Review of ‘Farewell Damascus’ by Ghada Samman

“Farewell Damascus” by Ghada Samman is a story set on the edge of social and political change in 1960s Syria.
Updated 01 April 2018

Review of ‘Farewell Damascus’ by Ghada Samman

CHICAGO: “Farewell Damascus” by Ghada Samman is a story set on the edge of social and political change in 1960s Syria. A young and courageous woman, Zain, also known as the “Ziqaq Al -Yasmin Troublemaker” navigates life as a university student, aspiring writer and soon to be divorcee through a heavily patriarchal Damascus.
Ghada Samman, no stranger to the Arab literary world, has been publishing since the early 1960s, both literary and journalistic pieces. Known to push boundaries, Samman created her own publishing house, Ghada Al-Samman Publications, to avoid censorship of her work. She has written more than 25 volumes of stories, essays and novels. An unapologetic novelist, Samman’s book, “Farewell Damascus,” is a force of literature not only in Samman’s repertoire, but within the literary arena. Originally published in Arabic in 2015, the book was then translated into English by Nancy Roberts and published by Darf Publishers in 2018.
There is lasting humor in the contradictions Zain finds herself in when exploring Damascus’s old, traditional neighborhoods and its deep patriarchy. As a 17-year-old who falls in love with a rich young man and fights to marry him, she is rebuked by her family’s older generation of aunts and uncles who tell her that “you’re not allowed to get to know someone before you marry him. You’ve got to sign the marriage contract first!” But Zain, with her father’s permission, marries the man she loves, only to find a year later that she does not want to be married any more. When news spreads that she is getting a divorce, she is berated by her family’s younger generation of cousins who had only just mustered up the courage to tell their parents about the people they loved and wanted to marry. Now the parents are using Zain as an example to suppress their children’s spousal choices.
Unafraid and unapologetic, Samman’s book is impactful, told with ease and wit. She writes with a clarity as she describes Damascus, with its vibrant history, ancient corners and the societal contradictions that fall within its walls. Samman does an incredible job of writing about Zain and her dreams, to seek freedom and independence in a world that does not allow many women that privilege.
Samman’s book is about desires versus reality. It is about what one wants in life and then what life gives you. Through Zain, Samman shows that life is what one makes of it, whatever the outcome.

What We Are Reading Today: ‘Less,’ by Andrew Sean Greer

Updated 30 min 52 sec ago

What We Are Reading Today: ‘Less,’ by Andrew Sean Greer

“Less” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last week and was a surprising choice because few comic novels have won the prestigious award.

The judges’ citation describes it as “a generous book, musical in its prose and expansive in its structure and range, about growing older and the essential nature of love.”

The book follows Arthur Less, a failed novelist about to turn 50.

When he receives a wedding invitation from his boyfriend of nine years ago, he decides instead to run away from his problems by attending a few half-baked literary events around the world.

He will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself in as a writer-in-residence at a Christian retreat center in Southern India, and have a chance encounter on a desert island in the Arabian Sea.

Andrew Sean Greer began this comic masterpiece as a very serious novel about being gay and aging.

“But after a year, I just couldn’t do it,” he told The Washington Post. “It sounds strange but what I was writing about was so sad to me that I thought the only way to write about this was to make it a funny story.”