The Foghorn Echoes by Danny Ramadan review – recovery among the ruins

Danny Ramadan, a Syrian-Canadian author, is a prominent advocate of LGBTQ+ and refugee rights. Like his debut, The Clothesline Swing, which won the Independent Publisher gold medal for LGBT+ fiction, The Foghorn Echoes explores the lives of gay men born into a repressive culture.

The narrative is divided between Damascus and Vancouver. When teenage friends Hussam and Wassim fall in love in Syria in 2003, we guess it won’t end happily. They live in a society where homosexuality is criminalised and homophobia is rife. Tracking back and forth in time, Ramadan gradually reveals their overlapping trajectories; the love that binds them and their shared trauma.

Hussam and Wassim navigate their way through the fog of trauma and self-loathing in order to build new lives

After joining the 2011 protests, Hussam is briefly imprisoned and tortured. Marked by the regime, he flees Syria. His attempt to reach Europe via the Mediterranean fails and he is fortunate to escape catastrophic consequences. In a memorable scene, the sound of desperate children singing – the titular “foghorn” – aids their rescue. Confined in a refugee camp in Turkey, Hussam learns of another way to reach the west and with the sponsorship of Ray, an older Canadian man, makes it to Vancouver. There he numbs himself with drugs and anonymous sex.

Wassim remains in Syria and, after abandoning an arranged marriage and young child, lives on the fringes of society; his own “exile”. He moves into a derelict house and is befriended by the ghost of Kalila, a woman who had been unhappily married in the 1960s. They share their stories and Kalila’s nonjudgmental response helps Wassim on the path to self-acceptance.

Ramadan weaves together these narratives to great effect and gives a vivid sense of Syria under the Assad regime. Gradually, Hussam and Wassim navigate their way through the fog of trauma and self-loathing in order to build new lives. Some may find that Ramadan’s graphic descriptions of sex pall after a while, but his central depiction of two men struggling to belong and find peace on their own terms is powerful and compassionate.

  • The Foghorn Echoes by Danny Ramadan is published by Canongate (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply