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
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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: Reading Machiavelli

Updated 19 September 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Reading Machiavelli

Author: John P. McCormick

To what extent was Machiavelli a “Machiavellian”? Was he an amoral adviser of tyranny or a stalwart partisan of liberty? A neutral technician of power politics or a devout Italian patriot? A reviver of pagan virtue or initiator of modern nihilism? Reading Machiavelli answers these questions through original interpretations of Niccolò Machiavelli’s three major political works— The Prince, Discourses, and Florentine Histories— and demonstrates that a radically democratic populism seeded the Florentine’s scandalous writings. John McCormick challenges the misguided understandings of Machiavelli set forth by prominent thinkers, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and representatives of the Straussian and Cambridge schools.
McCormick emphasizes the fundamental, often unacknowledged elements of a vibrant Machiavellian politics: The utility of vigorous class conflict between elites and common citizens for virtuous democratic republics, the necessity of political and economic equality for genuine civic liberty, and the indispensability of religious tropes for the exercise of effective popular judgment.
Interrogating the established reception of Machiavelli’s work by such readers as Rousseau, Leo Strauss, Quentin Skinner, and J.G.A. Pocock, McCormick exposes what was effectively an elite conspiracy to suppress the Florentine’s contentious, egalitarian politics. In recovering the too-long-concealed quality of Machiavelli’s populism, this book acts as a Machiavellian critique of Machiavelli scholarship.
Advancing fresh renderings of works by Machiavelli while demonstrating how they have been misread previously, Reading Machiavelli presents a new outlook for how politics should be conceptualized and practiced.