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Carol Ann Duffy nominated Syrian writer, Samar Yazbeg, for Pinter prize. Read my review of her book in The Irish Times

A Woman in the Crossfire Diaries of the Syrian Revolution

by Samar Yazbek Translated by  Max Weiss  Published by Haus 269pp £12.99 stg

 

Syrian novelist, Samar Yazbek, belongs to the Alawite sect but is vehemently opposed to Bashar Assad and his government. For that, she is ostracised by her family. Labled an “unveiled infidel, an Alawite apostate”, she is summoned for questioning, led away blindfold, slapped in the face and knocked to the ground more than once by army officers. “Isn’t it awful when that angelic face gets hit,” says one of them. But this woman with long blond hair and soft blue eyes is no angel as this book reveals. A Woman In The Crossfire is a collection of valuable interviews she did with activists, which are interspersed with a daily account of her life during those first fearful months of the revolution. Yazbek (43) is that unusual phenomenon – a single mother, living on her own, chain-smoking her way to survival. The threat of arrest and of harm to her teenage daughter is a living nightmare. What keeps her going is her political involvement in the revolution.

This is a handbook for non-violent activists. Co-ordinating committees are set up, internet contacts  made and maintained, posters printed, videos filmed and aired on the social media. The bleakness of her life, however, is on every page. When she requests permission to take her daughter out of the country, she must apply to a sharia judge even though Syria is ostensibly secular. She is aware of the  conflicts within Syrian society: “The murderers and I,” she writes, “are from the same city. Some of their blood flows in mine.” She maintains sectarianism is a red herring introduced by government supporters and counteracts it with instances when imams of different sects have walked hand in hand in demonstrations. Occasionally, we get a glimpse of another Syria when she writes wistfully of childhood visits to the town of al Tabka, on the legendary Euphrates.

Sometimes, her mood is lightened by those early mornings when she takes a quiet, pre-dawn smoke on her balcony overlooking the timeless city of Damascus. But in the end, the death threats in leaflets distributed among her own Alawite community get to her and, together with her daughter, she leaves her beloved country. She now lives in Paris where she wrote this book.

Mary Russell’s latest book is My Home is Your Home A Journey Round Syria.

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