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?

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2016 Reading Challenges

Ah, a new year, a clean slate! And this year, with my number of books read set back to zero, I would like to begin again and join some challenges. More importantly, I will try my very best to maintain my enthusiasm for the challenges throughout the year!

 

BackToTheClassics2016

 

Karen at Books and Chocolate is once again hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge,  where we will be reading books written at least 50 years ago (by 1966) in 12 different categories. Or at least I hope to be able to read books in all 12 categories!

1. A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.

An Old-Fashioned Girl – Louisa May Alcott (published 1869)

2.  A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1966.

The Making of a Marchioness – Frances Hodgson Burnett (published 1901)

3.  A classic by a woman author.

Read: Miss Happiness and Miss Flower – Rumer Godden (published 1961)

The Time of Man – Elizabeth Madox Roberts (published 1935)

4.  A classic in translation.

Read: Alberto Moravia’s Conjugal Love (translated from Italian)
Journey to the End of the Night – Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Ralph Manheim (Translator) (published 1932)
Dom Casmurro – Machado de Assis (published in 1899)
The Makioka Sisters – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Edward G. Seidensticker (Translator) (published 1943)

5.  A classic by a non-white author.

Read: The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry (published 1959)
Go Tell it On the Mountain – James Baldwin (published 1953)
The Train to Pakistan – Khushwant Singh (published 1956)

6.  An adventure classic – can be fiction or non-fiction.

Read: Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl

Wind, Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Lewis Galantière (Translator) (published 1939)
Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak – Maurice Herzog (published 1951)

7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic.

The Man in the High Castle – Philip K Dick (published 1962)
When the Sleeper Wakes – HG Wells (published 1899)

8.  A classic detective novel.

The Crime at Black Dudley – Margery Allingham (published 1929)
And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie (published 1939)

9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title.

Howard End – EM Forster
Winesburg, Ohio – Sherwood Anderson

10. A classic which has been banned or censored. If possible, please mention why this book was banned or censored in your review.

A Separate Peace – John Knowles

according to the ALA: Challenged in Vernon-Verona-Sherill, NY School District (1980) as a “filthy, trashy sex novel.” Challenged at the Fannett-Metal High School in Shippensburg, Pa. (1985) because of its allegedly offensive language. Challenged as appropriate for high school reading lists in the Shelby County, Tenn. school system (1989) because the novel contained “offensive language.” Challenged at the McDowell County, N.C. schools (1996) because of “graphic language.” Source: Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, May 1980, p. 62; Nov. 1985, p. 204; Jan, 1990, pp 11-12; Jan. 1997, p. 11.

11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college). 

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift (published 1726)

12. A volume of classic short stories. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories.

Stories – Katherine Mansfield (published 1956)

ReadMyOwnDamnBooksbutton

#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks over at Estellas Revenge

 

I’ve got a pile of books on my night stand, and another next to my Macbook. Both of which I hope to clear by the end of 2016.

 

  

 

diversity

Diversity on the Shelf 2016 over at The Englishist

I’ve taken part in Aarti’s Diversiverse for the past couple of years now, but I try to read as diversely as possible throughout the year too. I just need to post about these books already. Hopefully this challenge will encourage me to do more of that.

I’m going for 5th Shelf: Read 25+ books

BOOKS READ 

1. Delicious Foods – James Hannaham
2. Supermutant Magic Academy – Jillian Tamaki
3. Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order – Gene Luen Yang
4. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye – Sonny Liew
5. The Makioka Sisters – Junichiro Tanizaki
6. The Wrath and the Dawn – Renee Ahdieh
7. The Old Garden – Hwang Sok-yong
8. Nijigahara Holograph – Inio Asano
9. The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah
10. Fresh off the Boat – Eddie Huang
11. Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness – Jennifer Tseng
12. Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari
13. The Paper Menagerie and other stories – Ken Liu
14. Who Slashed Celanire’s throat? A Fantastical Novel – Maryse Conde
The Partner Track by Helen Wan
15. Half a Lifelong Romance by Eileen Chang

I’m not going to list all the books right now, instead, I’m noting some books already on the lists of my other challenges (see above)

In the Light of What we know – Zia Haider Rahman
Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me and other stories – Cyril Wong
The Makioka Sisters – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Edward G. Seidensticker (Translator)
A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry
Go Tell it On the Mountain – James Baldwin
The Train to Pakistan – Khushwant Singh

I’m also adding to that some books on my list for Diversiverse last year that I never got to
Skin Folk: stories by Nalo Hopkinson
Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho

 

Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader
Non-fiction Reading Challenge – The Introverted Reader

Explorer–Read 6-10

What makes this book so great – Jo Walton
Why I read: the serious pleasure of books – Wendy Lesser
Fire shut up in my bones – Charles M Blow
Four seasons in Rome – Anthony Doerr
Population: 485 – Michael Perry
Between the World and Me: – Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up – Liao Yiwu, Wenguang Huang (Translator)
As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto

(and more to come)