Doubleday, £18.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

In Praise of Hatred, By Khaled Khalifa, trans. Leri Price

This novel of repression and subversion in Syria explores the lure of fanaticism

Khaled Khalifa's third novel was banned on publication in Syria, even though its political turbulence never arrives in the present day but focuses on the decade following 1970, when the Muslim Brotherhood became locked in deadly battle with the state's Baathist party. The battle ended in 1982, in an attempted uprising by the Brotherhood which the government crushed in Hama, levelling parts of the city and leaving between 10,000 and 25,000 people (mainly civilians) dead or wounded in a singularly brutal intervention.

Neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the Baath is mentioned by name in the novel, but it is clear what Khalifa's points of references are, and also why this book was seen as a threat to the current beleaguered regime. Historians might trace a line from the troubles that erupted around Aleppo in the Seventies to the conflict on its streets today.

An unnamed female narrator is the central fanatic of the story. That Khalifa has chosen to profile fanaticism from a feminine perspective, rather than the more predictable "male martyr", is this book's great innovation. It is a courageous endeavour with sometimes exhilarating, sometimes off-key results.

Religious fanaticism offers the narrator the "pleasure of absolute certainty" and to fan its fires, she must mobilise her capacity for hate. The veiled young woman, growing up in the cloistered environment of her grandparents' home, excels at cultivating hate, which comes to feel as passionate and purposeful a force as love. At one point, "I realised hatred was worthy of praise, as it lives within us exactly as love does. It grows moment by moment in order to settle finally into our souls, and we don't want to escape it even when it causes us pain." Even when she finds herself imprisoned, there is a peculiar sisterhood of hate between the incarcerated women.

Her religious fervour is pitted against an erotic awakening and these two also do battle until the end. She gives in to the thrill of her emerging sexuality and her - sometimes lesbian - carnal impulses, but then pulls away and berates her weakness. Khalifa writes compellingly about this troubled eroticism in parts, but strays into clumsy contrivance or hyperbole at other times.

While the story is ostensibly a domestic one about the narrator and her wealthy household of aunts who must choose between a life of self-denying spinsterhood or rebellious marriage, at its core it is about violence: the religiously motivated violence of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the counter-violence inflicted by a secular government. The two forces are locked into a mutual cycle of hatred, each atrocity sparking the next.

Khalifa is said to have spent 13 years working on the book, a finalist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. "The main thing I wanted to get at was the struggle of two fundamentalisms," he has said. The novel captures not just the tragedy in this, but the self-defining "heroism" for those willing to live and die for their cause.

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering