'Have any of you ever heard an owl at night? Every year we used to go somewhere near the coast, an isolated house where orange trees bordered us on three sides while the sea occupied the fourth. I would take pleasure in the stillness there. Stillness doesn't mean the absence of sounds, not at all, but rather the tranquillity that allows one to perceive quiet, soft and distant sounds. In addition to the sound of the waves crashing a the rocks on the distant shore and the crowing of the rooster before dawn in the outlying village, there are other sounds that leave a perpetual yearning for that tranquil place in the soul, including the sound of water babbling in a small brook or the lowing of a cow or a dog barking in a remote village and, last but not least, the hooting of the owl that feels sated after catching a mouse and ravenously devouring it.
The most beautiful sound in the world is the voice of the muezzin making his calls to prayer from the minaret three kilometres away from my building as the city slumbers in a deep sleep, as all modes of transportation stop moving, as the streets are emptied of people and cars, and as the TV stops broadcasting the Leader's speeches.
But the most beautiful thing is the entire universe is the silence that allows us to hear soft and distant sounds.'
From 'The Silence and The Roar'
By Nihad Sirees
Published first in Arabic in 2004
Now published by Pushkin Press 2013
The Afterword makes the point that the situation in the book now seems like a lucky golden age, hardly the author's intention when he was writing it:
'There is another kind of roar that this author never thought the leader would ever be capable of using; the roar of artillery, tanks and fighter jets that have already opened fire on Syrian cities. The leader is levelling cities and using lethal force against his own people in order to hold on to power. We must ask, alongside the characters in this novel: what kind of Surrealism is this?'