Some days I picked up Samar Yazbek’s A Woman in the Crossfire, to read only two pages, and set it aside.
Other days I picked it up and forced myself to read a certain number of sections (being that it’s a diary).
Afterwards, whether a couple of pages or a couple of sections, I would adopt some simple task – chopping vegetables or washing the dishes, ironing or carting the compost to the bin –tasks requiring little concentration, while the images from the diary loosened and dissipated.
Unsurprisingly, these Diaries of the Syrian Revolution are grim reading.
In translation by Max Weiss, the prose is clear, even perfunctory. That’s just what I needed. A year ago, I could not have located Syria on an unlabelled map. Samar Yazbek’s name was not one I recognized, nor did I understand how unusual it was for someone in her family (which supports the regime) to have broken with tradition to expose what she witnesses of the revolutionary activity in her homeland. This book might not be intended as a beginning, but it offers me a way into the subject, a path towards understanding.
She writes: “I was a traitor to my sect for being on the side of the demonstrators. I wrote two pieces about the protest movement, in which I talked about the practices of violence and killing and arrest carried out by the security forces. They responded by posting articles on a mukhabarati website discussing my relationship with American agents, a ready-made excuse the security apparatus would always resort to in order to clamp down on people who have their own opinions.”