Inside Al Jadid - Book Reviews

A Physician’s Life: How Baathist Bureaucracy Valued Nepotism and Political Baathist Loyalties Shape Healing Policies

 “Inside Syria: A Physician’s Memoir” offers a pre-Syrian war narrative of the life of Tarif Bakdash, a doctor of pediatric neurology. The memoir chronicles the physician’s life as he grew up in Syria until his departure to the United States in 2010 in response to the continual interference in his work of the Baathist bureaucracy. The memoir sheds light on the reality of Syrian lives under the Assads during several significant historical events. Bakdash relays his personal experiences as a physician struggling to do his job surrounded by other doctors who have only achieved their positions through connections to the regime. As he explains how he became one of the elites of his generation, he also provides personal impressions upon meeting central figures such as Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma al-Assad, whom he worked with in the Syrian Organization for the Disabled. His collaboration with the First Lady of Syria led to his appointment as the first Secretary General for the Disabled in Syria. Currently, the author works with the Syrian American Medical Society to aid Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, treating patients facing neurological health issues. A review of “Inside Syria: A Physician’s Memoir” is reviewed by Bobby Gulshan for the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 70, 2016. 

‘Textu’: A Subversive New Poetic Form

Fady Joudah’s “Textu” delivers a collection of poetry that conforms to the constraints of a 160-character limit on a phone screen, introducing a new poetic form in English very much like Japanese haiku. Joudah’s stylistic brevity, from the structure of his poems to the fragmented sentences scattered throughout, allow him to comment on themes such as perception, love, death, war, and many others. Though composed digitally on his cell phone, his poems maintain a sense of realism concerning Joudah’s observations about society, which often kindle reflective thoughts on his readers. The reviewer, poet Zaid Shlah, closes his analysis with a word of caution “against being dismissive of Joudah’s breadth and scope if we attempt to classify him as either poet-physician or as Arab American poet.”  Still, his “poems shine a light back onto the dominant narrative.” Zaid Shlah reviewed Mr. Joudah’s new collection for the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 70. 

A Muslim American Response to the ‘War on Terror Culture’

Living as Muslim in America means struggling against a national bias that tends to view you not “as a human being but only as a purveyor of possible future violence,” writes Moustafa Bayoumi, author of “This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror.”A collection of essays divided into sections of history, theory, politics, and culture, the book details Muslim misrepresentation in media and society, and attributes the growing “War on Terror” culture to the false belief that Muslims in the U.S. existed only after the September 11 attacks. In his extensive analysis of the impact of Muslim culture on American history, he covers Islam’s role in African American activism, and the parallels between the internment of the Japanese in WWII with the treatment of Muslims today.

Bayoumi, born in Switzerland and raised in Canada, has also suffered the hardship of integrating into American society as an immigrant. He tells the story of his own journey and desire to enact change as a Muslim-American citizen. While the reviewer mentions that the book can be “repetitious at times,” it succeeds in shedding light on the prejudice Muslims face, and how it affects the representation of their contributions. Ms. Nora Eltahawy reviewed “This Muslim American Life” for the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 20, No. 70, 2016. 

Ghada Samman’s ‘Farewell Damascus’: From Damascus to Beirut Becomes a Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery

Following her 1977 “The Impossible Novel — A Damascene Mosaic,” which examines the lives of Amjad al-Khayyal and his family shortly after Syrian independence, in the sequel, “Farewell Damascus,” Ghada Samman introduces readers to the story of female protagonist, Zayn Amjad al-Khayyal. Where “A Damascene Mosaic” left readers with an elusive ending—a footnote explaining that the last chapter had yet to be completed—“Farewell Damascus” now shades Samman’s universe with underlying tones advocating not only for human rights but also for women’s liberation. 

18-year old writer Zayn has forced a miscarriage in a desperate attempt to escape a marriage she has chosen. The young woman battles against revolutionists, patriarchy, and the bourgeoisie, all while not only fending off suitors, including Dr. al-Manahly, an already-married man, and the Palestinian refugee Gazwan al-A’ed, but also battling against the social norms of Damascus. In the midst of this struggle for personal liberation, a twisted lieutenant of the Syrian Intelligence Agency confronts Zayn and brands her as an Eastern German spy when she refuses to sell herself to him, forcibly driving the 18-year old out of Damascus and into Beirut in a fight for her life.

