The Boy From Aleppo Who Painted The War: Radio 4 Adaptation Review


The Boy From Aleppo Who Painted The War is the debut novel from Sumia Sukkar that was published late last year. It followed the events of the Syrian civil war but differs greatly from your average war epic by telling the story primarily through Adam, a Syrian teenager who has Aspergers syndrome and is living through the plight. Due to Adam’s condition he doesn’t fully comprehend the war, all he knows is that it is disrupting his life by taking his school, home and family members away from him. The novel truly is a gripping tale and if there is any justice the world would be at home on television or cinema screens, but firstly BBC’s Radio 4 got their hands on it and adapted it into an episode of their Saturday drama.

Radio doesn’t get as much respect as it should do, and sometimes I believe that is probably best. Whenever you turn it on pretty much every station has the same five terrible and overplayed songs of the month and all I want to do is turn it off again. But there is a place outside the terrible music, they do have their own programmes that are brilliant and overshadowed by their ugly sister (music radio). Before television and films we had radio programmes that people were engrossed by and this may be a shock to some but they are still around and just as good. Sure, it’s different for our generation because we’ve been able to use multiple senses when watching television or films and radio just uses the one, our hearing. I believe that that’s what makes it more powerful, it is harder to tell a story now that people have an alternative which makes the fact that they still manage to produce decent dramas astounding.

BBC 4’s dramatization of The Boy From Aleppo tells the story solely from Adam’s perspective, who doesn’t quite know what is going on. This is wonderful for your average listener because most of us aren’t exposed to it on a daily basis unless you are Syrian or have close friends that are. The general public only get snippets of what is happening, but the little bits of information that we do recieve is most likely biased because a producer has picked it. While listening to it it was quite easy to put myself in Adams shoes and live through this ordeal without fully understanding because I am like Adam, I don’t know and understand everything that is happening, the only problem with this is that we never see the whole picture. The novel itself delves deeper into the war and how it affecting other Syrian citizens like Yasmin, Adams sister, and the horrific things she goes through when separated from her family, but the adaptation doesn’t branch out that far. Due to this it feels like the program is glossing over the war when it should really be a focal point. The dramatisation removes parts of the novel and lets others go unsaid for timing reasons as the show is only an hour long and because they are occuring to others which is frustrating because the program would have affected me a lot more emotionally if it we had heard others perspectives instead of staying with Adam the whole hour as his narrative of what is happening is very much distorted.

I would say voice acting on the radio is a hell of a lot harder than on screen because you can’t see the emotions that a character is going through with his/her facial expression and body language like you can in other media. All we can go by is the voice, and I’d say the actors use for The Boy From Aleppo did as well as they could given that we only have the one sense. The listener can hear that Adam is confused and often single minded when speaking to other characters in the adaptation and the voice over is brilliant because we get to hear him being coherent in his thoughts, and trying to get to grips with what is happening. It humanises him quite a bit and makes me feel for him greatly, if we didn’t have his voice over I’d finding incredibly annoying and probably wouldn’t have sat through the whole hour. The other voice actors also play their parts well even though I found the differing accents of the family a bit jarring at times, Adam himself had two different accents at times but it didn’t sully my listening experience completely. I’d also like to mention that the score that was created by Imran Ahmad which was amazing, the program relies soley on sound and the soundtrack helped set the scene without any visual aids. If he was here right now I’d give him a bow.

The adaptation of The Boy From Aleppo has its negatives but I think it was a fairly decent production, although not completely loyal to the novel. Perhaps radio was the wrong format, it doesn’t translate as well as it would do in an audio visual setting but it is a terrific story. The program omitted and changed a few things so I like to think of the adaptation as an overview, it doesn’t delve into the nitty gritty as the novel does. I recommend listening to it just to familiarise yourself with the story and then to read the book if you can, but I will warn you that it is a lot more graphic and emotional that the radio adaptation.

The novel is available on Amazon and the adaptation of  is available in the UK on BBC iPlayer and will be released digitally worldwide mid- 2015.

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