From Aleppo to Berlin: Writing in Exile

Widad Nabi and Nihad Sirees: two Syrian writers who have found their way from a war-torn country to the cafés and bookshops of Berlin. In our interview they talk about writing in Syria and writing in exile.

Nihad Sirees and Widad Nabi in Berlin. © Christian Jungeblodt / Amnesty International

Widad Nabi, how did your work as an author change in exile?

Widad Nabi: Writing is the same in every place. Lately in Syria, I had been writing about the same topics that I write about here: war, death, the daily destruction. Here, I started writing about my escape from Syria, about longing for home, longing for all the places that we left behind. Continue reading

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Sisyphus in the Arab Prison

Night was no longer night, since there were no more days, no more stars, no more moon, no more sky. We were the night. We had become nocturnal: our bodies, breathing, heartbeats, the fumbling of our hands moving effortlessly from one wall to another in a space shrunk to the dimensions of a tomb for the living, although whenever I say that word, I should use “surviving” instead, yet I really was a living being, enduring life in extreme deprivation, an ordeal that could end only in death but that seemed strangely like life.“

(The Blinding Absence of Light)

Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novel „The Blinding Absence of Light“ is an attempt to describe the agonizing experience of former Moroccon prisoner Azīz Binbīn… an attempt that can only fail, because how can one describe 18 years without ever leaving a 4 ½ square meter cell, without ever standing up straight, without a glimpse of light, without medical care, and without a single word to and from the outside world? How can one imagine to sleep standing in order not to freeze to death, to live in a tiny room with a hole for a toilet not eating anything but beans for six thousand six hundred and sixty-three days, to pull out one’s own decaying molar with a piece of wood, and, finally, to not only survive such a horrific ordeal, but to stay human all the while?

When reading some of the numerous accounts by and about prisoners in secret desert prisons of Morocco, underground torture facilities in Syria, or other unfathomably cruel prisons throughout the Middle East, my mind often reached the limits of what it could – and wanted – to imagine. Continue reading