An Ishmael of Syria

by Asaad Almohammad

Read time: about 6 minutes

I am not too fond of literature set in war torn region simply because of the political trivia involved, the gory details (call me a sissy if you will) and the sad accounts are too much for me. However, I have read a few books set in the middle East during, pre and post war in spite of them coming with heart-touching accounts that aren’t pretty in any way. So I decided to take on the opportunity of reading this book, and here is my account of reading it.

Cover: An Ishmael of Syria


It is a brownish grey dull toned cover with a portrait of a man who’s face is a smudge. It could either denote the region where it is set in as Arab regions, which follows Islam, which predominantly shuns detailed human portraits, or it possibly denotes his self portrait where he feels his identity has been taken away from him due to the man made destruction that is taking his Nation by storm. I can’t say I like the cover, however it is a fitting portrayal of what the book has in store for you.


Adam, a Syrian expat studying his PhD in Malaysia is our lead protagonist. He is a troubled, sympathetic man who feels a little too much. Apart from him he talks about his family, who is still stuck in the war struck City of Ar-Raqqa, his friends of varied nationalities and fellow countrymen none of whom seem to feel as strongly as he does, and his varied girlfriends who have varying impacts on his life.


Adam calls himself and the likes of him as people on the other end of the telescope, looking at their Country from afar when it is being mutilated by ambitious men and pseudo religious organisations calling dibs on who gets to rule over it. He has been brought up in a poor neighbourhood in a household with meagre means.

After much turmoil and rejection from varied countries, he finally lands in Malaysia to pursue his education, but his troubled Nation still haunts him the same. He is studying political science (or something of that effect) and the books is dotted with views, debates and arguments around the political situation in Syria. It is an account of how our very sensitive lead is constantly trying to get everyone around him to be on the same page as him! He is critical of everyone who doesn’t feel enough for the ones suffering, he accuses people of victimising themselves, and he blames religions, political leaders and anyone who will shoulder the blame for the condition of the world as it is today.

There are few stories, just a handful which show the agonising side of the lives of the people , before and during the war. There are fewer mentions of things that Adam is doing to make his Country a better place.


It is a single man’s perspective, where Adam talks about everything from his perspective ONLY. This book seems to be his method of venting about how he feels, and possibly his attempt at contributing to the condition that his distraught land is facing. It is whiny and critical both of self and of everyone and everything around him.

Good Points

The only thing good about this book are those handful of events and stories that Adam recounts from his childhood and other instances that show how very sad life can be. It shows the hypocrisy and hate that our society is maligned with.

Bad Points

Coming from a very modest beginning where one has seen a lot of suffering to growing up to see your beloved Country being mercilessly massacred is truly a devastating experience. But there are possibly three things one can do about it – turn your back to it and stay in a paradise of ignorance, or you can whine and complain about it, and thirdly you can wake up and do something to stop things in whatever little way you can. Adam is sailing between being torn and wanting to do something. What does he do? He has political debates with everyone and tries to show them how much suffering there is, and how heartless they are if they are not feeling sad about it. What is he really doing about it? There is literally like a frisson of the book that is dedicated to what he is really doing, possibly, that shows the extent of his real contribution.

This might seem like a harsh and critical thing to say to someone who screams and beats walls and trees to vent out his pain, I understand your pain Adam, I truly do. But what are you really doing except trying to criticise people. He pins the blame on Assad, and Islam and ISIS and all his unfeeling friends who don’t seem to watch the news ( tell me again, how exactly did watching the news alone change the world?) . I am not here to defend Assad or Islam or ISIS, for I do not think I can truly feel the pain of all the innocent people who are suffering in this blood bath for power. But it annoys me no end that all you seek is to blame someone and not to actually change the course of events in whatever minute way you can.

He talks about how, often people are victimising themselves and then joining extremist groups as a way to combat the suffering, and in the same page he blames a religion or religious group for it. So tell me again, is it the supposed victims or the religion, or the political leaders? Who is the culprit? While on one hand you loath people victimising themselves, while at the same time you are constantly showing yourself as a helpless expat who considers himself a failure for he can do nothing? The book is full varying counter arguments that mess with your head so bad!

Drawing a parallel with Khaled Hosseini, he too wrote books about life before war and during war, but he isn’t trying to justify himself or trying to prove to the world that he is doing something or that he is a victim. His accounts are devoid of justifications and are simply a real glimpse of life as it is without calling names or defending himself.

I truly wanted to feel empathetic towards Adam but all I got was annoyed because of his very venomous hatred towards everyone. I hated this book more than I liked it, and it just raised my hate towards whiny people that much more.


There were parts that I really loved simply because of the agony that was trapped in it. But the narrative is so heavily laden with confusion, pointless debates and complaining that I couldn’t wait to just be done with it.

Who do I recommend it to?

It is a first-hand account of someone who has experienced the Syrian war. It is injected with a lot of self analysis, criticism of others and endless political debates and blame games. So if you enjoy reading about all this, you should pick it up.

Gazala Amreen

Logophile, bibliophile, writer, designer, high on wanderlust and all things pretty.

Bangalore, KA