There is a chapter called “My First Massacre” and there are scenes with bullets and patrols, shelling and sobbing, and weapons and rebels.
There are “rules to follow, danger to avoid”. And there are “terrifying muffled sounds outside bedroom doors”.
But there are also video games and bike-riding, hijabs and abayas and brightly coloured fabric, geraniums and oranges.
And so many cups of steaming, spiced black tea, generously sweetened.
Winnie Yeung includes references for further reading but reminds readers that this is not a journalistic work but a collection of family memories.
As such, the details which stick with me are not the ones I searched for in an atlas or online (for images of Umayyad, a mosque in Damascus).
The sensory details pulled from everyday life are the parts which pulled me most completely into this memoir.
In the bakery in Homs, for instance, where Abu “would watch the bakers pull and stretch the dough, tossing it back and forth, hand to hand, not a movement wasted.”
You can feel and taste not only the dough but the air in the bakery.
“The pale disc of dough would be slapped onto the sides of the searing hot tabun oven, and just as the bread started to bubble, the baker would deftly flip it with the trusty paddle. I loved breathing in that tangy sweetness with a hint of smoke.”
But, these are not the only details about the bakery:
“Once, a man came into our bakery and bought some bread. He went across the street to eat it in the park and was killed by a stray bullet.”
There are many adjustments after the family moves to Canada, and sensory detail makes this experience of immigration real too:
“Here, it was so quiet. No rumbling explosions, rattling gunfire, or wailing sirens. But also no boisterous crowds or rowdy gangs of cousins.”
Abu Bakr Al Rabeeah’s memoir is a short and evocative peek into a rich and eventful life: Homes reminds you to appreciate both the quiet and the bustle and to listen to young people’s stories, amid all the rest of the noise.