Publication Date: 2018

Publisher: Leopard

Country of Publication: Sweden,



Depicted as a story of curiosity and lust in the German press, Selamlik, autobiographic novel by Alesmael, tells the journey of Furat from his home in Syria, to Sweden, via Turkey. A route taken by so many who fled the horrors of the Syrian civil war. Yet, Selamlik is first and foremost a very intimate account of this experience. While Furat waits in a Swedish refugee asylum for his situation to be regularised, he goes over his present Swedish limbo, as well as his past life in Syria: His mother and brothers, the dog they once owned, as well as the time he realized as a teen ager he was not attracted to women like all his class mates were. We discover his first sexual experiences, his first love story, and his exploration of the underground erotic scene of Damascus, a landscape made of dodgy cinemas, toilets in public parks, and of course, Hammams. Constantly playing with danger (homosexuality is illegal under Asad’s regime), but compelled to live his sexuality, Furat ultimately leaves Syria for fear of persecution by religious extremists. Yet, as he finally reaches his Swedish asylum, and shares his accommodation, and even his room, with other refugee men, Furat comes face to face with the most basic form of homophobia, the one based on ignorance, and the belief that homosexuality is an illness Syrian men caught in Europe.

The Selamlik is the room in large mansion and palaces under the Ottoman empire dedicated to welcoming male guests exclusively, as opposed to the Haremlik, which is the part of the mansion dedicated to wife and family. The Selamlik is also the name of a place in Istanbul, part hostel part brothel, where Furat meets Baklawa, a male prostitute, and begins his search for a passage to Europe by boat. As the title indicates, the particularity of Alesmael’s tone is its lightheartedness, its irony, and its outright humor. Despite the tragedy of it all, despite the violence and the pain, the novel remains colorful. Alesmael succeeds in maintaining the contrast, and providing a captivating read.



Translated by Leri Price

It was my last day in in the asylum. I soaked my naked body in a spot of April sunshine that was falling onto my bed. Piled up all around me were clothes I had bought from the various second-hand shops in Småland. I had forgotten how to pack a suitcase – in recent years, I had become the kind of person who was more used to escaping at short notice.

“Your memory is fabric, Furat. It is disappearing behind the curtains of the bedrooms that have been gutted by fires in the war. It is sitting on the tablecloths that ceilings have fallen in on. Your memory, like a suitcase, is overflowing with the dresses and shirts that the security agents tossed on the ground like bodies without souls after searching the wardrobes. Remember how you used to lay your head on the soft pillow that your mother’s own hands sewed and stuffed with feathers and lavender. Write about clothes and fabric, Furat, seeing as you haven’t yet! Who will remember the vaulted fabric souq of Deir Azzour after the war burned it to the ground? Or Souq Al-Hamidiyya and the windows of the textile shops? Write about fabric, Furat. Write how you disappeared inside white bedsheets and wrapped them around your small body and paraded about like a little Greek boy, showing off and dancing for your moher and making her eyes vanish from laughing so hard. Write about the clothes that you left behind in Damascus like orphans. Write about the military uniform that you refused to put on when you refused to fight against your people. About the cotton pajamas you left on the floor when you rushed out of your house in a panic in between bullets. Write about your shoes whose leather was eaten up by sea salt, write how your escape tore them to shreds. Write, Furat, because you survived the fire that took people and stone and cloth as its fuel. And for fuel, it is your duty to tell their stories.”

That monologue swirled around my head every time I picked something up, folded it and put it in my bag. I recited these clothes as if they had been written long ago. It isn’t fair that I write about every person I met on my journey and not about the fibers that clung to my skin along the way and kept watch every night. As soon as I decided to tell the tales of the clothes that I took out of Syria and brought to Sweden, the second-hand garments gathered around me like children, impatient for me to tell them stories about their peers.

Albino Verlag, Germany, German, 2020

Forlaget Ti Vilde Heste, Denmark, Danish, 2024

World Editions BV, United States, English, 2025