“No One May Remain”, a New Book by the Syrian Author Haitham Hussein
The title of the book is a throwback to Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” The novelist made another wink to Christie by adding the subtitle of “Agatha Christie… Come, Let Me Tell You How I Live.” The book was published by Mamdouh Adwan Publishing House with funding from the Syrian organisation Ettijahat-Independent Culture and the Goethe-Institut.
Hussein has painted the life of a refugee as a Russian doll that reproduces itself and relives its tragedy over and over. He tells how his extended family is separated and scattered in many countries to the point that a family reunion is virtually impossible.
Starting with the flight from the small Syrian town of Amuda to Damascus then to Dubai, Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul and London, Hussein described the adventures and paradoxes he and his family faced in search of a safe place.
He was, in fact, apostrophising Christie, who had written in her memoir “Come, Tell Me How You Live” about life with her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan in Amuda during the 1930s; hence the subtitle of Hussein’s book.
The novel draws the reader into the author’s inner thoughts and feelings. Every new station in Hussein’s journey to London forces him to delve inside himself and remember his past. It is a past full of sorrow, injustice and a wasted life that the author carried inside himself like heavy burdens.
He convinced himself that there would be no future for him under the yoke of resentful feelings and painful tragedies and that he must shed some of them to cross to brighter days with the least damage possible.
Faced with the need to write, Hussein wonders: “Does an autobiography constitute some sort of a constraint? Am I writing to satisfy an inner desire to bare myself and others in front of my inner mirrors and in front of some readers fond of sensationalism? Isn’t it an exaggeration to say that writing is the art of stripping or that of delusion or even that of accusing? Is the writer stripping when he narrates parts of his life or when he includes them in his work?”
When people leave their country, everywhere they go is an exile. This was Hussein’s experience and he tried to capture some of its deep effect on his life. It was a trip inside memory, a kind of peephole into souvenirs.
For the author, life with all its events, paradoxes and anomalies, remains a rich and wonderful source of inspiration, so he refuses to shut the door on stories and souvenirs that can spark other stories and souvenirs.
Reviews about the book:
The importance of this book lies in mixing the private and the public lives, by narrating the stories of asylum in a literary and moral way. The writer dares to talk about his concerns and fears at his forced journeys in search for safety. Despite the suffering that the narrator is experiencing in his asylum, and remembering his previous lives in various countries, the book presents the paradoxes and contradictions of the new life in the diaspora.
The book can be considered as a kind of new Syrian literature, which is far from the imaginable. This book could be one day as introduction to writing about Syrian asylum literature, as “prison literature”, or “war literature”. But this book deserves to be a reference for examining the complexity of refugee’s psychology.
“No One May Remain” is a book focus on the fear of disappearance. It is a book by a writer who remained to record his testimony about this world, with its two parts: the one who passed away and the one who remained.
- Maha Hassan, novelist, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper.
What distinguishes Haitham Hussein's asylum experience and his travels between many countries and cities is that despite his dispersion, loss and the pain of being separated from his homeland, he was always keen to take some books and a little clothes with him. Because he believes deeply, consistent with Amin Maalouf's vision, that the salvation of humanity will be through the culture and enlightenment.
Hussein believes that the path to the world of writing is full of stories and experiences, as life and novel meet, and adventure and history intertwine. He describes the influence of nature in this work through his wonderful and deep analysis of “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte. He analyzes the influence of the effect of nature on the writer and the human being.
- Haifa Bitar, novelist, Al-Faisal magazine
The work is full of questions that are repeated in many pages. There is an entire chapter entitled “Global Identity”, consisting of two-thirds of it of questions, as if the state of turmoil, uncertainty and uselessness can only be expressed by asking questions that remain without answers. The language of narrative is calm, clear, deliberately constructed, and it does not show anxiety, frustration, or complaint.
- Nawal Al-Halah, critic, Al-Jadeed magazine.
The path of suffering from Amuda to Edinburgh, was written by Haitham Hussein in his book “No One May Remain: Agatha Christie… Come, Let Me Tell You How I Live.” He tries to unload his burdens that have accumulated over the years in Syria first, and then on the way to emigration, by revealing them and writing about them in search for healing. Perhaps the loss is the main theme in this autobiographical book, and loss here is not only related to the author himself, but rather is a characteristic of a people struggling for their right to live with dignity and freedom.
- Nazik Badir, critic, Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper
This work is not a normal travel book, or author’s diaries in cities and exiles. It is also not a kind of tales, or a personal novel, but rather it is all of that. This is a literary phenomenon that has emerged from the current political and social circumstances which included marginalization, exile, uprooting, displacement and asylum, as well as the troubling questions affecting the homeland, identity, self and happiness. We can name this literary phenomenon “The literature of Nomadity and Trekking”.
- Sumaya Azzam, critic and author, Akhabar Al-Adab News.
“No One May Remain” is an important book that Haitham Hussein wrote, whether in terms of idea, title, topics, questions, and documentation. Any writer, who has not gone through the experience of asylum and its consequences, can make this book, as a reference and source, if he/she has the desire to write works that simulate the worlds of refugees.
- Hoshang Osei, poet and novelist, Daraj website
About the author:
Hussein is a Kurdish-Syrian novelist born in Amouda in 1978 and now lives in London. He is a member of the Authors Society of Great Britain and a member of the Scottish PEN. He contributes to Arabic newspapers and is the founder of alriwaya.net, is the only website specializing in the contemporary Arabic fiction.
His novel “Hostages of Sin” (2009, Damascus) was translated into Czech and published in 2016. It was also adapted into a play in Czech. Translated excerpts of “Hostages of Sin” appeared in an issue of the English-language magazine Banipal devoted to Syrian literature.
Among Hussein’s other novels, all published in Arabic, are “Aram: The Descendent of Unspoken Pains” (2006, Damascus); “Needle of Horror” (2013, Beirut and Algeria. It was translated into French, Paris 2020, by L'Armattan) and “A Weed in Paradise” (2017, Tunisia).
He has published works of literary criticism: “The Novel between Mining and Puzzling” (Aleppo, 2011); “The Novel and the Life” (2013, UAE); “The Novelist Beats the Drums of War” (2014, Dubai); “The Fictional Character” (2015, UAE); “Why should You be a Novelist” (2020, Jordan) and edited “The Story of the First Novel by 30 Arab Novelists” (2017, Dubai)
He also translated plays from Kurdish “Who Kills Mammo...?" By Bashir Mulla.
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Haitham Hussein’s website: