Women Recount History

Maria-Àngels Roque

European Institute of the Mediterranean

When women of the southern and eastern Mediterranean are discussed, the stereotype is that they are submissive and illiterate, but this is not how we saw women on the streets of Egypt, Tunisia or Libya during the Arab Spring in 2011. In fact, they have never really been silenced. In this article I would like to present some voices of writers and filmmakers who use memory to tell stories, sometimes inaudible in our languages, and who take flight towards the future, as did the most emblematic of eastern storytellers, Scheherazade.

Telling stories to forget was the main generator and also objective that kept the creative imagination of Scheherazade alive, who told stories so that the sultan would forget his love pains but also to forget the death that awaited her at the end of every night. This narrator, who through words seeks consolation for herself and for her restricted audience, remains in the Arab imaginary as an ideal example of an intelligent and cultivated woman. But if the Scheherazade of One Thousand and One Nights told stories to forget and also to extend the length of her life, the Scheherazades of today narrate to remember, to reveal hidden stories. Stories are not always told to forget the fear felt; some women tell stories to strengthen their identity. Finding a voice is important and this has been done for centuries through oral literature, whose main functions have been, on the one hand, to communicate and, on the other, to create one’s own imaginary. A good example is that used by Taos Amrouche, considered the first modern Algerian female novelist, daughter of Fatma Aït Manssur Amrouche and sister of Jean Amrouche. Her literary work has a highly vibrant style that is inspired by the oral culture that imbues it and her experience as a woman. This is especially apparent in her first novel, Jacinthe noire (1947). Her mother left her many songs, stories and elements of Amazigh oral heritage, so that, alongside her literary career, she dedicated herself to performing these songs. Blessed with an exceptional voice, she took to several stages such as the Festival of Dakar in 1966. Only Algeria refused to recognise her and did not invite her to the pan-African festival of Algiers in 1969. Taos Amrouche, very concerned about the accuracy of memory, compares this with the reconstruction of a “marvellous tapestry”, where much of the concentration and skill of the artisan counts for a great deal, as memory is fleeting. “My memory eludes me,” says the narrator.

Maghrebian writers use French, except in poetry. For some novelists, writing often represents the invocation of memories buried in memory. Latifa Ben Mansour remembers them in the preface to Le chant du lys et du basilic: “This text is a bouquet full of white lily and basil that I have collected in the back of my memory.” But writing can also be painful, as Assia Djebar says in So Vast the Prison: “For a long time, I thought that writing meant dying, slowly dying […]. Yes, for a long time, I wanted to lean against the dike of memory, or against the shadowy light of its other side, to be gradually penetrated by its cold, because as I wrote I recalled myself.” For this novelist, as for Emna Bel Haj Yahia, Leila Houari or Tassadit Imache, among other writers cited by the specialist on the literature of Maghrebian women Marta Segarra, remembering has the objective of making sense of the disperse memories in order to found, through them, a personal identity.[1] In contrast, for Latifa Ben Mansour or Jelila Behi, for example, the description of the memories of childhood is done to transmit them to future generations, as the authors have the sensation of having experienced the end of a world that has vanished forever. But the two motivations, which we could call identity and testimonial, are frequently combined.

Returning to the importance of oral procedures to create a powerful imaginary, Assia Djebar argues the importance of the “public storytellers who came to teach their story to the Algerians deprived of their past,” or at risk of this because of the effects of emigration. In the novel Gardien du seuil, by Antoinette Ben Kerroum-Covlet, a character called El Ben tells stories in a French coffee shop to immigrants “in need of restoring something of a cultural identity that is deteriorating.” In the episodes cited, it is men who perform this narrative function, as it takes place in the public arena, and women’s activity is forcibly confined to the private ambit, to the family interior.

Assia Djebar describes an exception to this rule in Far from Medina, in which she introduces the rawiyas, women “transmitters of the Islamic heroic deed,” the first of whom is Aisha, widow of the Prophet Muhammad. But the usurpation of an exclusively masculine role such as speaking in public, Marta Segarra tells us, has very painful consequences for these women, especially sterility. The mission of the rawiya is incompatible with real maternity: Aisha, called “Mother of the Believers”, will never have children.

