The graphic novel Escape from Syria, written by Samya Kullab and drawn by Jackie Roche, was published in October 2017 and shortlisted for the School Library Association’s Information Book Award and translated to several languages. Kullab author participated in this year’s Egypt Comix Week, where she met Egyptian novelist Ahmed al-Mahdi:
By Ahmed Salah Al-Mahdi
Translated by Emad El-Din Aysha
“When I leave…be sure I did everything I could to stay!”
Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, which followed revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the whole world has been watching the happenings in that country with a bloodied heart. We have watched the transformation of the Syrian revolution into a fierce war, in which the regime has used its entire armory of outlawed weapons to nip the nascent revolution in its bud and reestablish autocracy.
This war has drawn many parties from around the world to fight in the Levant, from Russia to America to Iran to Lebanon, each side with its own set of goals, as the many innocents of Syria watch their homeland transformed into rubble and ruins.
We saw enthusiastic youths eager to go to Syria to fight under a number of different banners. Each saw in the war a poetic ideal, only to be shocked once they arrived, when the ugly face of the war grew clear. It reminds me of the poetry of Imru Al-Qays:
الحرب أول ما تكون فتية … تبدو بزينتها لكل جهول
حتى إذا حميت وشب ضرامها … عادت عجوزا غير ذات خليل
شمطاء جزت رأسها وتنكرت … مكروهة للشم والتقبيل
The Syrian people have been torn between these struggles, and refugees were forced leave, seeking their fate in different lands, whether among their Arab neighbors in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, or beyond the Mediterranean, in the European countries, or in Australia or the Americas. The tragedy of the Syrian refugees is undoubtedly the worst of its kind in this decade. And the crisis continues to loom with no resolution in sight and little or no hope for the return of these refugees to the sweet embrace of their motherland.
Escape From Syria tells this story of suffering, in pictures, written by the Canadian journalist and author Samya Kullab and drawn by Jackie Roche. I was fortunate to meet the author at the fifth annual Egypt Comix Week, where she spoke about the art of comix alongside Egyptian writer Tareq Imam.
Kullab experienced the refugee crisis in Canada, as she was involved in helping Syrian immigrants there, which allowed her to gather the threads of this story from real events. The narrative tells the story of a Syrian family from Aleppo: Walid, Dalia, their daughter Amina, and their son Yusuf. It shows the impact of this war on their lives, and how they bravely faced war, siege, poverty, and disease.
The novel starts with a quiet, green scene of Aleppo in 2013, followed by the explosion that changed the course of many lives. The writer wanted to open our eyes to this harsh reality from the first pages of the book before she moved to contemporary Canada to show the family struggling to integrate into a new society. Between these two events, the writer tells the story of long years of struggle.
The book describes with precision what is happening to refugees in the camps, bringing us to meet many different refugees with different points of view on the situation. What particularly impressed me was the author’s courage in addressing a number of political topics, such as how the roots of the war lie in the time of Hafez al-Assad, who came to power in a military coup in 1970, and the repression suffered by the Syrian people under his reign and that of his son Bashar. It describes the suffering of citizens living under Daesh — who went from the frying pan into the fire — with great tenderness. I was left feeling nothing but a deep sympathy for the family of Walid. I felt like I was there with them; feeling their grief and their fear, as though I were one of them.
The drawings contributed to the delivery of these impressions to the reader. The illustrations are evocative, and you can tell what a character is thinking by looking at their features. You will also ‘feel’ the beauty of Aleppo before the war, and the sorrow of what happened to it during the conflict.
The book was a worthy experience, and at the end the reader will be even more sympathetic with Syrian refugees, wherever they are. I hope that this war will soon end. I hope that these immigrants can return to their homeland. I hope that Syria and Aleppo will grow green again, as they once were.