A Woman in The Crossfire

“What am I going to do? My daughter is far away from me, my mother is far away from me, I am forbidden from going to my own village and my own city. I can’t do anything. I am suspended in the air. All I do now is translate people’s agonies into words through my interviews and meetings with those escaping massacres and prisons.”

 

This book. How does one go about writing about this book?

This brave book. This mad book. This book that I want to tell more people to read and that more people should read but is full of despair and violence and fear and hate that I am unable to say, hey, read this, for it is uncommon for people to want to read about things like this. This book that terrifies me, that there is a country out there which treats its people like this. I mean, it is one thing to read about revolutions and violence and brutality in news articles but it is another complete different entity to read of it in these far more personal stories and interviews that Yazbek tells us in her book. I didn’t have the stomach to take notes about the torture that these people went through though and this post may be the poorer as a result of that.

Samar Yazbek, a Syrian writer, a novelist, didn’t have to write this book. She is a member of the Alawite clan, the same one the dictator Bashar al-Assad belongs to. She belongs to a influential, well-to-do family. She could have been safe, cocooned by her family, but she chose to use the best weapon she had – her words.

“It isn’t enough for them to kill people; they were buying and selling their bodies. Oh my God, how can we live alongside these murderers? How can they walk freely among us?”

She first started posting about her opposition to what was going on in Syria on Facebook, on websites. She kept a diary of her observations, her personal reflections, of her conversations with those who protested, who were arrested and tortured. It is painful to read of these acts of violence happening to men, women, teenagers, children. And it is difficult to read of Yazbek’s struggle between fighting for what’s right and keeping herself and her teenaged daughter safe. She is disowned by many of her relatives, receives death threats from strangers. Several times she is snatched up and taken to an unknown location to be interrogated. She lives in fear. Her daughter once “said bitterly that the only way I could make her feel better was to appear on state television and proclaim my loyalty to the president.”

“I don’t like to talk about heroic deeds. Heroism is an illusion.”

But Yazbek, who now lives in exile in Paris, unable to return to her homeland, has indeed done something heroic. Risking her life, her daughter’s life, to gather stories, to write these things down, to convey to the rest of the world what is going on – that is heroic. Even after her exile, she returned to Syria three times, talking to Syrians, gathering their stories and compiling them in her 2015 book, The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria.

She explained why she does this in an interview with World Literature Today:

“I’m writing for the whole world to see what the people of Syria experience on a daily basis. I wanted to convey the voices of these victims to the world. It’s the role of the educated Syrian elite—writers, artists—to engage in this situation, to take part in social justice.”

What Samar Yazbek has done – is doing – is truly admirable. Her bravery in bringing these stories to the world’s attention. Her need to tell the truth – and going against her clan in order to do that.

Throughout the book, I kept wondering, could I do that? Would I be that fearless?

Books I loved more than I expected to

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Ten Books I Loved More Than I Thought I Would 

The Dollmaker – Harriette Simpson Arnow

This American classic is a tough read. Almost all the dialogue is written in a Kentucky dialect, which takes some getting used to. And it is bleak. So bleak and poor and desperate. But I loved the main character Gertie, she’s a hard worker, strong-willed and capable.

 

Lab Girl – Hope Jahren

I listened to this as an audiobook – very hesitantly. So far I’ve had success with celebrity-narrated audiobooks, mostly comedians like Aziz Ansari and Amy Pohler. But I wasn’t sure about this one, read by its author who’s a scientist. I started listening, just hoping she wouldn’t sound, well, boring. And instead I was startled by the way she poured so much emotion into her narration. All her passion for her work, for the people she loved, was put into the reading. And I was enthralled.

 

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d – Alan Bradley

It may seem weird to put this 8th book in a series here. But I really didn’t like book 7, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, which took Flavia out of England and into a Canadian boarding school. In book 8, Flavia is back at Buckshaw and things just seem more apt, except of course for the fact that her father is in hospital.

 

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces – Isabel Quintero (my review)

I’ve had mixed success with YA so am always a bit hesitant when picking up a YA book. But this one, this one I just adored. I loved Gabi. What a wonderful feisty character.

