Silence is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar

A lone young woman watches the world outside her window from the relative safety and refuge of her apartment, in a British town. She refers to those she observes in the East, West, South tower blocks by pseudonyms, Juicer, No-Lights-Man, Anime Girl. She too is unnamed, a refugee from Syria.

Self-Imposed Safety

literary fiction, trauma, survival, communityShe rarely leaves and when she does, it’s within her self-imposed ‘safe zone’ including the nearby shop, the mosque, and part of the park.

When I first arrived, I couldn’t reconcile myself to the notion that I was free to go anywhere. So I set invisible borders that I abided by for a good, long while.

She has email contact with a magazine editor she sends her writing to, using her own pseudonym Voiceless. She writes a kind of truth, as something of her experience, perspective and trauma passes through her into the page.

The editor is after a more nuanced narrative, truth but not quite that truth, tempering the Voiceless, pandering to the expectations of a home-based audience.

Silence Protects

I  don’t know how to explain to her that I am cornered by memories, caged in by recollections. I feel persecuted by the things I remember and by what my mind chooses to hide from me.

Flashbacks from her last days in Aleppo, her friends, protests, declarations, family decisions, a world disrupted.

Journeying alone through a continent that equates refugee with terrorist, and that violence exists even in refuge.

It’s not so difficult to know what people want. At the root of it we all want the same things: freedom, happiness, safety. I want to write what I want to write without the fear of a knock at the door and an interrogation room. I want to love who I want to love without the fear of death or corrective rape. I want to wear what I want to wear without the worry that men will see my skirt or the buttons on my shirt as an invitation. That’s it. The freedom to live how we want to live.

In her silence she is overwhelmed by the other senses, unable to speak, yet filled with so much looking for outward expression.

Trauma Endures

silence is a sense Layla alammarAn intense, visceral insight and demonstration of the effect of trauma, the ongoing sensitivities, reactions, the struggle to adapt, to accept safety, to even perceive safety, when threats are observed everywhere, violence seen through windows, threatened against communities.

And yet, something within the human spirit needs to reach out, to have contact, to be a part of what little community is offered, tentative gestures, towards healing.

Sensitively depicted, rather than witnessing the events themselves, the author draws the reader into the fragmented mind of the victim of trauma, making us feel what it can be like, to be in that post traumatic period, trying to live again in an unwelcoming, welcome British town.

A Real Life Story, A Young Syrian Woman Refugee

While Lalya AlAmmar’s story is fiction and is focused more on the aftermath of of a young woman experiencing her hometown turn into a warzone, on her trying to overcome the feeling of not being safe in another country, and the effect of trauma, I found it helpful having already read a true account of another young woman’s true life experience in Syria, her life before the war, during it and the inevitable escape she and her sister would make alone.

It makes an excellent companion read to AlAmmar’s novel and I highly recommend Butterfly by Yusra Mardini.

Further Reading

NPR: ‘Silence Is A Sense’ Works To Dispel The Terrible Abstractions Of Syria’s Civil War

Interview: Scan, University of Lancaster, An Interview with Layla AlAmmar, Author of Silence is a Sense by Harriet Fletcher

12 thoughts on “Silence is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar

    • Thank you Margaret, I’m so pleased you located a copy! I forgot to mention, but have now added the link in my review, that this book makes an excellent companion to the memoir Butterfly by Yusra Mardini, the young Syrian woman who, with her sister fled and made the journey alone across the sea and Europe, their journey ending in Germany.

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    • I thought it was very well done too, creating quite an atmosphere of withdrawal from her unknown environment and yet there is that curiosity and desire as she watches from behind the safety of her window. Introverted, protective, silent and vulnerable, her progress is snail-like, ready to pull back quickly when necessary.

      I think it will take a long time for people to really understand the effect of trauma on refugees, especially with the propensity of the human spirit to survive, so people are able to engage but without having had the opportunity to heal, so behaviours are judged without ever knowing what happened to people to be the way they are. An important work and beginning.

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  1. Pingback: Butterfly by Yusra Mardini – Word by Word

  2. This sounds so good and fits perfectly with my migration reading project. I’ve added my name to the list of library holds. Technical question…I can imagine how she might have named her first two neighbours, but how does Anime girl get her name? 😉

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    • Anime girl isn’t a significant character, or much observed, so I assume it’s because she watches anime, that was an easy one for me as it’s the only viewing series my son indulges. He corrected me recently for calling it Japanese anime. He said, all anime is Japanese, everyone knows this. 🙂 I’m trying to keep up!

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