Title: The Stray Cats of Homs
Author: Eva Nour
Genres: Historical Fiction
Target Audience: Adults
Publication date: 14/05/2020 (UK)
My rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Trigger warning: rape, violence, torture
‘A cat has seven souls in Arabic. In English cats have nine lives. You probably have both nine lives and seven souls, because otherwise I don’t know how you’ve made it this far.’
Sami’s childhood is much like any other – an innocent blend of family and school, of friends and relations and pets (including stray cats and dogs, and the turtle he keeps on the roof).
But growing up in one of the largest cities in Syria, with his country at war with itself, means that nothing is really normal. And Sami’s hopes for a better future are ripped away when he is conscripted into the military and forced to train as a map maker.
Sami may be shielded from the worst horrors of the war, but it will still be impossible to avoid his own nightmare…
Inspired by extraordinary true events, The Stray Cats of Homs is the story of a young man who will do anything to keep the dream of home alive, even in the face of unimaginable devastation. Tender, wild and unbearably raw, it is a novel which will stay with you for ever.
The Stray Cats of Homs is a very difficult, at times excruciating read. I had to take breaks, sometimes long breaks that lasted for more than one day in order to be able to come back to it and continue to follow Sami through endless hardships and loss and pain. But I never let go of this book, not even when I was on my breaks. It was always in a corner of my mind, staring at me, inviting me in, knowing that I would never quit reading it before I reached the end because it knew – stories like this one always know – that I needed to know how it ended, even if that meant destroying a little bit more of my innocence and faith in humanity.
The truth is, I am lucky to have been born in a peaceful country where the word ‘war’ sounds distant and meaningless – a thing that only happens in places far, far away, something that people like me will never know in their lifetime. I didn’t grow up playing amongst the ruins that once used to be my friends’ houses and I never had to be careful to not step on a grenade and my nightmares were about being embarrassed in front of everyone at school, not about my parents being killed in front of me. I am lucky and no matter how much knowledge I have, I am still innocent because my innocence was not taken from me. Sami’s was.
Sami was a kindhearted child who grew up in a relatively peaceful, but volatile country. He had time for crushes and heartache and all the normal – and often underrated – small things in life, until Syria declared war on itself and he was recruited by the army and forced to train as a mapmaker. In a way, Sami was lucky as that meant he was shielded from all that was happening in his hometown, to the people he loved, to the people he barely knew that were friends of a friend. But his thirst for freedom and justice was like fuel to his destiny and he soon found himself back where everything started.
There are no words for the atrocities Sami witnesses in his beloved hometown. I would rather not repeat or think of the things Sami saw and heard and felt during his time in war-torn Homs. There will never be words for what he went through. There will never be words for what the Syrian people went through. But this book, in a way, finds words for all of it. The Stray Cats of Homs is a homage to everyone who lived and has been living through the Syrian civil war and is an undestroyable love letter to what Syria used to be as a country.
And although it is written by someone who didn’t experience any of it, it still remains a powerful, heartwrenching memoir, told in the most careful, respectful way someone could ever tell someone else’s story. Eva Nour found the match for her soul in Sami and proved it by telling his story to the world. These might not really be her memories but in a way, they are because Sami’s story became part of hers when they fell in love. He couldn’t find the right words to tell his story, so she did it for him.
I find solace in knowing that Sami made it out and is living a peaceful, happy life in Paris with Eva. Not everyone is as lucky as he is and I can only hope that the ones who survive this ongoing conflict can one day celebrate life, not because they’ve survived one more day, but because they are living it.
*I would like to thank Doubleday for sending me a proof of The Stray Cats of Homs. This is my honest opinion of the book.*