A Ticket to Syria - Book Review

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A Ticket to Syria - Book Review

A Ticket to Syria

By Shirish Thorat

A review by Suraya Dewing

I was keen to read A Ticket to Syria because, as a Westerner, I had no absolutely no idea why ISIS appeared on the world scene. It seemed to hit the headlines out of nowhere and I wanted to understand how the movement gathered so much influence in what appeared to me, such a short time. I was also keen to understand the whole concept of Jihad. What would drive someone to don a jacket lined with explosives and blow up a target and themselves?

The Contact, a central character in the story, is an excellent narrator who gives the political and social background to the rise of ISIS. The reason behind the ferocity of its adherents became clearer as I read the Contact’s account.

Sameer is a qualified doctor leading a perfect life with his family in the Maldives. He is the eldest of six. Munsiu, his youngest brother recently married Zahi, a nineteen year old. In his opinion they are deeply in love. However, a darker side to Munsiu is revealed when Sameer learns that all his family has gone to Syria to join ISIS including Munsiu and Zahi.

Zahi believed she was going on holiday to Singapore. Instead she finds herself in Syria and effectively an unwilling ISIS prisoner. She is alone. Everyone else is in Syria by choice. She has one life line – a second mobile phone she failed to surrender when ISIS confiscated cell phones and insisted they surrender their passwords to social media. The story takes shape around this situation.

There are moments when the danger of the situation is effectively accentuated. One of those is the description of the ultra slim phone Zahi surreptitiously uses to send messages to her brother. This pink, girlie, child-like accessory contrasts strongly with the stark, primitive and dangerous environment Zahi now finds herself in.

The novel uses a real event as its inspiration and this gives it context and realism. The Maldives is a tourist mecca promising relaxing sun-soaked holidays. But there is another side to all this beauty and author Shirish Thorat lifts the cover on that not so idyllic life.

He writes in a way that is accessible without resorting to cliché or generalization. He allows the story to evolve without allowing his own opinions to overshadow the story.

Thorat tells the story well and the writing has a journalistic quality which makes understanding the reason ISIS rose out of the dust a lot easier.