The story is set in the decade when the war broke out in Syria, a war that turns the world upside down for many. I had followed the news and read in the newspapers about the war, but it was the book that rattled me. It makes the experience, the hardships of the common man real; the situations and circumstances appear less distant.
The story of The Doctor of Aleppo is a simple narrative which has many layers to it. As you delve deeper into the book, going from one layer to the next, you realise the common thread that binds it all together. The vulnerability of the human ego, the fragility of relationships and, most important of it all, the strength of the human mind.
Dan Mayland creates a story which revolves around three central characters whose lives get entangled with each other in the most unexpected and complicated way. They are the most unlikely protagonists, and they remain so till the end. The hardships they each went through were not very different from what others went through during those difficult times.
Hannah – never gives up hope
Hannah was a woman and made of stronger mettle than the rest. She was passionate, driven, and tenacious in her dealings, but she did it all with the goodness of her heart. She meant well and went out of her way to help others. Whether it meant digging people out of the debris of the recently blown-up building, even one where she had gotten injured, or protecting the kids when they were buried in the ruins of their house – nothing derailed her focus.
Hannah had enough opportunities to walk away from all this as she was an American, but she came back and stuck around. Even in those difficult and unsafe times, she did not care for her personal safety and went ahead once she decided on what was to be done. There was no stopping her.
Dr Sami – THE doctor of Aleppo
Dr Sami on the other hand, was the complete opposite of Hannah. The Doctor of Aleppo was a focused, practical, no-frills professional who believed in perfection and commitment. His brilliant mind did not bother with the mundane everyday things. There was no time for emotions and niceties, which were to be always kept under tight check.
But beneath the cold-hearted veneer, lay an emotional heart which loved with unparalleled honesty and purity. For Dr Sami, his children, Adam and Noora, became his world after his beautiful wife Tahira’s death. The only way to protect himself was to become immune to the sufferings he saw around him.
Rahim – a victim of ego and pride
The story brings out how their entire suffering was because of the misguided, misinformed, and misplaced ego of one person in power – Rahim. Rahim thought of only his loss. He was drunk with power and blind rage. Any kind of reason and logic was lost to him. He channelled all his energies to get Dr Sami, and Hannah and the children got caught in the crossfire.
And towards the end, when he does realise the folly in his ways, he prefers to die than face humiliation. It was unacceptable to admit his mistake. It was his myopic stupidity, and yet someone else paid the price. Rahim let his selfishness blind him; it was no longer about avenging his son’s death but instead about saving face.
The Doctor of Aleppo is a beautiful, poignant story. The descriptions of the hardships were painful and real. The scenes after the bombings were so vivid that it’s impossible to not feel their pain or loss. The gradual transformations in the thought process of the characters bring out their inner turmoil and vulnerability, how they coped with the sudden changes being thrust upon them, their healing and acceptance as each new loss or challenge threatened their fragile existence.
It’s a matter of perspective; everyone was fighting for what they believe in. The forces loyal to the regime would call the anti-regime forces ‘rebels’ and the same was the other way around. But when the two warring forces fought, it was always the common man who had to bear the brunt of the destruction; it was his house which got destroyed, it was his family which got killed, and it was his children who got orphaned. The descriptions of the prison cells were heart-wrenching. Destroying the human spirit is the worst crime a human can do; and it was done with impunity, with official approval. The sad truths of all wars.
The book review of The Doctor of Aleppo was not an easy task. It is one of those books which lingers for long after it’s over. It’s haunting, in a poetic way, while it spins the story of loss, destruction, hopelessness and unrequited love. Book reviews are a way of reliving the book and savouring the lines.
Don’t Miss It
A quick update – in case you missed it earlier, click the link to read the book “Dad, Can You Increase My Allowance?” written by me. It’s about teaching our children about the importance of money and how to build good financial habits. Don’t forget to give feedback; I’ll be waiting for it.