The War Produced More than 50 Novels: Experience and Expression of Conflict Creates Crossroads Moment in Syrian Literature

Forthcoming in Al Jadid, Vol. 23, No. 76, 2019
Al Jadid Staff

Major world events, from the Holocaust to the Spanish civil war, have produced artistic and literary legacies imprinted in paintings, novels and poetry. The Syrian uprising against the Assad regime is no exception, though the question remains whether the artistic and literary works produced by Syrians since 2012 rise to the level of Picasso’s Guernica, Schindler’s List, Primo Levy’s novels or Garcia Lorca’s poetry. I am aware of the unfairness of this question at this stage of the Syrian conflict.

The Syrian revolution – which has descended into a civil conflict – is a watershed in many respects. If measured by its brutality, casualty figures, or by other social and human costs, it is perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis in the 21st century. It resulted in more than half of a million dead, half of the country displaced, internally and externally, and millions ending up as refugees in neighboring countries and across Europe. Should there be a need for a comparison between Mideast catastrophes, the consequences of the Syrian conflict exceeded by far those of the 1948 Palestinian Nakba.

The ongoing suffering by the Syrian people has inspired many Syrian talents, especially novelists, to tell their story, just like the Spanish, Jews, Vietnamese, Cubans and others. Abdo Wazen’s essay, “Experience and Expression of Conflict Creates Crossroads Moment in Syrian Literature,” provides a glimpse into the literary explosion which has produced more than 50 novels, a fully developed “literature of war.”  This literature abounds with war related themes or diseases of war like depopulation (sectarian cleansing), refugees and refugee camps, boat people (drowning in the sea), massacres and asylum.

According to Wazen, this emergent literature includes works by both literary pioneers as well as an emerging younger generation, made of journalists and poets who transitioned into fiction writing to examine the hardships and tragedies of the conflict. The new generation did not overlook the history of their predecessors who built on the history of the Syrian novel. Rather, they pushed further, demonstrating a bold outlook in naming the acts of political and historical degradation and the brutality they witnessed, often first hand. Still, some of these novelists addressed the history, past as well as the present, covering the pre-2011 period of Baathist repression.

Some of the literary works found their way through translation as well as through authors who resided and published in the West (and Beirut) since the heavy censorship in Syria made it impossible for publishing and distribution.

This emergent literature of which the novel remains in the forefront is fueled by the Syrian conflict and would require deep and exhaustive critical review, carefully examined over time.

Abdo Wazen’s essay, “Experience and Expression of Conflict Creates Crossroads Moment in Syrian Literature,” is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 23, No. 76, 2019.

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