The story of the Damascus Drum, by Christopher Ryan
published by Hakawati Press, Hawick
Review published in Cornucopia
This is a fabulous adventure story, scented with magical realism and resonating with a talking goat-skin drum, that is set amongst the historical monuments of Syria, so that the reader gets to explore the island of the ship-builders (Arwad), the cavernous vaults of ruinous Krak de Chevaliers, the nunnery of Seydnaya and the old khans and mountainous hinterland of Damascus during the course of the tale. Although located in the late 19th-century, it takes place in a timeless Levant, a crossroads of faiths that is still dominated by loyal servants of the Sultan-Caliph, and which has not yet become the 20th-century Baathist fortress of Arab nationalism. Indeed the real landscape of the Damascus Drum is not so much of this world, but that shaped by the ‘Tales of the 1,001 nights’ and by the interior world constructed by itinerant story-tellers working their magic in the cafes, courtyards and festival gatherings of the past. So we can hiss at the vile machinations of the brigands, scheming villains, paid assassins and evil master-minds, just as we progressively fall further and further in love with both hero and heroine.
‘The Damascus Drum’ is also consciously part of that ancient Near Eastern tradition that buried valued spiritual teachings within a fast-paced narrative plot or a comic short-story. So running within the body of the tale, is the everyday story of two individuals working to increase their interior discipline as a tool in the lifelong struggle to first understand and then make better use of yourself. Adepts might identify the teachings of ancient Prophets, and the identity of some modern and medieval saints amongst the characters and sacred landscapes portrayed in the story of the Damascus Drum. But fortunately there is also enough bawdy laughter and midsummer humanism to enchant a wider audience and perhaps also get them drumming.
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by Barnaby Rogerson