There, Zayn not only sheds her past life in Damascus, mourning the loss of her beloved home, but also embraces the liberal life style Beirut offers, from its heightened intellectual stage to its blossoming culture. Although still yearning for Damascus, she finds herself now free to make her own choices and even rent her own apartment. “Farewell Damascus” ends with Zayn’s successful divorce, opening countless paths towards a new life for the young woman. With her revolutionary portrayal of a powerful female lead role, Ghada Samman ardently challenges the idea of submissive women. “Farewell Damascus — A Mosaic of Insurgency” is reviewed by Dr. Nada Ramadan Elnahla in Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 70, 2016.

‘Renaissance Emir: A Druze Warlord at the Court of the Medici’: New Archival Materials Revive Scholarly Interest in a Lebanese Prince

The reader may ask what new insights the tale of a 17th century prince called Fakhr ad-Din can offer. The answer lies in the revelation of the new original and archival materials, which led to “Renaissance Emir: a Druze Warlord at the Court of the Medici” by T.J. Gordon. In 1585, 13-year-old ad-Din faces an uncertain future in Lebanon after losing his father, who either died when the Ottomans forced him to kill himself or who was murdered by a member of a rival clan. As a result, ad-Din’s worried mother pushes the boy to hide with either his Druze cousins or a Christian family. Eight years later, the now 21-year-old prince finds himself working under the Ottomans, collecting and remitting taxes, and preventing incursions from the Shiites. 

After coming face-to-face with a large army fielded by the Ottomans in an attempt to reassert their power, ad-Din and his family flee to Tuscany along with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Levantines (contemporary Lebanese would call this an ideal example of “national unity!”) and later take refuge in Florence with the Medici. In an attempt to overthrow Ottoman power, the prince tries to convince the Popes and monarchs of Europe to join him in a crusade, hoping to reclaim the Holy Land from the Turks and crown himself King of Syria and Jerusalem. 

Fakhr ad-Din’s tale ends tragically in 1635, when two royal mutes strangle and decapitate him and his son in the Sultan’s palace in Istanbul. Although the doomed prince’s dream of a crusade remains unfulfilled, the Medici archives offer him a form of immortality through the records of ad-Din’s conversations with the Pope and European potentates. 

Even after his death, remnants of the prince’s influence can be seen in Italianate buildings. Revered as the “Father of the Nation” by some groups in Lebanon, ad-Din’s life, as recounted in “Renaissance Emir” offers telling lessons in both the geopolitics and in the international scene of the 1600s. Professor Lynne Rogers reviews “Renaissance Emir: A Druze Warlord at the Court of the Medici” in Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 70, 2016.

‘Lifted by the Great Nothing’: A Lebanese Immigrant Struggles with Culture and Race in the United States

Karim Dimechkie balances the importance of culture and history in his suspenseful tale of a single father and his son struggling to understand each other. His novel, “Lifted by the Great Nothing,” follows Max and his father, Rasheed, a Lebanese-American who prefers to be called Reed by their culturally diverse neighbors, including the Japanese Yang family and the African-American doctor Nadine. The father and son both try to appease each other’s needs, Rasheed giving his son everything in hopes of providing him a joyful life and Max trying to convince his father that he is a successful parent. Their relationship seems to be built on strong trust until Max realizes that he doesn’t know the entire truth about his family. Both Beirut-born, Rasheed tells Max that burglars in Beirut murdered his mother before their emigration to New Jersey in America. It isn’t until many years have passed that Max receives a letter from his father’s former American girlfriend and co-worker, Kelly, explaining that Rasheed has been lying to him: his mother might still be alive in Beirut, and his given name was Hakeem. Rasheed, perhaps in an ardent attempt to erase his Lebanese heritage after fleeing from Beirut during the Civil War, withholds the truths about his son’s background. In an elaborate coming of age story, Dimechkie tracks Max’s maturity, from his discovery of sex to his journey into Beirut alone in the search for his mother. Traversing through the Palestinian camps, Max begins to understand the importance of his hidden history and embraces the cultural complexity of his life, from his ancestry to his multicultural neighborhood back in America. Professor Lynne Rogers reviews “Lifted by the Great Nothing” in forthcoming Al Jadid Vol. 20, No. 70.


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