The Singularity

Balsam Karam

Translated by Saskia Vogel

French paperback with flaps, 194 pages
Published 17 January 2024

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In an unnamed coastal city home to many refugees, a mother of a displaced family searches for her child, calling her name as she wanders along the cliffside road where her daughter used to work. She searches and searches until, devoid of hope and frantic with grief, she throws herself into the sea, leaving her other children behind. Bearing witness to this suicide is another woman – on a business trip from a distant country, with a swollen belly that later gives birth to a stillborn baby. In the wake of her pain, the second woman remembers her own litany of losses – of a language, a country, an identity – when once her family fled a distant war. Weaving between both narratives and written in looping prose rich with meaning, The Singularity is an astounding study of grief, migration and motherhood from one of Sweden’s most exciting new writers.

The Singularity, the second novel (and first to be published in English) by Balsam Karam … is evidence of the unique genius of human creativity…. Language is at the heart of The Singularity, moving as it does from chaos and cacophony to the simple purity of a single voice, which is one measure of its brilliance and its beauty.’
John Self, Observer

‘The two narratives refract and then come together in a poetic convergence. There is a haunting, hushed tone to the novel, neatly evoked by Saskia Vogel’s translation from the Swedish, that probes the disorienting effects of exile.’
Anderson Tepper, New York Times

‘Karam is a terrific prose stylist. Many of her sentences are surprising in their syntactical innovation and unique poetic rhythm. Like Virginia Woolf, Karam is interested in fragments, and in how they can fit and flow together. There is a choral quality to her writing, and a rich philosophical undertow to many of her observations…. The Singularity sweeps us along, offering profound wisdoms on motherhood and migration, war, home and grief.’
— Yagnishsing Dawoor, Times Literary Supplement

‘In Karam’s beautiful and harrowing English-language debut, a pregnant woman witnesses another woman plummet to her death from a promenade above the sea…. The slim, subtle, and somewhat abstract narrative gestures at grand tragedy in its depiction of the indifferent metropolis as “a hole between what came to be and what could have been,” where tourists pay little mind to a refugee’s for her missing daughter. This is powerful.’
Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

‘Karam infuses this perceptive and compassionate novel with a sense of perplexity that perfectly matches the lives of those she portrays.’
Declan O’Driscoll, Irish Times

The Singularity, deftly translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel, is an intense gem of a novel with a sophisticated structure. After a brave, even risky, prologue, which establishes the plot in a few pages, Balsam Karam moves deeper into the story of these anonymous women in an unidentified city who have been forced to flee their homes in an unnamed war.’
Francesca Peacock, Spectator

‘Lyrical, devastating and completely original, The Singularity is a work of extraordinary vision and heart. Balsam Karam’s writing is formally inventive and stylistically breathtaking, and Saskia Vogel’s translation does shining justice to its poetic precision and depths.’
— Preti Taneja, author of Aftermath

‘I don’t know anyone who writes like Balsam Karam. She blows me away. Truly one of the most original and extraordinary voices to come out of Scandinavia in … forever. You’ll realize twenty minutes after you’ve finished this book that you’re still sitting there, holding on to it.’
— Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called Ove

The Singularity by Balsam Karam is a novel about loss and longing – a mother who misses her child, children who miss their mother, and all of those who miss their country as they try to feel the new earth in their new land. A deeply moving work of fiction from a true voice of Scandinavia.’
— Shahrnush Parsipur, author of Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran

‘Balsam Karam writes at the limits of narrative, limning the boundary of loss where “no space remains between bodies in the singularity”. With a lucid intimacy, Karam braids a story of witness and motherhood that fractures from within only to rebuild memory and home on its own terms. The Singularity is a book of conviction where those who have been made to disappear find light and keep their secrets too.’
— Shazia Hafiz Ramji, author of Port of Being

‘Astringent, fuguelike…. A knotty, sui generis evocation of mothers’ feelings of fear and loss.’

The Singularity reads as a great argument for realism: Karam’s world and its characters are excellently rendered in its harsh light. Reading the novel, one is confronted with the fact that the most essential part of mothering – and humanity – is inconsistent with being a bystander.’
Liz Wood, Word Without Borders

‘Ultimately, Karam’s book illustrates in vivid detail – in just 200 pages, intricate yet in accessible prose –the vivid trapped existence of refugees, of how they begin to live outside time and space, of how the world seems not to see or acknowledge their past or their presence, while denying them a future.’
Rachel Leah Von Essen, Chicago Review of Books

‘It’s a free-flowing and intensely empathetic novel that seeks out submerged connections and, importantly, resists the easy clichés and tropes that sometimes diminish fictional portrayals of migrant experience.
Sydney Morning Herald

‘The novel’s key achievement is in how it breaks the format of the multigenerational novel, with its well-worn progression from grandmother to mother to daughter. Karam is able to tell, in less than 200 pages, the multigenerational tale of two families in a surprising and nonlinear text of patterns and bleak repetitions, the rhythms of real life.’
Emily McBride, The Rumpus

‘No need for spoiler alerts here: what might feature as the climax in a more conventional narrative is laid bare in The Singularity’s prologue. That it nevertheless remains absorbing to its very end is a testament to the depth of feeling and dexterity with which the Swedish-Kurdish novelist Balsam Karam orchestrates the rest of this novel about grief, loss, migration, and motherhood.’
Rachel Stanyon, Asymptote

‘Ceaseless in form, and relentless in the movement of its sentences, The Singularity tracks the intertwined grief of these two women with an unwavering empathy and kindness, as they grapple with their own loneliness and grief in the wake of perpetual loss. In these lyrical meditations, Karam gets to the heart of what it means to be a mother haunted by the loss of a child, in a geography that is not one’s first geography. A novel about what it means to exist in a fractured, tenuous motherhood that is and is not, The Singularity examines what it means to collapse motherhood into itself, to look both backwards and forwards to negotiate a new self against a landscape that is fundamentally cruel, even as it glitters perpetually.’
Vika Mujumdar, Massachusetts Review 

Balsam Karam (b. 1983) is of Kurdish ancestry and has lived in Sweden since she was a young child. She is an author, librarian and university lecturer, and made her literary debut in 2018 with the critically acclaimed Event Horizon, which was shortlisted for the Katapult Prize. The Singularity was shortlisted for the August Prize and is her first English-language publication.

Saskia Vogel is the author of Permission (2019) and the translator of over twenty Swedish-language books. She was awarded the Berlin Senate grant for non-German literature and was a finalist for the PEN Translation Award. She worked on The Singularity as part of her translation residency at Princeton University. From Los Angeles, she now lives in Berlin.