The Frightened Ones
By Dima Wannous
A timely and haunting novel from an exciting new voice in international literature, set in present-day Syria
In her therapist's waiting room in Damascus, Suleima meets a strange and reticent man named Naseem, and they soon begin a tense affair. But when Naseem, a writer, flees Syria for Germany, he sends Suleima the unfinished manuscript of his novel. To Suleima's surprise, she and the novel's protagonist are uncannily similar. As she reads, Suleima's past overwhelms her and she has no idea what to trust--Naseem's pages, her own memory, or nothing at all?
Narrated in alternating chapters by Suleima and the mysterious woman portrayed in Naseem's novel, The Frightened Ones is a boundary-blurring, radical examination of the effects of oppression on one's sense of identity, the effects of collective trauma, and a moving window into life inside Assad's Syria.
“A complex tale of revolution, displacement, delusional love and the psychoanalyst’s couch, The Frightened Ones explores the psychological fallout from living under a brutal dictatorship in a bitterly riven society. It deploys dreams and Freudian interpretation in the context of a police state where torture is an instrument of control, and fear is anything but irrational . . . [Wannous] can write powerfully and subtly . . . It is most memorable in surreal details and glancing tales . . . The novel’s quiet hero [is] strangely reminiscent of Dr. Rieux in Camus’s The Plague.” —Maya Jaggi, The Guardian
"The achievement of Dima Wannous’s novel is to convey a depth of fear so absolute that it pervades everything, every aspect of behavior . . . Through Wannous’s detailed autofiction, marked by frequent flashbacks, the reader is taken on a shocking journey through the realities of life under the Assad dictatorship . . . The structure of The Frightened Ones is highly complex, enhancing the sense of fear, confusion and loss of reality . . . The world has been living with the anxiety of Covid-19 for just a few months. The Frightened Ones helps to put this anxiety into perspective when compared to the level of fear that most Syrians have endured for fifty years under the Assad family dictatorship." —Diana Darke, The Times Literary Supplement
"This Syrian novel toggles between two women — the narrator, and the heroine of a manuscript her former lover wrote — to paint a textured picture of Damascus at war with itself." —The New York Times Book Review ("New & Noteworthy")
"The nerve-stretching tension and horror of life in Assad’s Syria is conveyed in this cunningly constructed novel." —David Mills, The Sunday Times (UK)