October 8, 2015
Aftenposten, Norway, interviews Yazbek

Aftenposten, Norway, interviews Yazbek

Interview conducted by Margrethe Zacho Haarde for Aftenposten, published on September 25.

Photo credit: Aftenposten

(….) Samar Yazbek has written her fifth book, a literary narrative, The Crossing. Yazbek writes about Syrian families who have been displaced from their homes and hiding in cold, dark caves; children with amputated limbs who sit in the sun and play. She describes people who have had fingers cut off, one soldier mutilated because he refuses to obey orders to rape. (…)

Yazbek consistently rejects all questions regarding her family, even when she is asked about how she envisions the future of her own daughter, who is in her early twenties (…) In The Guardian, in an interview conducted in 2012, they write that Yazbek rebelled against the conservative mindset regime when she was barely 16 years old. She ran away from home (…) With a dream of becoming a writer, she decided to make it on her own. Writing critically about her people and without shame portraying eroticism (…) was bad enough. But it became even worse when she was later branded a traitor after she joined the revolution. People stopped talking to her family. “I feel guilty because I have always caused trouble for my family. Therefore, I will speak as little as possible about it”. “Several claimed that my brothers were not real men, because they have not taken the life from me”. she told the British newspaper (…)

Yazbek is on a death list. Yet she chose to go: On her first trip back to Syria, she sneaks in from the border with Turkey (…). She did not go back to write, but to help women and children in the liberated North. On the other side of the wire fences, she was overwhelmed by the changes and atrocities that met her. There was no dawning freedom. She quickly decided to document the most of what she saw, although she at first did not dare to publish anything she wrote. “I dared not tell anyone that I was writing a book, for I was afraid of the consequences”. No one was let in for free reporting on what was happening. She took careful note of the names of everyone she met and contacted them afterwards to get the permission to use their stories. The fear still sits in her. “I do not want to live in exile, I would rather be at home in Syria. And when I went back the first time, it was because I really wanted to go home and help. It had nothing to do with courage and bravery, I was terrified absolutely all the time”. (…)

How do you perceive Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis? “I think it’s amazing to see how Europeans provide help where it is needed. Here, one can see the positive effects growing up in a democracy has on people! It is very interesting and great to experience.” What about the politicians’ handling of the crisis? “I fully understand that it is difficult, this is of course a terribly complex situation. I have seen with my own eyes how the whole world has turned away from what has been developing in Syria (…) Syrians would rather live in Syria. But as long as the world continues to turn their back on what is going on inside, the refugee flows will continue” (…)

She is not the same as she was before the revolution, she says. ” I know that some believe that one can write off their sorrow and pain. For me it was the opposite. It came back with a doubled strength. It got stuck inside me.” (…) What kind of relationship do you have to hope today compared to five years ago? “I’m still driven by hope, but have a little different view of it. I no longer believe in short term changes in Syria” (…)  “What is left of Syria now? A poor animal skinned alive, still breathing while everyone tries to claw its share out of it” (…)

The Crossing was published by Cappelen Damm in Norway in September 2015.