Oh, Salaam! by Najwa Barakat
ACCLAIMED NOVEL WITH COMPELLING TREATMENT OF GENDER ROLES, AND THE EFFECTS OF CIVIL WAR
Najwa Barakat's Oh, Salaam! (Yaa Salaam!, Arabic, 1999) tells the story of three friends whose lives are transformed by their participation in the inhuman civil war of some unnamed Arab country - and by their relationship with the novel's anti-heroine, Salaam. Two of the friends live to see the arrival of peace, but they struggle to make a life for themselves in a society that has no need for former militiamen. Meanwhile, the death of the third, Salaam's fiancé, remains a mystery until the closing pages of the novel. Some scenes recall No Exit as the three main characters use and torment each other. In others, their cruelty and coarse behavior is reminiscent of the antisocial counterculture of Clockwork Orange. Initially repulsed, the reader is drawn to discover whether any of the characters will succeed in finding love, making it rich, or getting out of the country alive. The fast-reading plot is shocking throughout, yet it generates a compelling fascination to observe the ultimate consequences of violence and sexual exploitation. The depictions of civil war, torture, oppressive gender roles, and sexual exploitation are challenging to read, but unfortunately they remain very relevant.
Oh, Salaam! has been translated into Italian and French. It has received the praise of critics for the novel's compelling treatment of antisocial characters, gender roles, and the effects of civil war.