Returning to the figure of Taos Amrouche, we can say that her mother represents a cultural tradition, distinct from her father’s, although complementary. It is an oral knowledge, based on the voice and not on writing, which is preferably expressed through narrations and songs, given that it is the women who are often responsible for these activities, sometimes to great public acclaim. In contrast to the rawiya, the cheikhas sing songs linked to love, sensuality or sexuality, such as one of the most important rai singers, Cheikha Rimitti. This voice is always expressed in dialectal Arabic or Berber, which are the real native languages, as classical Arabic is reserved for men – but not always ‒, as they are the only ones who have had access to the Koranic school.

The usurpation of an exclusively masculine role such as speaking in public, has very painful consequences for these women, especially sterility. The mission of the rawiya is incompatible with real maternity: Aisha, called “Mother of the Believers”, will never have children

Some female writers are not afraid to write about sexuality, such as the Algerian Ahlam Mosteghanemi, who lives in exile in Beirut, where she published Memory in the Flesh, a real bestseller on female sexuality, or Fadila El Farouk. The Algerian sociologist and writer Mohamed Balhi argues that her compatriots have preferred the country of cedars to their own because the skilful Lebanese editors have seen a vein worthy of economic exploitation in this theme. He explains, moreover, that the forms of transgression adopted in neighbouring Morocco are due to reasons difficult to overlook. “The terrible political censorship in the era of King Hassan II (1929-1999) meant that playwrights, essayists, filmmakers and writers avoided any questioning of power. Given that it was, in contrast, a society deeply penetrated by tourism with the permissiveness that this harbours, it was less dangerous to tackle sex.” For Balhi, the real taboo in the Arab world is politics.

Today, the Moroccan writer and sociologist Fatema Mernissi, in an interview given on the Arab revolutions, comments how the mentality has changed and the fear has been lost: “For me, the youth revolution in 2011 finally shows this radical transformation of culture, mentalities and references, be they sexual, political or economic. To understand what has happened, it must be remembered that all the tales of One Thousand and One Nights end with this sentence: ‘At this point Scheherazade saw the coming of morning and discreetly fell silent’ because it marked the end of the words permitted. Scheherazade did not speak during the day, because it is when the man speaks. She can only speak at night. Now, the Scheherazades speak from Al Jazeera endlessly, they are directors of programmes, journalists who fearlessly question those in government. What has happened in the streets with the Jasmine Revolution or the Arab Spring cannot be understood without remembering how the horizontal relations of strength and submission have already been destroyed. It seems now that Facebook is being discovered, but the satellite stations had started much earlier: on most channels you could send an SMS. Interactivity already existed. Youths were born into an interactive arena.”

Mernissi is very optimistic and, of course, the old representations have not been totally destroyed or changed, but perhaps they have gained value to achieve a dignified citizenry, especially in the case of women.

In the Mashreq, in contrast to the Maghreb, writers write in Arabic, as is the case in Egypt, Syria or Palestine. However, some female Syrian writers’ works, despite their success, are prohibited in their country. I am thinking specifically about the voices of the writers Manhal al-Sarraj ‒ exiled in Sweden since 2006 ‒ and Rosa Yasseen, who I met through an article published by Hassan Abbas in Quaderns de la Mediterrània,[2] where he recalled again the drama and tragic deaths of 30 years ago. These novelists find a fertile land for fiction in the history of their country. It is quite true that we could argue that history has always been the main source of fiction; undoubtedly, this is true if the history has not been assassinated, silenced or simply prohibited, as has happened in many countries where the cries are muffled and the mutterings intense.

In his article, Hassan Abbas explains these “events”, as the Syrian authorities like to call them, which lasted six years from 1976 to 1982: “As Hafez al-Assad did not manage to subjugate the rebels with all his political skill, he decided to respond to the violence of the Islamists with that of the state and drown the uprising in blood. Thus, some Syrian towns and cities were brutally punished and suffered all kinds of cruelties that were not forgotten, as we have been seeing over the last few years. Massacres were perpetrated in Hama, Aleppo and Palmyra, and tens of thousands of citizens suffered long detentions and tortures in prison. At the same time, and coinciding with these events, the men loyal to the regime enjoyed stunning social promotion. This involved, above all, officers of the secret services and the local bosses of the ruling party.”

