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Likely Stories - Silence Is A Sense by Layla Alammar

A moving story of a woman trapped in a London flat.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Layla Alammar grew up in Kuwait. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Edinburgh. She is pursuing a PhD on women’s fiction. She lives in England.

According to the jacket, “A young woman sits in her apartment, watching the small daily dramas of her neighbors across the way. She is an outsider, a mute voyeur, safe behind her windows, and she sees it all—the sex, the fights, the happy and unhappy families. Journeying from her war-torn Syrian homeland to this unnamed British city has traumatized into her silence, and her only connection to the world is the columns she writes for a magazine under the pseudonym ‘The Voiceless,’ where she tries to explain the refugee experience without sensationalizing it—or revealing anything about herself.

The story begins. No-Lights-Man: “East Tower, third floor, flat two hardly ever turns on the lights, especially come summer when the sun lingers in the sky and daylight is a lazy loiterer, barely giving way to night before it’s black. He changes his clothes, drinks his soft drinks and ciders, and melts cheese on toast, all without the lights on. He watches the rain, watches television, labors over large and small pads of paper, masturbates beneath navy and gray sheets. He talks on the phone, puts away his crisps and Pot Noodles, does the washing-up—all in the diffuse evenings of summer. // He doesn’t speak to me, has never even tried”.

“He moves things around a lot, taking a bag from one cupboard and putting it in another, moving furniture around in overlapping patterns, shifting shoe boxes from one room to the other, like he’s always in the process of moving in or out. Unsettled, as though he can never get the shape of his world quite right. He’ll line items up beside the door, only to move them back into the bedroom a few days later”.

“I have a box too. In my head. It’s where I keep the things that are too much, the things that don’t make sense. Images and sounds and smells and textures languish in boxes, stuffed and secreted, stacked up in a room in my mind. They fill the corners, rise higher and higher, box over box, to the ceiling. At times, the room bulges and heaves like a belly in labor. Sharp edges poke at my mind. It’s hardly ever quite in there”.

There are about forty inhabitants of the Estate. Each has a story, anguishing, crying, making their way through life. For example, ‘The Dad’ is struggling with a divorce, ‘The Odd Couple’ argue and deal with the recent war. Silence is a Sense by Layla Alammar’s is a story of problems and difficulties common to all of us today. 5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.