Monday, April 30, 2012

Reader's Diary #824- Matt Rees: Damascus Trance


Matt Rees refers to himself as a British crime novelist who's lived in Jerusalem since '96. He is perhaps best known for his Palestine Quartet starring a sleuth named Omar Yussef. I'm normally not a big follower of crime fiction, but the setting certainly intrigued me, and how many Palestinian detectives have you ever read about?

"Damascus Trance" isn't exactly crime fiction, though it certainly does include crime, and features Omar Yussef. But it isn't a whodunnit, a legal thriller, or spy caper. Instead "Damascus Trance" best works as a piece about one's ability to tune out one's surroundings. It's the difference between finding serenity and merely ignoring tragedy and injustice around us. If you took the opening stanza of the serenity prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change/ Courage to change the things I can/ And wisdom to know the difference.
but substitute cannot with should not, can with should,  you'll have more of an idea of the theme of "Damascus Trance":
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I should not change/ Courage to change the things I should/ And wisdom to know the difference.
In  "Damascus Trance" Yussef and a friend return to Damascus to attend a reunion at their old university. However there is a deadly battle breaking out between protestors and the military (yes, the same conflict that is still going on today). Instead of getting the hell out of there, as I would most certainly do, Yussef actually stays and plans on attending a reunion banquet to watch a Sufi dance. Keep in mind, I'm a Canadian who's not accustomed to such violence while Yussef is a Palestinian who went to university in the place where, in his words, "murder was invented." And as I find Yussef's (albeit temporary) complacency almost shocking, likewise Yussef is taken aback by the ability of the Sufi to find a deeper serenity amidst such distraction.

It's an interesting, provocative piece.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

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