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Another nonfiction read that took me by surprise.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Monday and I’m reading

 

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date

 

My mum will be flying off back to Singapore early Thursday morning, so we took a day trip into the city to spend some time at the SFMoMA on Saturday. The museum reopened last year with a brand new expansion, making it the largest modern and contemporary art museum in America. It has 7 floors of beautiful space and the new building so seamlessly joins the old building that I hadn’t a clue which building I was in. Here’s a Smithsonian magazine article on ten things to love in the SFMoMa. It’s such a big space that we didn’t manage to see everything we wanted to see. Plus the 3yo was getting tired and so we had to leave. Another time! The 5yo said he really enjoyed the day at the museum, although when asked what his favourite part was, his answer was: the store!

The view from the rooftop sculpture garden

 

 

Currently…

 

Reading:

 

 

 

Watching:

The usual – Mad Men, Parenthood

Listening:

happymarriage

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage – Ann Patchett

Eating:

Banana pancakes

Drinking:

Nespresso

Cooking:

The kids and I are going to make pizza tomorrow.

Browsing:

A fascinating piece on a job writing custom erotic love letters (Lit Hub)

George Saunders on making Lincoln on the Bardo (Book Riot)

Gula Melaka chiffon cake (No-Frills Recipes)

Ooh beer brownies (How Sweet Eats)

 

Last week:

I read:

The Dollmaker – Harriette Simpson Arnow

Children of the Alley – Naguib Mahfouz

 

 

 

 

It’s Monday and I’m reading

 

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date

I’m typing this on a sunny day. What a rare sight this winter. It has been raining and raining and the kids didn’t get to play in their schools’ playgrounds last week except for Friday. And to help them expend their energy at home, we’ve been having crazy dance parties, playing hide and seek and treasure hunts, and bouncing balls. It’s not easy having two little boys cooped up at home!

Some photos I recently took for the daily photo challenge I host on Litsy. The top one is flowers on covers, and the one below is my collection of latinx writers.

We had a busy weekend, with a concert by Charlotte Diamond on Saturday. Some of you may know her name, although I sure didn’t until my kids started preschool and sang lots of her well-known songs like I Am A Pizza and Octopus (Slippery Fish). Everyone had lots of fun singing, dancing and doing all the actions to her songs.

After that, the husband and I got to sneak off for a movie date, something we’ve not done in a long time. We went to see Lego Batman! What a fun movie. I’m looking forward to the day I take my kids to the cinema – my 5yo is a kind of a sensitive kid and he gets very absorbed in shows to the point where he gets very upset and agitated if there’s something bad about to happen, so it might be a while more before he’s ready to see a movie in a theatre!

 

Currently…

 

Reading:

 

 

 

Watching:

The kids are watching Finding Dory as I type this!

Listening:

Carrie Fisher read Wishful Drinking

 

Eating:

Drinking:

Well not right now, but last night. It was quite refreshing.

Cooking:

Mm laksa maybe?

Noodle soup – my 3yo has recent lunch developed a love for noodle soups like ramen and he keeps asking for it.

Grilled asparagus and maybe risotto? Or at the most spaghetti with bacon of course.


Browsing:

5 great Canadian Muslim books (Book Riot)

“Nevertheless, She Persisted” and the age of the weaponized meme (The Atlantic)

10 great novels on freedom of expression that aren’t 1984 (Lit Hub)

Added to my TBR:

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (A Life in Books)

 

Last week:

I read:
Buffy: Glutton for Punishment – Kel McDonald, Yishan Li (Artist)
Buffy The High School Years: Freaks and Geeks – Faith Erin Hicks, Yishan Li (Artist)
Captain Marvel – Tara Butters, Michele Fazekas, Kris Anka (Illustrator), Tara Guggenheim, Felipe Smith (Illustrator)
The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984 – Riad Sattouf
Before the Feast – Saša Stanišić
I posted:

#comicsfebruary – Captain Marvel, Buffy and more

 

#comicsfebruary – Captain Marvel, Buffy and more

 

