February 20, 2024
“Evocative” – Kirkus Reviews on Yazbek’s “Where the wind calls home”

“Evocative” – Kirkus Reviews on Yazbek’s “Where the wind calls home”

Kirkus Reviews, February 2024

A wounded Syrian soldier reflects on his life and times.

In this compact, stream-of-consciousness narrative, 19-year-old Ali, a conscript in the Syrian Army fighting in the civil war that’s ravaged the country for more than a decade, lingers between life and death after a bomb accidentally falls on the position he shares with four comrades. While the severity of his injuries is uncertain, his thoughts range widely and deeply over his short life in the mountain village where he was raised as a member of the Alawite sect. Ali’s brother, who preceded him into the army, has already lost his life in the conflict, and the novel opens with a vivid description of his funeral, one that Ali experiences as if it were his own. As he alternates between lucid and hallucinatory moments, Ali recalls his encounters with characters such as Humayrouna, a more-than-century-old resident of the village who “raised him and taught him the language of trees,” and Abu Zayn, an army officer and wealthy landowner. Yazbek, a Syrian journalist and screenwriter who’s written previously about the war in both fiction and nonfiction, returns repeatedly to vivid imagery of trees, rivers, sky, and other aspects of the natural world that are central elements in defining Ali’s character and experience. His broken body lies beneath a large tree that evokes memories of a more than 500-year-old oak tree that stood next to the prayer space in his village, and in which he once constructed a kind of dwelling with the assistance of his mother, Nahla. Yazbek efficiently paints a portrait of her sympathetic protagonist, a young man possessed of both strong religious impulses and a rebellious streak that exposes him to beatings both at school and at home. An evocative, if slow-paced, meditation about people caught in the turning wheel of Syria’s violent present.