New Writing from, and About, Syrian Authors

Most Syrian authors I read continue to grasp charged and powerful hope.

Syrian-American author Alia Malek published in Jadaliyya this week “When Official Memory is Amnesia,” an essay that touches on, among other things, Biblical history, Assad, and her Hama-born grandmother, who:

…always cut quite a figure, tall in her heels from Beirut, a Kent cigarette never far from her lips—from which witty and acerbic commentary was always forthcoming.

Her grandmother’s Damascus house has been beset by ugliness, “the house’s old wooden windowpanes and shutters shrunken and unable to keep out the bluster.” Yet:

Nevertheless, it is a lovely house, surrounded by grapevines and citrus trees of every kind.  Light fills it and breezes drift through it, and even though it cannot hide that it is old and once abused, it is clear that it has been re-taken by those who loved it and would love it again.

Jadaliyya also posted five short texts by celebrated Syrian short-story writer Zakariya Tamer, found among the stories he’s been posting to Facebook and trans. Marilyn Hacker. (You can also read several English-language collections by Tamer, including Breaking Knees, trans. Ibrahim Muhawi, and The Hedgehog, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies. From Jadaliyya:

What is left

Each writer is what he writes, and that’s all, neither more nor less, and any other noise he makes has no more value than grains of sand piled onto other grains of sand. Today there are writers who fill the public forums of Syria sighing and moaning about their support for the revolutions, but all that they wrote before the revolution was no more than whispers and insinuations in locked bedrooms where women are preparing to undress, and they are no more than what they had written, not what they claim now.

The short-short is from Tamer’s Facebook page, “The Spur,” about which he said in an April 2012 interview:

I have to admit though, Facebook blindsided me, it made me feel as if it is a land that is not for me, that I am an old dignified bearded man in a turban who’s being invited to a loud wild party packed with drunks and drug addicts, for there are worthless, vulgar and trivial pages that are very popular with many fans. However, there are other pages that deserve respect and recognition, pages that express the luminous beautiful side of the Arab people.

Facebook introduced me to wonderful new friends that I cherish and it currently helps me know people, their opinions and feelings. This knowledge is indispensable for any writer, for they are the feed and the fuel. As for the comments on my writings, most of them are still hasty, giving me a sense that I am in a bona fide hospital for the lunatics, where it is easy for people to tell you that you are the genius of your era, but it is similarly easy for others to say that you are a traitor who sold his soul for a bunch of dollars.

What really makes me happy is that most of my friends on “The Spur” Facebook page are young ones.

Also, at Brown University, Nihad Sirees read from his novel, Silence and the Roar, and:

The selection Sirees read portrayed a conversation between the polemic narrator and his aging mother, who tries to hide her concern over her son’s safety in an increasingly unstable environment. The read also depicted a corrupted leader and the rippling impact of his twisted policies through a symbolic anecdote of him physically falling and being caught by the narrator.

Max Weiss must have wrapped up his work translating The Silence and the Roarwhich is set to come out from Pushkin Press in January. Sirees is currently living in Egypt, and told The Herald: “It was impossible to live there anymore as a writer. It is not just about eating and drinking. Writers — we need peaceful and calm circumstances in order to think and create.”

Also, Beirut39 laureate and novelist Dima Wannous wrote this week in the Washington Post, “In the Syrian revolution, a victory over fear

The new Syria — whatever it will be — will not be more wretched than it was before the revolution.