Ebbe Skoog is a Swedish cameraman in Saudi Arabia with his best friend and reporter colleague, Mattis Andersson, gathering information for a story. Eager to capture photos of the city of Riyadh, Ebbe leaves Mattis in bed early one morning to venture out. Hearing an eerie scream coming from a building, the inquisitive side of Ebbe wars with his logical brain and he decides to investigate the cause of the now muffled screams. Filming everything, Ebbe is horrified to discover a young man being stoned to death by what appears to be members of the Saudi Arabian Secret Police. The reason for this despicable punishment soon becomes apparent when another man runs into the building, attempting to shield the body of his “love.” Ebbe acts immediately, running from the building with the second man and his camera.
On the run with Aasim and a hidden memory card containing the evidence, Ebbe heads for the Israeli border while Mattis pleads with the Swedish ambassador to rescue Ebbe. However, Sweden and Saudi Arabia are political allies. For the sake of keeping peace for financial gain, if Ebbe, who is also gay, is found by the Mahabith, it could result in his death.
In September 2017, I read My Name is Ayla by Phetra H. Novak and wrote in my review that “once in a while, as a reviewer, I am lucky enough to receive a book that bowls me over completely.” Though I attempt to keep my reviews original, the words I used then are exactly the ones I want to repeat now. I am going to try my best to articulate my thoughts and feelings about Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia, but please appreciate the fact that nothing I say will do the novel, or Novak, justice.
Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia is not just fiction. True, Ebbe, Aasim, and Mattis may be characters created from Novak’s imagination, but the events themselves, beginning with the stoning of a man just for being gay, are rooted in Saudi Arabia’s everyday reality. In my opinion, it is this that gives Novak’s writing such a resonance; she is giving a voice to those who are unable to speak for themselves about the injustice of the world in which they live.
Not only that, Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia challenges the reader to think about the wider political climate and the affect this has upon people beyond our own reading bubble. Yes, it is true that many of us use books as a form of escapism and Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia will not allow you to do that. In the novel, Novak bravely refuses to conform to this widely accepted use of fiction and instead the reader must be prepared to witness murder and torture and experience feelings of disgust, fear, horror, anger, and hope. Novak does not shy away from honesty and, admittedly, there were scenes in the book that made me feel sick to my stomach, but there was also no chance of me not discovering how this story ended.
The main reason I found myself compelled to read was not the tension, though there is plenty, but the depth of Novak’s characters. Here, I am particularly referring to Mattis and Ebbe, however this does not mean that Novak’s attention to detail is any less thorough when it comes to the secondary characters. It may be that these characters feel so ‘real’ because these events are so interwoven with truth; kidnappings and disappearances of journalists in the Middle East have been on the news for years. In Ebbe’s case, for me, it was more about his humanity. When he witnesses Kadar’s stoning, he could have ran before he was seen and left Aasim to meet his own fate. Instead, Ebbe risks his own life to rescue Aasim, sacrificing himself so that Aasim can have a new beginning. In my eyes, these actions do not make him a martyr, but they do make him courageous and selfless — two qualities many of us would be lucky to possess.
In contrast to Ebbe are the politicians Novak portrays. Everything about the Swedish Prime Minister, Kenneth Modig, and King Salazar is despicable. Whilst King Salazar hates the Western world and blames them for corrupting his country and people, Modig refuses to find Ebbe because of the financial implications. Modig is also self-absorbed, his mind full of his sexual exploits with his mistress. Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia is a political novel, but ultimately, Novak leaves us with little faith that the Western powers will stand up and oppose the deplorable actions countries like Saudi Arabia carry out against their people.
Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia is not a romance and the only sex scene is a heterosexual one. There are, however, themes of love running throughout the story and against the hatred, the hope this generates is welcome.
To sum up Novak’s brilliance and Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia in one sentence is impossible. This is an extraordinary book, which I am still talking to people about now. If you only read one book this year, it really should be Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia because it will challenge you — and sometimes I think we all need to step out of our comfort zones and examine the world around us.