Samar Yazbek’s book just came out in English, at Haus publishing. The book’s translation was supported by the Sharjah Book Fair.
Below are excerpts of the review by Francis Beckett for The Guardian , June 22, 2012.
The Syrian novelist Samar Yazbek recognises government thugs as soon as they get out of their car: “Puffed-up muscles, tattoos, broad chests, an arrogant gaze, death.” She has the novelist’s eye for telling detail. Born in 1970 into an affluent and influential family, she comes from the same Alawi clan as the dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Her family connections kept her safe while she wrote novels that challenged taboos: Cinnamon, for example, compares a lesbian relationship favourably with an arranged marriage. But when the uprising began in March last year, and she started posting her opposition to the regime on Facebook and on rebel websites, no amount of establishment connections could keep her safe. Her parents disowned her, and a childhood schoolfriend texted her: “Dear traitor even god’s with the president and you’re still lost.” Her daughter, 17 when this book was written last year, begged her to stop putting them both in danger.
Yazbek did try silence for a while, after a polite man came to see her. “The most powerful people in the country are very angry with you,” he said, and urged her, in her own interests, to write something supportive of the regime. She said: “Tell them I’ll be quiet. Won’t that be enough?” He replied: “Just write something to get them off your back.”
She knew, too, why they set fire to the pharmacies: “So that people won’t be able to treat the wounded.” She had learned the bitter lesson that sectarian spite in the opposition makes Assad’s overthrow less likely and less hopeful – among the mountain of hate mail she received was one that began: “Dear unveiled infidel, the Syrian revolution doesn’t want an Alawite apostate like you in its ranks.” She knew the cynical use the regime makes of Israel and the Palestinians; one of her interviewees told her how the Palestinian prisoners got the worst beatings, and how he was told the beating would stop if he would say that he was holding up a picture of Ariel Sharon during the demonstration.