might expect. Halabi fills each story with regional slang and items—worry not, there are endnotes to explain them—which adds another layer of authenticity to the pieces. I almost felt as though I were a fly on the wall at times, as the banter and dialogue was seamless and appeared to come from actual events. While some may feel the stories offer too much in regards to strict Islamic adherence, I feel this added to the experience, by contrasting with much of what I am used to in my own personal and romantic relationships. Halabi has created an easy to comprehend and quick to devour collection, perfect for an afternoon in the sun, or around a crackling fire… or anywhere else the reader chooses to relax. A must-read for those who want a break from the everyday fluff that fills bookshelves.

Kudos, Madam Halabi, for delivering a winner with these pieces. I hope you have more to offer, as I was delighted with reading these short stories.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: