Samar Yazbek: Novelist, patriot, fighter-in-exile

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Q. Why do you write?

A. It’s so natural that it doesn’t feel like a facet of my life, but life itself. You can’t ask someone why their eyes are a certain color. But my relationship with writing is very important, besides its being the best joy in my life. It’s a bridge between beauty and ugliness. I always feel when I write that I am that connection between the ugly and the beautiful. I am like the god. I can control all the world.

Q. Is that what makes writing so crucial to a revolution?

A. I don’t think so, I think it is because, for the revolution, it ties beauty to justice. And because writing is full of beauty — no ugliness, just pure beauty.

Q. I understand you have worked with the same translator, Max Weiss, on a number of projects. What kind of relationship or trust must you build with someone in order to give him that control of your work? Is it hard to let go of a work in that way?

A. I really do trust Max and I believe he will always translate with the right vision. I don’t think that, to begin with, a translator is given responsibility for all of my work. But I trust Max in general and I trust his ability to reflect my art in an honest way. And we do have a very open relationship built on such trust.

Q. Your book “Cinnamon” is set to be released in its English translation for the first time. Can you tell us about that work?

A. It talks about two echelons of Syrian society — the very wealthy and the very impoverished — though the relation of two ladies. Two lesbian, Muslim ladies. Well, one of them is a lady … One is a servant to the other, and they are engaged in a relationship, in which one uses the other sexually. The work talks about how, in the lower class, humanity can be lost and people are so easily used. Women are caught between a rock and a hard place [an idiom supplied by the interviewer; the translator had previously attempted to translate an Arabic phrase, “being taxed by two governments,” but agreed with the amendment made by the interviewer] as they are abused socially and religiously.

Q. Much of your work has dealt with gender issues and women’s rights. Your diary account of the first months of the Syrian revolution is titled “Woman in the Crossfire.” How did gender figure into your experiences with the revolution? What role has gender played in the revolution in general?

A. The cases of women and gender roles are very much in the background right now, the main reason being that putting an end to the oppressive regime is everyone’s primary goal. It’s not logical for most to talk about gender when we are in the middle of this. Although, this is a main focus of my work. Because of all of this bloodshed, women’s issues must be put on hold temporarily. But, of course, I can talk to you about women in the revolution. I can tell you they are a very major part of this revolution. Many women are leaders of this revolution, and they participate in all of the activities, except carrying weapons. This revolution, I think, belongs to the women and children.

Q. You were forced to flee Syria in the summer of 2011. When do you hope to return?

A. I return all the time, but in secrecy. Undercover. But, yes, I hope to come back [for good] as soon as al-Assad is taken down. Of course I will.

Q. What’s next for you?

A [Yazbek, in English]. Next for me? Fighting, against Bashar al-Assad. And fighting, and fighting, and fighting.

Q. Does that mean, for you, more writing? Should we expect more novels?

A. I’m too busy focusing on the affairs of Syria for novels right now. Most of the time now, I’m writing articles or traveling to different countries to talk about what is going on in Syria. I’m working on logistics a lot more than art these days. For sure, when the killing stops and there is space enough to breathe, I will write another novel about what happened.

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