Captain Marvel Vol. 1: Rise of Alpha Flight (Captain Marvel (2016-) #1-5) – Tara Butters, Michele Fazekas, Kris Anka (Illustrator), Tara Guggenheim, Felipe Smith (Illustrator)

I like the look of this Captain Marvel – the hair!! Although I have to say I am always confused by Captain Marvel and the different versions. There’s another one by Kelly Sue DeConnick? Anyway, this one has some Guardians of the Galaxy in it, and Alpha Flight, which is apparently a team of Canadian superheroes that had its own series in the 1980s to 1990s. There’s a sasquatch! The Captain Marvel storyline was kinda fun – they’re in a space station and at first it seems like a diplomatic position (i.e. desk job).

Buffy: The High School Years – Freaks & Geeks (Buffy: The High School Years #1) –Faith Erin Hicks, Yishan Li (Artist), Joss Whedon (Executive Producer)

Buffy: The High School Years – Glutton for Punishment (Buffy: The High School Years #2) – Kel Mcdonald, Yishan Li (Artist), Joss Whedon (Executive Producer)

I was so excited to see this! It was an interesting choice of illustration style, a little bit cutesy and I guess more manga-like? At times I thought, this does look like Sarah Michelle Geller and Alyson Hannigan (although she seems more demure and less quirky in the comic).

The storyline though was a bit lacking I thought. I preferred the first one, where Buffy was worried about losing her friends. In terms of other Buffy comics I’ve only read Season 8 but I think those were a lot better in terms of storyline. Of course the high school years were far more innocent and carefree (well as carefree as a slayer can be), so I can understand the different tone they’re going for here. And I’d still read more of this series.

Book three will be out in July.

And apparently it has been 20 years since Buffy first premiered on TV!!

Blue Bloods: The Graphic Novel (Blue Bloods: The Graphic Novel #1) – Melissa de la Cruz, Robert Venditti, Alina Urusov (Illustrator)

 

Well this was definitely a very pretty comic. I didn’t realize it when I picked it up but this is the graphic novelisation of a YA series about vampires in New York. Where of course everyone is very pretty, even the boys. And all the girls have long legs. Also, everyone is very white. It’s like Gossip Girl, with fangs.

Amazingly, the actual YA series has 7 (?) books.

But I don’t think I will read the books though. And as far as I can tell, this is the first and only comic version of the series.

The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir (L’Arabe du futur #1) – Riad Sattouf
This book is a graphic memoir of a young boy whose mum is French and dad is Syrian. His dad is a professor and they move from France to Libya and then to Syria for his work. And life in Libya and Syria as seen through the boy’s eyes is at once exciting and sad and terrifying. The kids in Syria were relentless bullies, even though they were related.

I wanted so much for the mum to do something about it all. To put her foot down and say no, we are not moving to Syria. Or no, we have to leave – for reasons perhaps including the not very ideal living conditions in Libya (where a house with no one at home means anyone can come and claim it for their own!), the fact that their child didn’t know any Arabic. His dad is one especially strange man.

Curiously, the second book in the series focuses just on 1984-1985. I will have to borrow it from the library to find out more!

 

It’s Monday and I’ve been reading comics

 

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date

 

 
My mum is visiting from Singapore and brought lots of Chinese New Year goodies with her! Hooray!

 She even brought along a package of ingredients for lohei, a kind of salad that is eaten during the new year for good luck. And we invited some friends over for a new year celebration dinner. 

Yusheng is a new year tradition found only Singapore and Malaysia. At least it seems that way. Our friend from Hong Kong didn’t know about it, and you don’t really find it in Chinese restaurants here in the Bay Area, many of which are Cantonese style restaurants. 

The package comes with some pickled vegetables, crackers and sauces. We shredded carrots and radish  and pomelo and added some smoked salmon. Usually sashimi salmon is used but we didn’t have any. As a kid I used to detest yusheng, except for the crackers  but as an adult I just adore its sweet-salty-sour-bitter combination. 

 

The kids loved the tossing part but none of them ate it! 

