December 12, 2023
Dagens nyheter: “Samar Yazbek provides a magnetic voice to the unbearable”

Dagens nyheter: “Samar Yazbek provides a magnetic voice to the unbearable”

Maria Schottenius reviews The Winds’ Abode in Dagens nyheter, 26 Nov. 2023

Samar Yazbek is a woman who has taken on gigantic tasks in her life. She is Syrian, Alawite, like her opponent in the Assad clan. And she is a writer, who writes peculiar novels with remarkable luster. In addition, she is a journalist and has tirelessly documented the Syrian civil war in various media: film, radio and television productions, newspapers, magazines and in book form.

The latest in Swedish in 2019 was “Nineteen women”, all of whom contributed with their war stories. She has been living in exile in Paris since 2011 and has acted from there on various fronts to support the democracy struggle in Syria.

Samar Yazbek has received a number of awards, both for her activism and for her writing, including the Swedish Tucholsky Prize, and she has visited Sweden a number of times. Her Swedish translator is Marie Anell, who in 2013 received the award for “Translation of the Year” for the novel “Cinnamon”. This is a concentrated and vibrant novel in which Yazbek describes a social and physical dependence between two women in a house where they are both prisoners of the man. In 2017 came the novel “The Blue Pen”, about a girl who is separated from her mother and whose life is reduced step by step. She doesn’t speak, can but won’t, and lives in the ruins, besieged with dead bodies and body parts around her. Her solace is the books she once read and she reframes the war events using childhood fairy tales as a template.

In Samar Yazbek’s new novel “The winds’ Abode”, the 19-year-old Ali lies badly bruised on a hill by a tree. He has been attacked. A leaf has stuck his eye and he thinks he is dead. It is unclear what remains of him. The heel is missing, he eventually notices. And the ear, is it still there? The hand? As he lies semi-unconscious, thoughts and memories flood him.

The exploration of his mutilated body continues while scenes from his life pass. In this quirky way, we get to know him and his living conditions. His thoughts are warmed on the one hand by the mother who came down from the mountains and was married off to the considerably older and tougher man who looked down on her and never showed any kindness. And the children, the “lumps of meat” that came out of her and became her secret joy.

Ali remembers the details, her eagerly working hands, her bent body. Only once did she speak to her husband, it was when the militia took Ali as well: “May God send his wrath upon you. You would have killed them all before they took him.” But it is a clouded brain we experience, where memories go around in strange circles.

Ali was a very special boy as a child. He refused to obey and resorted to fists. He was impossible to have in school. But he had a bond with an old psychic and indomitable woman and her belief in the wisdom and irony of tradition. The red-haired al-Hmayruna, unlike everyone else, had no respect for the men in power, she spat in their faces. In Samar Yazbek, disobedience is positive and is a recurring theme.

It is to the women’s reverence for the old faith and the old saints that Ali resorts to. He prepares to learn the mysteries of faith and belongs to the world of women, not men. The latter’s rigid belief in discipline, violence and obedience is what Ali detests most of all. But he cannot save himself or anyone else from their capricious, brutal power. At the same time that Ali’s life takes shape in his thoughts, his body is being transformed – and he sees “it dissolves into parts”.

Samar Yazbek once again succeeds in sensitively and powerfully transforming the madness of war into literature. She gives a magnetic voice to the unbearable . Incredibly valuable.