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This Side of Syria: Best Books to Understand the Syrian Experience

Americans have long prided themselves on the idea that we are a nation of immigrants. Even considering the complexity of this notion, the idea itself remains a point of emphasis in our national identity. One of the most enduring symbols of the United States is a woman holding a torch aloft in a harbor beckoning travelers to safe refuge, our Statue of Liberty. And yet in times when we have perceived that our security is waning, we lash out at these very immigrants who, in times of relative safety, we claim as a point of national pride.

Now, in the midst of a staggering global refugee crisis, we are seeing the fabric of our nation’s identity being tested once again. The brutal civil war plaguing Syria has displaced millions, forcing Syrians to flee their war-torn home and seek solace from inhumane and terrifying conditions. The United States has often stood at the forefront of refugee resettlement, but under the cloak of fear, President Trump is pushing this country to once again close off its borders.

It is, unfortunately, easy to ignore this crisis, to forget that those fleeing are seeking refuge from cruel circumstance – and often death. Literature once again, though, proves to offer a powerful window of empathy – a reminder of the essential humanity in all of us. In times like these, empathy and understanding are paramount. To hopefully help gain a better understanding of Syria, its people, and its rich literary tradition, we’ve pulled together a number of books and novels by Syrian authors or simply about the Syrian experience.

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No Longer Driving a Cab, a Syrian writer in America Focuses on His Fiction

By Mythili G. Rao

In 2014, Osama Alomar was working as a cab driver in Chicago when he learned that the suburb of Zamalka, just outside the heart of Syria’s capital, Damascus, had been destroyed by the fighting that continues to ravage his country. The apartment house that Alomar had lived in for five years before leaving for the United States, and everything in it—his furniture, clothing, guitar, and, most painfully, his library of old and rare books, including volumes he’d inherited from his father and grandfather—had been reduced to rubble. “I’m homesick, but I cannot go back,” he told me recently. “I would be homeless.”

Before he left Syria, in 2008, Alomar’s fiction and poetry had been published in four collections; he’d won literary prizes and had his work broadcast on the BBC. Now his entire personal archive was lost. “All my published poems, stories, interviews I had done in journals and magazines. Everything. I was completely shocked to learn that it was all gone,” he said. Also lost were the manuscripts of several writing projects in progress, including a completed autobiographical novel, called “The Jagged Years.” Read more

Source: New Yorker

 


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Book review: Alia Malek’s The Home That Was Our Country mirrors the tragedy of Syria

By Marcia Lynx Qualey

Alia Malek

Nation Books,

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Alia Malek’s newly released The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria follows the author as she struggles to reclaim her grandmother’s Damascus home, her family narrative and her country’s history.

In broad strokes, Malek’s second work of non-fiction is much like Lebanese-American journalist Anthony Shadid’s House of Stone (2012). Both narratives required a steady hand, as they thread through family lore and violently contested histories.

But The Home That Was Our Country sets off through even rougher terrain. Malek wrote her book in the early years of Syria’s civil war. As the reader picks it up, the war still rages, its effects felt around the world.

The book’s lodestone is the author’s maternal grandmother, Salma. It begins with the story of Salma’s father Abduljawwad, who was born during the Ottoman era. This history is compelling and it creates a fluid, multilayered portrait of Syria’s people. Read more

Source: The National


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A Story of Chaos at the Border of Turkey and Syria

By

Dark at the Crossing By Elliot Ackerman

237 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $25.95.

“The age of the war correspondent as hero,” Phillip Knightley famously wrote in his book “The First Casualty,” “appears to be over.” According to Knightley, Vietnam was the high-water mark for the self-mythologizing and self-aggrandizing descendants of the war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mowed down by the Japanese on the island of Ie Shima in 1945. Since then, he argued, governments at war have learned to tame their roving journalists; to exaggerate only by a certain degree, many correspondents have become variants of the press eunuchs laconically described by Evelyn Waugh in Abyssinia sitting at the hotel bar writing up the destruction of a hospital in Adowa by Italian bombers. During that war in 1936, indeed, Waugh himself received an actual cable from his editors in London concerning the “heroic nurses” supposedly killed at Adowa. It read, “Require earliest name life story photograph American nurse upblown Adowa.” To which he immortally replied, “Nurse unupblown.” The journalistic stenography of war had already begun.