Currently…

 

Reading:
Everyone in Their Place: The Summer of Commissario Ricciardi – Maurizio de Giovanni

 

 

 

To be Young, Gifted and Black – Lorraine Hansberry 

Watching:

The usual – The Grand Tour, Mad Men, Parenthood  

Listening:

Nothing at the moment! 

 

Eating:



Homemade waffles for breakfast

Drinking:
Nespresso

Cooking:

Mee rebus 

Chicken and potatoes

Browsing:

17 Books to read this February (Lit Hub)

Book recs from the 7 countries targeted by the travel ban (Book Riot)

Ghost writing (The Millions)

Added to my TBR:

BookDragon reviews The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap by Gish Jen

Kerry talks about Among the Ruins by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Stir by Jessica Fechtor and a tomato soup recipe (Kahakai Kitchen)

Last week:

I read:




Blue Bloods – Melissa de la Cruz, Robert Venditti, Alina Urusov (Illustrator)
Captain Marvel: Rise of Alpha Flight – Tara Butters, Michele Fazekas, Kris Anka (Illustrator), Tara Guggenheim, Felipe Smith (Illustrator)
Death in the air – Agatha Christie

I posted:

 

Back to the Classics: A Raisin in the Sun

Top 10 comics

Back to the Classics: A Raisin in the Sun

 

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Don’t laugh, but for the longest time, I thought this play/musical had to do with erm, farming. I’d heard of it, but have never seen the play or the musical or the film.

It takes its name from this Langston Hughes poem.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– Langston Hughes, Harlem (Dream Deferred)

What an amazing poem.

A Raisin in the Sun is a story about a black family living in Chicago’s South Side – Walter and his wife Ruth, their son Travis, Walter’s mother and sister Beneatha all live together in a small rundown apartment.

“Weariness has, in fact, won in this room. Everything has been polished, washed, sat on, used, scrubbed too often. All pretenses but living itself have long since vanished from the very atmosphere of this room.”

Walter’s father has recently died, and they’re waiting for a life insurance cheque of $10,000. Walter plans to invest that in a liquor store with some acquaintances. But his mother puts most of it into a new house – one in an all-white neighbourhood. Unfortunately their soon-to-be new neighbours want none of that, and a representative arrives offering to buy them out. This man who asks the family:

“What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren’t wanted and where some elements – well – people can get awful worked up when they feel that their whole way of life and everything they’ve ever worked for is threatened.”

The plot echoes Hansberry’s own experience. When she was 8, her father Carl Hansberry bought a house in a subdivision restricted to whites, and their neighbours got an injunction to have them vacate the house. Carl Hansberry challenged the ruling, bringing about the case Hansberry vs Lee.

This play set many precedents. After difficulty securing funding, a location, the play opened on March 11, 1959, and A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, with a black director, and a black cast (except for one minor character), including Sidney Poitier. What a feat for that time, when theatergoers were mostly white. According to a 1999 New York Times article, Hansberry once told a reporter that Broadway’s perception of black people involved ”cardboard characters, cute dialect bits, or hip-swinging musicals from exotic scores.”

A Raisin in the Sun ended up playing for 19 months on Broadway. Hansberry won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play, and the 1973 musical was adapted from the play. It really was a play that made history.

As James Baldwin said in his introduction to Hansberry’s To Be Young, Gifted and Black, published after her death:

“…I had never in my life seen so many black people in the theater. And the reason was that never before, in the entire history of the American theater, had so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage. Black people ignored the theater because the theater had always ignored them.”

A true American classic.

 

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Sadly, Hansberry died young – at age 34 of pancreatic cancer.

  • A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
  • A Raisin in the Sun, screenplay (1961)
  • “On Summer” (essay) (1960)
  • The Drinking Gourd (1960)
  • What Use Are Flowers? (written c. 1962)
  • The Arrival of Mr. Todog – parody of Waiting for Godot
  • The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality (1964)
  • The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1965)
  • To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words (1969)
  • Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays / by Lorraine Hansberry. Edited by Robert Nemiroff (1994)
  • Toussaint 

 

backtotheclassics2017

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

– A classic by a woman author.