Saturday, 17 September 2011

Damascus Nights – Rafik Schami

English Edition
 Salim could certainly consider himself to be lucky. He had a way with words, great imaginative power and an exquisite gift to tell stories, all of which ensured him his clients' loyalty for quite a long time. Coachman by profession, Salim used to tell fascinating stories to his patrons, so that competence never posed a real threat to his business, as long as Salim could keep his gift of the gab. The time came for the loquacious coachman to retire. He kept safely in his mind the infinity of stories that he learnt and recited throughout his long years as a coachman, stories that he would store in his mind as if they were naked frames that he would go on to embellish with infinite ornaments and adornments. One day, Salim received an unusual visit. How could the old coachman have imagined that his Fairy -if such a creature exists- would show up bearing such an odd message?

German Edition

The Fairy assured him that she had taken care that he could successfully wrap up each and every one of his stories. Now it was time for her to retire, so she could not keep in charge of such an arduous undertaking. Salim would not be able to speak for three months, and if after that period of time he had received seven gifts -the right ones- he would be allotted a new Fairy and would have his voice back for him to keep on narrating stories. Salim had seven close friends: Mehdi, the Geography teacher; Junis, the owner of a café whose faithful patrons were always happy because he had the best hakavatis in Damascus; former Minister Faris; Musa, a hairdresser who couldn't use a pair of scissors without almost snipping off his customers' ears, who didn't mind being exposed to the threat posed by the former as long as they could hear him tell beautiful stories, stories that even the best hakavatis would feel proud to recite; Tuma, the “immigrant”, a Damascene who had to flee to America during the First World War and who came back thirty years later on the pretext that he just couldn't get used to the American lifestyle; ex-convict Isam, who served a twenty-four-years sentence for a murder that he didn't commit; and last but not least, Ali, who became a locksmith because he was a man of few words.  

Front Cover
 The seven friends try to help Salim to find out what exactly are those seven gifts he must come up with: the coachman is offered different sets of objects of different kinds, but none of them seem to be the ones that will give him back his voice. One of the friends suggests that it might be seven dinners at his friends' homes, another one that it might be seven different wines; seven trips, going through seven valleys and seven mountains... At long last, one of his friends comes up with the key answer: seven different stories that can untie the coachman's tongue as well as tickle his ears. The seven friends tell each a story on seven different nights. All of them but Ali, who could never tell a story. His wife would have to replace him and, breaking all moulds, unleashing the anger of some of her husband's friends, she will come to make part of the group of intellectuals for a night. The stories they tell are either fictitious or autobiographical or else stories halfway between fiction and reality. Be it as it may, by the time the last story has been told, Fatmeh's story (Ali's wife's), Salim recovers his voice. Fatmeh tells a beautiful story about her mother, a tale until then untold, also unknown to her husband until that moment. As announced, Salim recovers his voice and with it his power of speech. There is a question that will remain unsolved for his sceptical friends, though: whether the coachman was truly ever speechless, or whether it all was but a childish game.

Schami, Rafik. Narradores de la Noche. Trad. Antón Dieterich. Madrid: Siruela, 1992.