Mashallah interviews Samar Yazbek
THE PRISON INSIDE ME – Excerpts of the Mashallah interview.
Well before the Syrian uprising, Samar Yazbek was challenging the existing taboos of Syrian society in her novels. Since the early days of the revolution, she was involved in the pro-revolutionary movements on the ground, despite the daily threats she was submitted to. On four occasions, Yazbek was taken to detention centres in order to “improve her writing” as one regime officer once put it. A Woman in the Crossfire is her diary of the first four months of the revolution, in which she mixes first-person chronicles of her everyday life and exclusive testimonies of various eye-witnesses (doctors, officers, activists). Some of her chronicles were initially published in the Arab press as early as during spring 2011; hence Yazbek was one of the first voices to describe the reality of the Syrian uprising from the inside. Last week, Mashallah News met with her in Paris where she currently lives in exile.
When did you start writing the diary?
It started in a spontaneous manner. I was thinking of writing a testimony which slowly turned into a book. The diary describes the first four months of the revolution.
At what time of the day did you write? Did you have a fixed schedule?
I usually write in the morning. I didn’t write every day, only when I felt the urge to write.
Did the writing process help you analyse your own feelings and the ongoing events in general?
Of course, it helped me to distance myself to what was going on. They say that writing makes the pain go away. Paradoxically, I discovered that this writing made my pain grow stronger.
You often mention in the diary how blurry the frontiers between reality and fiction are; how reality often looks like a screenplay, a ferocious fiction. Would you say that this type of political environment makes fiction irrelevant?
The political environment didn’t necessarily make fiction irrelevant. What I was trying to say is that the horror I saw surpassed any kind of fiction imaginable.
Would you say it’s an instinctive survival reflex to imagine the reality of the present as a nightmare, as something unreal?
Of course we tend to turn the reality into a fiction to make it more endurable. But when I compare reality to fiction in the book, it’s because the real horrors I saw went beyond what I could’ve imagined as a fiction writer. To instinctively reduce it to fiction was a way to deny the scale and extent of the real horror going on; that of a state killing its own people.
At one point you mention the silence of Syrian intellectuals. Could you elaborate on that?
My book is about how the revolution starts, not what’s going on now. Indeed, back then many intellectuals were silent simply because they didn’t understand the situation. They were shocked and perplexed like myself. Now, things have changed a lot. Some of them are intervening and taking a stand.