Farewell Damascus is the first book I have read from the Syrian writer Ghada Samman. In fact, I read a Syrian writer for the first time! And frankly, I’m so happy that this writer is a great woman like Samman. This book is a lament to the families and cities that have to be left behind. Also, it is a lament to all the corrupt Muslim countries of our time.
I read Farewell Damascus without any expectations and any research. After the book was over, I started to investigate the author’s life. I was not surprised when I saw the similarities between her and the character in the story.
A young woman in Syria
This book tells the story of Zain, an 18-year-old college student living in Damascus in 1960s. She marries the man she loves even though everyone in her family objects. But when she gets pregnant, she understands that this marriage cannot work. Since she lives in a country where abortion is illegal, she undergoes an abortion in secret. After the abortion, she divorces her husband with much difficulty.
In the 1960s, it was an outrage to marry the man you love in Syria and divorce was much worse. So Zain quickly becomes the black sheep of the family. However, she manages to impress young women in her family. After the divorce, everything changes in her life.
This is a book that tells the struggle of a young woman against everyone and everything. It is impossible not to be affected by and not to have empathy for the characters. If you haven’t read a Syrian writer and want to learn a few things about the country, Ghada Samman will be a perfect choice.
About the book: Farewell Damascus
Ghada Samman’s most recent novel, Farewell, Damascus is set in early 1960’s Damascus – a city that now languishes in the grip of corruption and political oppression following the Baathist takeover in Syria.
The book opens as Zain Khayyal, a university student and aspiring young writer, plots an early-morning escape from her house as her husband slumbers. Her mission: to get an illicit abortion, plans for which she’s divulged to no one, and to announce that she wants out of her stifling marriage. A rebel and trail-blazer par excellence, Zain draws down the wrath of polite society and the authorities, political and religious alike, as she challenges attitudes and practices that demean rather than dignified, and a ruling regime that sucks the life out of both oppressed and oppressor. As the plot unfolds, Zain finds her way as a student to a neighbouring country which, though it grants her the freedom, respect and appreciation she had lacked in her homeland, becomes a place of anguished exile.
Armed with her accustomed humour, pathos and knack for suspense, Samman fearlessly tackles issues that roil societies across the globe to this day: the stigma that attaches to the divorced woman but not the divorced man; whether to choose a life partner for love, or for social status, prestige and material security; whether abortion is a crime or a means of forestalling needless undeserved suffering; lesbian intimacy as a declaration of freedom from male abuse and tyranny; rape as an instrument of humiliation and subjugation and unconditional acceptance as healing balm. Farewell, Damascus is both a paean to a beloved homeland and an ode to human dignity.
About the author: Ghada Samman
Ghadah Al-Samman is a Syrian writer, journalist and novelist born in Damascus in 1942 to a prominent and conservative Damascene family, she is remotely related to Nizar Qabbani the famous poet. Her father was Ahmed Al-Samman, a president of the Syrian University.