Sunday Times reviews Yazbek’s The Crossing: “A sobering glimpse of the wreckage that will be discovered when the war finally ends”

2 July 2015 148 views No Comment Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post


Margarette Driscoll, for Sunday Times, published June 28, 2015
Photo credit: Ulf Andersen, for the Sunday Times

[ Below a few excerpts ]

The battle for Tal Abyad, a Syrian border town, was playing out as I began The Crossing. The nightly news showed weather-beaten, exhausted refugees flooding to the Turkish border, only to be turned back at the last moment by black-clad Isis fighters blocking their way to freedom. Their despair and distress were visible across the barbed wire fence.

It was somewhere along that border, one night in August 2012, that Samar Yazbek crawled under the wire and made a break for it in the other direction — into war-torn Syria. After running for half an hour, “gasping for breath, trying to calm my beating heart”, she was picked up by a pair of rebel fighters who would be her guides on the first of three trips back to her devastated homeland.

It was insanely dangerous: a friend told Yazbek she was “showing off”, but there is little bravado in The Crossing, a narrative riddle with chain-smoking, nerve-racked anxiety. Under daily missile attach by government forces, with bombs raining from the skies, Yazbek travels through the countryside and from one ruined town to another, recording the stories of rebel fighters, armers, shopkeepers and families scraping an existence, some having abandonnes their shelled villages to live in cages…

Her book is a sobering glimpse of the wreckage that will be discovered when the war in Syria finally ends. But it is also a personal journey, in which Yazbek has to face up to the fact that the homeland she knew and loved has vanished, perhaps forever…

Getting through The Crossing sometimes feels as gruelling as Yazbek’s journey itself. The book is relentlessly bleak, but it sheds valuable light on day-to-day life inside Syria, something of which we know little, as so few journalists and writers are reporting from inside the country.

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