German Diverse Books · Reviews

Review: Damascus Nights – Rafik Schami

Damascus Nights
Book cover: Salim looks towards his left, while a white snake with some of the characters from the story surrounds his face.

It is 1959, Damascus. The most famous storyteller in Damascus, Salim, the coachman, has mysteriously lost his voice. For seven nights, his seven old friends gather to break the spell with their seven different, unique stories — some personal, some modern, some borrowed from the past. Against the backdrop of shifting Middle Eastern politics, Schami’s eight characters, lost to the Arabian nights, weave in and out of tales of wizards and princesses, of New York skyscrapers and America. With spellbinding power, Schami imparts a luscious vision of storytelling as food for thought and salve for the soul, as the glue which holds our lives together.

Glaiza recommend Damascus Nights to me when I was asking for suggestions for Asian Lit Bingo. I decided to read it because I was intrigued by the stories within a story concept. The book was originally published in German, however I read the English translation.

It’s #ownvoices for Syrian representation.

The writing is so beautiful and lyrical. It was a joy to read the beautiful phrases in this book, especially those that gave beauty to very common actions. I felt like I was reading lyrical poetry in prose form, the feel of it was poetry but it wasn’t poetry – I hope that makes sense. Check out the beauty in these phrases:

“Writing is not the voice’s shadow but the tracks of its steps.”

“The stamp is a piece of every official’s soul, and if he has to press it down on a sheet of paper, it hurts his soul – though a banknote or two has been known to lessen the pain.”

“Fruit, you see, is first eaten with the eyes, then with the nose, and only last with the mouth.”

“A lie can change even the blandest occurrence into a piquant dish.”

I loved how the story described in this book is that of a storyteller being told stories by his friends. Damascus Nights is both a short story collection and a full-length novel at the same time, the short stories being woven into the tapestry of the full-length novel. I think it’s quite lovely when a person who usually tells stories is given the opportunity to listen to stories that others have to tell, thus being able to relax and enjoy the story. The stories were all beautiful and in my opinion, there were lessons that the reader can learn from each story. There are many genres of stories, and thus I think that most readers will find at least one likable story. Some of the stories have magical aspects, while others are based on reality. Some are about personal experiences of the storyteller in question, while others are fictional. Each story was uniquely part of the storyteller in question and the storyteller’s personality influenced the method of their storytelling as well as the story itself.

The main story is set in Damascus, and while the short stories take place in different parts of the world, Damascus is never ignored. The author has managed to write beautiful and vivid descriptions of the city, its culture and people.

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Damascus Nights is a beautiful book. The writing is poetic and lovely. I’m very happy that it was recommended to me, and I recommend it to you as well!

This review is part of the German Diverse Books project (#DeutscheDiversityBücher). The book is available in a lot of languages.

5 stars

Have you read Damascus Nights? Do you have any recommendations for books that are stories within a story?

9 thoughts on “Review: Damascus Nights – Rafik Schami

  1. Oh wow! I can see why you were so excited about this book. It sounds wonderful. I agree that the idea of a storyteller becoming the audience for a change is an intriguing concept. Will definitely try to get my hands on this book.


  2. This sounds wonderful. I must admit I’d seen it recommended elsewhere but didn’t even add it to my TBR because I didn’t like the cover… Thank you for making me take a second look because it sounds like my cup of tea – I love short story novels if they are done well!


  3. Sounds like the translation was done well 🙂 Have you thought about reading it in German to see how it contrasts? I find that different aspects stand out more in Welsh than they do in English (and vice versa ofc.)


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