Friday Finds: War in Translation and Giving Voice to the Women of Syria

Our new Friday series scours the Internet for the best of writing about Arabic literature or translation:

essayThis week, it’s Lebanese writer Lina Mounzer’s beautifully conceived and tightly written essay, “War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria.”

Mounzer’s first short story, “The One-Eyed Man,” appeared in Hikayat: An Anthology of Lebanese Women’s Writing, published by Telegram Books. She has written for BidounChimurenga ChronicMakhzinand others, and has translated fiction by the Lebanese writers Chaza Charafeddine and Hassan Daoud, among others. She has taught Creative Writing at both the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University. She has been awarded several international fellowships, including the 2010-2011 Akademie Schloss Solitude literature fellowship in Germany and the 2014 UNESCO-Aschberg writing fellowship in Brazil.

Here, however, Mounzer is writing about her work translating and inhabiting the words of Syrians, particularly Syrian women.

She does so with elegance and serious reflection. It begins:

In the last few months, I’ve moved houses no less than 35 times.

I have been threatened, beaten, strip-searched, thrown in prison, tortured and made to watch as my mother knelt weeping at the dirty feet of tribal leaders to beg for any information about my kidnapped father. I have waited at countless checkpoints, praying that no one finds the bread, the money, the schoolbooks, the chocolates I have hidden in my bag, on my body, trying to smuggle them through to people on the other side. I have buried seven husbands, three fiancés, fifteen sons and a two-week old daughter I finally agreed to have at 42 for my husband’s sake, to bring life back to his tongue after we laid our two grown, handsome sons to rest, one after the other, and grief took all his words away. Our daughter did not die because of a bullet or mortar shell or carbomb, like my father, sister, brother, cousin, mother, neighbor, pharmacist, teacher. She died because the siege had cut off not only our food and electricity, but also our medicine and medical supplies. There were no child-size incubators to be found in our city. My husband rushed her slowly asphyxiating body from one hospital to another until he finally found one in the next town over. He left her with the nurses there and came home at dawn, exhausted but joyful in his relief. In the afternoon he went back to bring her home, and was led away from the small pediatric ward and down to the morgue, where her perfect blue body lay among countless others they had not yet found place enough to bury. Her name was Fatma.

In the last few months, I have watched my city, Maarrat al-Numan, burn, I have watched my city, Raqqa, burn, I have fled Aleppo from the increased fanaticism of the rebels, I have fled Aleppo from the chokehold of the regime, I have fled Aleppo to Turkey, I have fled Aleppo to Lebanon, I have fled Aleppo not knowing if I will ever return, or what I might find if I do.

All this I have watched from my living room in Beirut.

Keep reading at lithub.

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Categories: Syria, translation

4 replies

  1. that amount of grief is overwhelming. i want to write something but there is nothing to say.

  2. Extraordinary writing, relentlessly painful and inclusive in its humanity. Her language and memory are now a permanent part of my own thinking.

    To understand the certainty and impossibility of what she is undertaking, to realize that words are always trying to get further into us, that they want to help and betray us, that they are all we have as we cross the border of consciousness and responsibility. To translate/transplant memory and its connective tissue of culture is a necessary, complicated, and yes, a brutal task as language can displace complacency and avoidance of the truth. Translation is an essential task that can help remove the “false memory” that the media, those with blood on their hands, and the innate lies of each government are more than willing to provide us with.

    Lina Mounzer’s essay is essential reading, it simply won’t leave me and I am the better for how uncomfortable it makes my body and language feel. Her words and thinking will simply never leave me.

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