The wind’s abode

The wind’s abode

Publication Date: 2021

Publisher: Al mutawassit

Country of Publication: Italy, Milano

Pages: 144

Maqam al rih

Ali, a 19 year old soldier in the Syrian army, is laying on the ground underneath a tree. He has a vision, that of a funeral. Is this his funeral? Is that woman hugging the coffin Nahla, his mother? As he comes to his senses, Ali remembers: This was his brother’s funeral. About a year ago perhaps. At that moment, Ali realizes he must have been hurt by the bomb the army dropped on them by mistake earlier that day.
Yazbek’s latest novel concentrates on these hours of Ali’s life. As he tries to locate the pain, to identify the injury, Ali works his way closer to the tree. His ultimate desire is to fly up to one of its branches. Trees have always been his haven, his home. Trees have no secret to him. Up there, he would be safe from wild animals after sunset. All that while, Ali goes over the various episodes of his life, leading to the conclusive encounter with an army checkpoint where he is drafted, or rather abducted.
Through Ali’s childhood and teens, we discover the misery of that traditional Syrian Alawite village, but also the richness and beauty of its cultural and religious heritage. Through Ali’s vocation to be the village’s next Cheikh, or religious reference, the novel explores the secrets of the Alawite faith, its relationship to nature and the elements (the moon, rocks, trees and wind), as well as its peacefulness. The contrast with the Alawite governing mafia and the cruelty of the war is stark, and painful.

Nothing destined Ali to violence. A silent and contemplative child, unfit for school, many thought he was an idiot. The strange story of his birth, where the wise and old Hmayrona made her entrance into his life, seemed to have destined him to mysticism, and to a special relationship to the surrounding nature. A strong and agile boy, Ali would run barefoot on rocks, leave his feet hanging from the windy cliff, and climb up trees so swiftly, one would think he was flying.
Once again, Yazbek tackles the Syrian war, but this time, from a distance. With The wind’s abode, Samar Yazbek comes back to one of her favorite topics: the Alawite community’s transformation, its aesthetics and its faith. While the Syrian war indubitably offers the framework of this story, its heart is elsewhere. With this poignant story, Yazbek writes about the beauty and the cruelty of life, the destruction of worldly beauty and kindness,  but also its resilience, and the elevation of the soul.
Similarly to Ali’s, the words of this novel are sparse. No scene or description is superfluous, and Yazbek’s writing is as delicate as Ali’s gaze upon the world. With The wind’s abode, Yazbek offers her finest novel to date.

Translated by Leri Price

Just a small leaf. His tangled eyelashes wouldn’t let him see it beneath the afternoon sun.

A leaf, nothing more. Lobed and green, it appeared in front of his eyes like a curtain whenever he slowly and laboriously moved his eyelids. A leaf brushing his long, mud-spattered lashes. A leaf he couldn’t see clearly through the soft grains of soil swimming in the water of his eyes, chafing and burning. If he opened his eyelids again, the leaf would fall into his left eye. The entire world was that leaf. No sound, no smell. He couldn’t feel his other eye. Was he still alive? Perhaps! Did he have a body? Where was it, in that case? His sense of existence extended no further than the narrow strip of faint light concealed by black lines – he was indifferent as to whether they were his eyelashes or his nightmares, as the darkness would soon settle within him again. He was slowly plunging into some deep and unknown place.  His gravity was negated and he could feel his head swinging – perhaps he was falling into a grave. Was this his funeral? Was this his head?

The leaf fell so his eye could see. His eye was wandering in the air, watching a body plunge into a hole.  His body was inside a coffin he couldn’t see (but he knew it was his body), and the hole wasn’t deep enough for fear, but it was deep enough for the disappearance and the disintegration that would take place after the soil was piled upon it. A single eye, then.

He envied the silhouettes of the people hovering around the hole. He found the sensation of swinging in the chasm very pleasant, and he glimpsed the delicate roots of the grass branching out through the layers of soil, their roots, white, fine and dense, destroyed by shovels. And he smelled dawn coming off the root tips, and he saw some pink worms tumbling over the edges of the coffin, and he recalled how pliable and yielding they felt when he toyed with them between his fingers. Where did that happen? When he collected up some worms, lined them up on a large rock, and set them off on a race? He didn’t know. But seeing the dancing worms accompany him as he fell, he was comforted – and then the vision dissolved. This was the burial ground next to the maqam and its giant tree. Was he still here – where? What was “here”? It was him and no one else, unseparate from his existence. He saw himself as an eye, observing. He could see the women gathered behind the men in the graveyard, their heads covered with white veils. He spotted one woman snatching her white handkerchief off her head, pushing forward between the men and shouting. It was his mother – how did he know that? He couldn’t see her clearly. So – he had a family, then. But he didn’t feel anything. He was like a bird soaring, then he saw them and knew he was not a bird. He was nothing but a single eye (not even a pair of eyes) and he could see forms in all their three dimensions. He was an eye hovering over the village burial ground (it was his village), and he saw himself going down into the hole, and he heard the sound of wailing and the silhouette of a woman; he believed it was his mother from her familiar acrobatic movements, the leaps that looked like indignation. The sound of zagharid and wailing, the firing of bullets, murmurings: these were familiar sounds at funerals. He couldn’t hear the customary wails and lamentations, and he couldn’t see any women tearing their clothes. He believed that this scene wasn’t unfamiliar to him – he had heard it and seen it at some time – but the sound of commotion that followed afterwards seemed of a different kind. That man was his father, and there was his sister the widow with her swollen belly, but his vision was hazy because he was hovering above them and couldn’t come down to earth. He was an eye flying in the air, descending to see if this funeral was for him or his brother.

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The wind’s abode