But what, conversely, of the war literature created by Americans not implicated in the corporate machinery of reportage? It could be argued that it’s a richer harvest. And one could also argue that the most vital literary terrain in America’s overseas wars is now occupied not by journalists but by novelists and even poets: Jehanne Dubrow’s “Stateside,” Brian Turner’s “Phantom Noise,” David Abrams’s “Fobbit,” Nadeem Aslam’s “The Blind Man’s Garden,” the stories of Katey Schultz. Read more

Source: NY Times

 


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Review: In ‘More,’ Dispatches From Hell by a Human Trafficker

more

This disturbing new novel by Hakan Gunday, one of Turkey’s leading young writers, is like a visit to a Hieronymus Bosch hell: terrifying scenes of suffering, starvation, sadism, depravity and the agonies associated with combat zones. “More” recounts the story of a boy named Gaza who works with his father, a human trafficker, and it conveys the suffering of refugees and migrants as they try to make their way from war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Syria through Turkey and eventually on to Greece and the wider world (that is, if they survive a cascade of perils, one more awful than the next). It is also the narrator’s coming-of-age story, starting at 9 — a dark fable that traces the metamorphosis of a bright schoolboy into an appalling monster.

The importance of this novel — which won the French Prix Médicis Étranger award — lies in its horrific portrayals of refugees fleeing desperate situations, sometimes leaving home with a lifetime’s possessions in a single plastic bag, only to find themselves in another inferno, preyed upon by unscrupulous smugglers and thugs. Such passages powerfully convey the plight of a record number of refugees today — the United Nations estimates that 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution at the end of 2015 — with the visceral, emotional detail that reports from policy groups rarely possess. Read more


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This is what wannabe Jihadists order on Amazon before leaving for Syria

Can you guess which books the wannabe jihadists Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed ordered online from Amazon before they set out from Birmingham to fight in Syria last May? A copy of Milestones by the Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb? No. How about Messages to the World: the Statements of Osama Bin Laden? Guess again. Wait, The Anarchist Cookbook, right? Wrong. Continue reading


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Syria regime opponent wins top Egypt literature prize

Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa, a veteran opponent of the ruling Baath party, has won the Naguib Mahfouz literature prize from the American University in Cairo, organizers said on Thursday.

The novelist told AFP by telephone from Damascus that he was happy to receive the award, but said his joy was “incomplete because of the severe and arbitrary measures imposed on Syrians in Egypt”.

He was referring to the 325,000 Syrian refugees now in Egypt after fleeing the conflict in their homeland.

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Tariq Ali: What is a revolution?

Tariq_AliWishing for the Syrian civil war to be a revolution doesn’t make it so, writes Tariq Ali in Guernica.

Ever since the beginning of the Arab Spring there has been much talk of revolutions. Not from me. I’ve argued against the position that mass uprisings on their own constitute a revolution, i.e., a transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another that leads to fundamental change. The actual size of the crowd is not a determinant—members of a crowd become a revolution only when they have, in their majority, a clear set of social and political aims. If they do not, they will always be outflanked by those who do, or by the state that will recapture lost ground very rapidly.

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Mo Yan: Translators need to strike a balance

Mo YanNobel Prize laureate Mo Yan explores with Syrian-born poet Adonis the significant role of translation in today’s literary world

Cultural identity, the spirit of introspection and writers’ mission are among the topics that Syrian-born poet Adonis explored with Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan and other Chinese writers, in a recent talk organized by Beijing Normal University International Writing Center.

Both Adonis and Mo Yan, who have an increasing international readership, concluded that the one factor which facilitates and hinders their efforts is translation.

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