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February 19, 2024
Rima’s colors turn the “gas and dust cloud… into a colorful blooming flower” – Yeni Safak reviews Yazbek’s “Blue pen”

Rima’s colors turn the “gas and dust cloud… into a colorful blooming flower” – Yeni Safak reviews Yazbek’s “Blue pen”

Arzu Sahin, for Yeni Safak, January, 2024

[Ketebe Yayinlari, Turkiye, releases Samar Yazbek’s “The blue pen” or “Planet of clay”, in January 2024. Translated by Mehtap Ozer Isovic]

The children of war tied to life by a thread of cotton.

“Planet of the clay” tells the story of a girl who seeks refuge in her imaginary world, fleeing from bombs raining down from the sky. The novel, penned by award-winning author Samar Yazbek, vividly portrays the Syrian War through the eyes of Rima, a mute and special girl.

“Planet of the clay,” written by Syrian author Samar Yazbek, has found its place on the shelves with the meticulous translation by Mehtap Özer Isović and the label of Ketebe Yayınları. The novel by the PEN award-winning author eloquently narrates the effects of the devastating civil war on the Syrian people through the eyes of Rima, who dreams of freely walking, painting, and writing her stories.


We hear the story of Rima, who lost her ability to speak at the age of four. Written using the method of the stream of consciousness, the novel emerges as a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be assembled in front of us, with the narrator going from one story fragment to another. As the book progresses, all the pieces fall into place, revealing a grim picture. Considered mad by almost everyone because she is mute, Rima is confined to a single-room house with her mother, unable to leave the room except on a leash. Her mother, who works as a cleaner at school, takes Rima with her to work, where the little girl is again forced to live tethered to a rope in the library. This situation turns from punishment to reward as our protagonist discovers the magical world of books. Talented Rima nurtures an oasis in her arid life by painting, reading, and writing stories. While her bedside books include “The Little Prince” and “Alice in Wonderland,” the only book where Rima can unleash her voice is the Quran, which she recites from memory.

Throughout the novel, the author makes references to the Little Prince’s planet, presenting many planets that Rima constructs in her mind as escape routes from the war. As you read about Rima’s transition from childhood to adolescence, her encounters with love among bombarded cities, and the successive losses of her mother and brother, all written in a basement with limited paper, a blue ballpoint pen, and her invented alphabet, you are reminded again and again that the thousands of innocent children destroyed by war are not just numbers in statistics; you touch the souls of those beautiful children.

While people go about their normal lives

Samar Yazbek metaphorically ties Rima to a place with a rope in every setting, as if to depict the children of war, who seem to be hanging by a thread in life. Amidst all this helplessness, she whispers that the only refuge lies in the dreams and stories created in the mind. From the age of four, Rima is tethered first to her mother, then to her brother, then to the young man she falls in love with, then to the room she shares with fleeing families in the camp, and finally to the window grilles in the basement of a bombed building. Her questions, directed at everyone who encounters the story of the mute and talented artist Rima, turn into exclamations echoing in the mind: “Was the world always like this? Is this really the world? I didn’t know because I had been tethered in my room my whole life. Is that other world in the middle of Damascus – our street and our house – really there? Does that world still exist? Or has it disappeared, turning into a world of stories and pictures? While these things are happening here, how do people live there and go about their lives normally?”

The way Rima describes her paintings and colors is as effective as her questions and words. In her innocent world, love emerges as the sole emotion that gives meaning to this gas and dust cloud amidst all the deaths and absences, like a colorful blooming flower. Rima describes her feelings for Hasan, her brother’s warrior friend, in these words: “Something was jumping and hopping in my chest, on the left side. You don’t realize something exists until you feel it. I didn’t understand what it meant for something to move like a rabbit in your chest! I had read and learned a lot about this feeling, and when I understood it, I was afraid. Imagining things about this feeling while reading them was one thing, but knowing it for real was a different matter. These things between writing, drawing, and reality… they confuse me, they scare me.”

Rima lives on in stories, she did not die

While bombs leave mountains of corpses around Rima, she embarks on journeys between her planets. Escaping from real life like the Little Prince’s fox or Alice’s rabbit, she dives into her stories. Standing where she is with her hands tied, she sings her favorite surah, the Surah of Joseph, in the face of bombs being dropped.

Describing one of her planets, Mud Planet, Rima says: “All my secret planets are important in their own way, but Mud Planet has extraordinary significance. This planet won’t disappear until I do. That’s a good thing. My skin color resembles mud, in different shades. But my undertone is mud-colored, and it’s one of my favorite colors. We’re little toys made of mud, easily breaking and crumbling. Even a simple scratch turns our bodies into dust and soil. And our limbs come off very easily too. Don’t you think so?”