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.
Getty Images
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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

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.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.