Sabriya: Damascus Bitter Sweet

Current stop: Syria

Damascus became like a humble dove that fold its wings over a fracture and remains silent in steadfast defiance. Damascus, a smile of sorrow, harboring tragedy. The secret of your eternal survival, dear Damascus, is that silence in the face of disaster. You have suffered so much. Through raids and plunder, you remain forever.

I definitely struggled with this book. Sometimes when reading translated work, I find it difficult to know if it’s just that the translation isn’t the best or if I just don’t enjoy the style of writing. That being said, this novel is part of a series of books translated into English though Interlink’s Emerging Voices Series, which is a wonderful initiative to bring “the once-unheard voices of writers who have achieved wide acclaim at home, but were not recognized beyond the borders of their native lands.” They have a whole list of translated books that I am sure are worth a look.

As the quote I selected suggests, this novel focuses significantly on the changes Damascus went through during the French occupation, and the effect the occupation had on the characters. Although our titular character, Sabriya, dies at the beginning through suicide, we learn her life story through her diary she has left for her niece. We learn of a tragic life of a bright, motivated young girl who had immense potential but was repressed by societal expectations as well as the will of her own strict family.

While I did struggle with this book, I am glad I read it. The author, Ulfat Idilbi, is beloved in Syria. As the Syrian Civil War continues to rage, we must listen to the voices of Syrians. Although Idilbi died before the war began, she is an important writer and her novel surely influenced many young Syrians.

Books like this can be tough. Sometimes it’s difficult to relate, but I know I need to be reminded of what goes on around the world, and for me one of the best ways to do that is through literature.

I think one of the reasons Americans in particular lack empathy for refugees and the struggles of those who are not American is because we are so far removed from these countries. Additionally, we receive very little education on world history (lots of ancient history) or geography. I truly believe reading can increase empathy. I’d like to read Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace, which is a memoir about a young girl who grew up in Aleppo and documents the Syrian Civil War. If you know someone who struggles to find empathy for the Syrians affected by the war, perhaps you can suggest one of these two books to them.

Next stop: Iraq.

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