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Reviewing Samar Yazbek

I had the fortune and opportunity to write a review of Samar Yazbek’s A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution for Syria Untold. The author takes coffee with regime-loyal couples by day and revolutionaries by night. She interviews a student protestor, then an illiterate fisherman. Each speaks at their length. The latter tells her, “We want them to leave us alone so we can live our lives, nothing more than that.” The diary fills with places and dates, the sizes of demonstrations and the methods of their suppression, the initials of the surviving and the names of the dead. She fights insomnia with Xanax. Check out the full review here.

In Gaziantep the weather is practically balmy, the sun still beating back the chill as November gets late. But it sets early. I am disappointed that friends here refuse group appointments because they are distrustful and grudge-bearing. I see them individually, a mixed bag of resignation and getting on with it. A large, ongoing NGO exodus began this year, much of it unwilling. Others have set exit dates for their projects to ‘wrap up’ without conclusions. All those offices of people who never cared to learn Turkish. All those offices whose impact was better than nothing. Nearly all Syrians remain. I see how many of the foreigners still act. They don’t get close to Syrians. When they hear someone is Syrian, their ears don’t perk up. They distance themselves with politeness. They associate with themselves. I never understood why these people came here. The most obvious explanation — that this was the best job offer on their table — that they came reluctantly — it doesn’t fully satisfy me, but I find no other explanation. The …

…to Finland from Greece from Deir al-Zor

Last time I was in Athens I met the young man from this post.  He finally got news he was being resettled in Finland a few months ago. He says things are better there, but that he has not learned any Finnish yet. One main complaint of his after being ‘temporarily’ in Greece for two years was that the EU resettlement plan was a lottery, so he did not know to where he would be relocated, and hence, what language he could start learning in preparation — two years of limbo, he didn’t invest in Greek and obviously not in Finnish (though his English improved). Safe to say, if he picked up a couple phrasebooks in the bookstore, or watched some youtube videos… none of them had much to do with Finnish. I was introduced to the work of Hein de Haas at the beginning of this year by a friend here in Athens. She has a lot of experience working with refugees in Africa and the Middle East, among other places. Over dinner some …

We Need Our Imaginings Confirmed

The title of a recent Global News article:  How chocolate-selling Syrian-refugee family defied skeptics, made their dream in Canada This Syrian-refugee family did not defy sketpics — another phrase overspilled on the English language from the reservoir of cliché by ESPN athlete profiles and puff pieces everywhere. The article indicates they may have been too busy: fleeing their country, surviving in a refugee camp, traveling to Canada, beginning chocolate production. Neither did this Syrian family make or realise their dream in Canada. Narratives such as this are foisted upon us over and over. A constant implication of those who promote them assume Canada is better than Syria for Syrians. Their arguments, if not nebulous, rely either on proof by induction or by GDP. These from the same enthusiasm as “America is the greatest country in the world.” I have yet to meet a Syrian who had not wanted, had not planned, to stay in Syria. Their dreams involved Syria. Those dreams became nightmares. And if they avoided the barrel bombs, escaped detention, skirted checkpoints, and were …

All our stories are the same

The doorbell rings. The women rise to receive Nour’s mother, clad in black, in the hall. Pleasantries.  “Prepare yourself,” Adnan whispers. Nour’s mother lived most of her life on the outskirts of Aleppo. Since fleeing to Turkey, she has been working as a dish washer in a NGO’s small Kilis office, earning 500 Turkish Lira [172 USD at the time, 140USD today] a month. This is low even by the abysmal standards of  Syrians in Turkey.  “Just a small amount — she is not taking a typical Turkish salary,”  Walad’s daughter Samar, a field officer working out of that office, explains. “I tried to help her with the card for cash assistance, but I didn’t get it. Someone at the office said that if we have a new project, we will be able to help her.” How did you come to Turkey? “All our stories are the same. We all left because of the regime. They attacked our house one day, the regime, randomly. At first, we rented a house in A’zaz city, for one month. Then …

The Shell by Mustafa Khalifa

The Shell is somehow very important and unknown. In a media landscape full of stories on Syria and opinions and panels and angles and infographics — this book, well known in the Arabic world and famous in Syria had trouble finding a publishing house in English and has received basically zero English press. I have been shopping the following review for five months now without success. * Musa, a Syrian in Paris, resolves to return home and direct films. A beautiful woman, Suzanne, urges him not to go. But his “isn’t just empty romanticism, it’s a genuine feeling.” Arrested at the airport, he spends the majority of a fourteen year detention in the Assad regime’s “Desert Prison” — Tadmur or Palmyra.  The narration that follows in Mustafa Khalifa’s Al Qawqaa (2006), published as The Shell (Paul Starkey trans.) just this year, is admirably empty of both romance and sentiment. Sentiment tempts writers, but here presumes the reader needs instruction on reacting to cruel and unusual punishments, summary executions, controlled starvations, and eight gallows, repeatedly used. …