A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

a mandate mystery: Night Falls On Damascus

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 29, 2008

You said that you read two books this past weekend, my aunt noted. What was the second book?

Oops. I got so carried away with my post on Jamelie, Jamelie that I forgot about the second one – and it was a total gem. Frederick Highland’s Night Falls on Damascus is set in the mid-Mandate period of the early 1930s, and it tells the story of a Lebanese man, Nicolai Faraoun (whose mother was Russian – hence the curious spelling of his first name), a former Legionnaire who has recently been appointed chief of Damascus’ police forces. He’s a few other things besides, but I won’t ruin the narrative for any would-be readers – like you, Intlxpatr :)! – by revealing all so soon.

The story is good, the characters are well-drawn, and the setting … well … nothing can beat Damascus :). But what I loved best about this book was the way in which it read like a part of a much longer series. From the first page, I felt that I had entered a world that was already in motion – Highland handled the tricky issues of narrative exposition and background with incredible finesse. It was almost like watching a movie – except, of course, that the movie was entirely in my mind.

There were a few oddities – but most were oddities of time rather than authorial mis-understandings. I almost laughed out loud seeing the streets called “boulevards” – especially “Midhat Boulevard”, which locals today know as Midhat Pasha, and which tourists call al-sharia al-mustaqim, “the street called straight”.

(I know: that’s the name of the street in the Bible. But the Bible was published a long, long time ago – and since the 1870s, the street has been known as Midhat Pasha, after the reformist bureaucrat who modernized Ottoman law.)

I laughed, but at the same time I realized that during the Mandate era the French government probably did insist on referring to the city streets as “Baghdad Boulevard”. And of course there was no “Sahhat Yusuf al-Azmeh” then!

Highland maintains a website dedicated to the books he has written (several, although no other books set in Damascus, sadly!), with a page about Night Falls On Damascus that includes short essays he has written about Damascene food, the battle of Maysaloun and other Mandate-era events. You can visit it here.


4 Responses to “a mandate mystery: Night Falls On Damascus”

  1. Leila1000 said

    Hi Diamond, I miss your posts from Beirut, but I’ve enjoying your reading recommendations. How is your Portuguese? I recently finished a little book of memoirs by a Brazilian woman who married a Lebanese man in the 80s. It’s called “Longe: Memórias de um Líbano recente”. A brief but colorful little gem. I can’t imagine it will get translated into English any time soon (like so much Lebanese-Brazilian literature – sigh), but I hope to be proven wrong one day.

  2. Cédric said

    Probably because of the troubled ties between Syria and sweet loubnan, I did not want to go to Damascus each time I was in Beirut… I know it is a bit weird and stupid but I wanted to keep faithful to Loubnan. This reading would probably help a lil bit more to convince me I should go there.

    By the way, you shoul check Evelyn Shakir’s novel on Lebanese women abroad. See an account on Joshua Landis’s “Syria Comment” blog:

    New Book by Evelyn Shakir

    Sunday, June 29th, 2008

    The tales in Evelyn Shakir’s

    Remember Me to Lebanon: Stories of Lebanese Women in America are set in various eras, from the 1960s to the present and occasionally hark back even to the turn of the twentieth century. Protagonists range in age from a teenager who resists her father’s understanding of honor, to an elderly woman who returns from the grave for one last try at whipping her family into shape. Most of the stories dramatize personal issues involving negotiation between generations and cultures. But others have a political dimension—one is set against the backdrop of the Lebanese civil war; another is a response to 9/11, narrated by a woman who keeps watch all day on the Arab family next door. (Remember Me is published by Syracuse University Press.)


    Following in http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=564

  3. TanyaK said

    Hmmm, that was interesting. Looks like somethings will always remain mystery.

    I myself has been trying to solve the mystery of the legend that forces you to have “earn it before

    having it”, for a wile now. Could not understand much though.

    Let me know in case you get to understand the mystery of the Old Hound and the Legend

    By the way, good writing style. I’d love to read more on similar topics

  4. Jahanavi said

    Man, I followed that the dark truth link, and was completely in the story. Damn exciting. The latest post talks about a friend of him who’s gone missing . Somewhere on his way to Leh, India. And the guy is asking for help find it. Soundss like an online game . This looks interesting. M already hooked on.

    Hey, btw, nice post you have there – keep rocking – 😉

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