On the Verge of a Nation's Breakdown

Samar Yazbek's Memoir Chronicles the Syrian Uprising

Verbatim Memoir: Many of the interviews carried out are so gripping they are reprinted in their entirety.
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Verbatim Memoir: Many of the interviews carried out are so gripping they are reprinted in their entirety.

By Jo-Ann Mort

Published November 24, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
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A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution
By Samar Yazbek
Translated from the Arabic by Max Weiss
Haus Publishing, 256 pages, $18.95

Syrian journalist and novelist Samar Yazbek was born into privilege 42 years ago, a member of a well-connected, wealthy Alawite family and related by marriage to Osama bin Laden on her mother’s side. At 16, she ran away from home, returning only to run away again at 19. That time, she got married in a civil ceremony, moved to Cyprus and gave birth to her daughter. Then she divorced and returned to Damascus.

Even before her career as a journalist, filmmaker and TV writer, as well as the editor of Women of Syria, a website dedicated to the rights and freedom of women, the secular Yazbek riled the powers in charge because her four novels, filled with eroticism and feminist characters, challenged mores in Syrian society. Today, after a harrowing year in Syria, where her journalism in support of the Syrian revolution imperiled her life and her 18-year-old daughter’s, she and her daughter live in exile in Paris.

This is an extraordinary memoir, written as a diary of the first 100 days of the Syrian uprising. It is a testament to the desire for change in Syria and the potential for justice existing side by side with unspeakable human cruelty. It is extraordinary not simply because it is an urgent and graphic chronicle of a massacre led by Bashar Assad against his own people, and of the people’s urge to fight on and live in freedom, but also because it is — simultaneously — a story of a contemporary woman born of privilege whose daughter pleads with her to stop her political activism, but whose desire for justice puts her front and center in the revolt.

Many of the interviews Yazbek conducted as a journalist are printed here verbatim, along with interviews conducted by her journalist colleagues in the Syrian media who fed her their reporting. These interviews include stories of a security officer who beat and killed a husband in front of his wife, and then killed her 12-year-old son; girls who threw gasoline on themselves to avoid being raped, and whole neighborhoods set on fire in Hama, with entire villages of men and boys being carted away.


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