Syria’s ‘War Literature’

One of the “wall photos” at Zakaria Tamer’s المهماز.

Over at Syria TodaySarah Abu Assali writes this month about Syria’s “war literature.” She discusses the work of acclaimed playwright Mohammad al-Attar, International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF)-shortlisted novelist Khaled Khalifa, “Beirut39”-winning novelist Samar Yazbek, and acclaimed short-story author Zakaria Tamer, Naguib Mahfouz medal-winning novelist Khalil Sweileh, among others.

All have in some way shifted their work in the last year and a half. Al-Attar, for instance, has written several theatrical works that respond to the uprising. One, titled “Could You Look at the Camera?” is constructed from the testimonies of detainees. Al-Attar told The Economist earlier this month:

“I have done two drafts of this play. The first was a verbatim narration of the experiences of five people I interviewed when they were released from detention. For the [final] draft, I rewrote the text and portrayed it as a fictional story in which Noura, an upper-middle class amateur film-maker in her 30s, wants to make a film about detention experiences in Syria.

The title comes from a scene in which Noura is shooting with the detainees. She repeats this instruction: “Could you please look into the camera?” I felt that when the former detainees were telling me about their experiences and memories they were going deep inside themselves and challenging their fears, asking what shall we say, and what not? The act of narrating or re-narrating is very laborious, and there is the same difficulty when looking at a camera.”

He told Abu Assali that this, and the other plays he has written this year, “are just a reaction to complex moments as they occur, without imposing the distance of time or judgment.” He added that this “artistic record” could be used later for “writing history from an artistic point of view.”

IPAF-shortlisted novelist Khaled Khalifeh said that he has gone from writing novels and dramas to writing Facebook statuses; Khalifeh also wrote an open letter that was translated into more than a dozen languages and called on the world’s people to “take action in solidarity with my people.”

Abu Assali noted that Syrian novelist Zakaria Tamer also is using Facebook as a new method of distributing work. In January, he established a page called Mihmaz, where he writes tiny short stories portraying scenes of the current harsh reality. Some of them have been translated into French; I don’t know that any have made their way into English.

Novelist and poet Adel Mahmoud told Abu Assali that current writings are “mere impressions about the happenings…tales and ideas with a newsy nature, covering daily incidents from different perspectives.”

He also said: “Syrian literary production will be very much like that of Lebanon following the civil war. War literature is very weak compared to post-war literature.”

Novelist Samar Yazbek risked her life, as well as the lives of others, to assemble the painful and moving Woman in the CrossfireWhether Crossfire will be read in 100 years: I don’t know. But it will and should be read now. 

Syria Today: Writing Towards Freedom

The Economist: Q&A with Mohammad Al Attar: Writing as a tool of protest

Thanks to Sarah Abu Assali; I’m still hoping that she opens up a literary blog.