Abbas continues: “the official history, written by the regime and spread by the media and its pedagogical machinery, has completely eluded such an inglorious past. Nevertheless, it is from those facets covered by the state institutions that our Scheherazades of today extract the themes for their novels, and whose most representative examples are Manhal al-Sarraj and Rosa Yasseen.”

Manhal al-Sarraj is an engineer by training although, with her two novels and books of short stories published to date, she has gained a preeminent position in the Syrian literary scene

These authors are not translated from Arabic, but we can read some fragments of their work. Manhal al-Sarraj is an engineer by training although, with her two novels and books of short stories published to date, she has gained a preeminent position in the Syrian literary scene. She is from Hama, the martyr city that was besieged by the elite troops of the Syrian army before becoming the scene of bloody fighting between them and armed Islamists. Throughout the month of February 1982 massacres were perpetrated in the city, which was levelled. At that time, Manhal al-Sarraj was 18 years old and everything suggests she witnessed the atrocities.

In Kama yanbaghi li nahr (“As a River Should”),[3] her first novel, still prohibited in Syria, she narrates the last days of Fatma, an old woman who lives alone in the family residence, previously full of men and women, stories and promises. But the everyday concerns in the life of this old lady are infiltrated by memories, which bring back the past with its nightmares and demons. The whole novel is characterised by a back and forth movement between the two times: the past, the era in which the “events” happen, and an apocalyptic Friday begins, in which the muezzins call to the jihad to expel from their city the troops of Abou Chama (the man with a wart), and the present, in which the arrival of the Internet in the city is experienced and ends with the death of Fatma.

We are not dealing with a description of people and events but the stories of people who act and, with their acts, reproduce the events and recreate the atmosphere of yesteryear

Apart from the mention of the arrival of Internet in the city, based on which we can establish the internal chronology, we find no temporal reference that allows us to define the real historical time of the narration. The same thing happens with the spatial references, as we do not discover any name that allows us to identify the city in which the events take place. It is a city located between two mountains, with its river, its bridge and its two banks, its public garden, its cemetery, its mosque and its cultural centre…

This chronotopic dissimilation does not deceive the warned reader, as Hassan Abbas shows, who recognises the city of Hama by other signs that are neither spatial nor temporal. We have, to be sure, the meticulous description of all the nooks of the city, but above all we have the evocation of several aspects of its specific culture, such as the popular melopoeiae, the culinary and dress customs and the vocabulary of its residents, which appears in a kind of glossary at the end of the book. There are, in effect, many signs that reveal a world annihilated by hate that feeds the warriors on both sides. In her return to the past, the novelist avoids the impersonal narration characteristic of journalistic writing. She does not seek to create a historical-political document, but a literary work.

And she achieves this thanks to the perfect composition of the characters. We are not dealing with a description of people and events but the stories of people who act and, with their acts, reproduce the events and recreate the atmosphere of yesteryear. Such is the case, for example, of the character of the crazy Lamia: “When the soldiers entered, she was sleeping with her husband and two children. She pulled up the sheet to cover her breast and Anas, the baby she was nursing. In a given moment, one of the soldiers seized the gallon of kerosene to douse the mattress, pillows and everything else. In a gesture of desperation, Lamia picked up the child, who was still sleeping despite the disturbance, and started running with a child in each arm. When she reached the bridge, she discovered she was carrying a pillow and realised that her daughter was burning with her husband and the rest of the house. She decided to throw the treacherous pillow into the river but, instead, threw in Anas, and in a few moments found herself deprived of her two children, her husband and her reason.”

Moreover, the soldiers of the man with the wart, nameless characters, relate the abuses they committed when they searched for the hidden turban of the chief of the rebels: they cut off the women’s arms to get their gold bracelets, chose beautiful virgins to rape before executing them and took the men to the cemeteries to kill them before burying them in mass graves.

In Jourat Hawwa,[4] the second novel by Manhal al-Sarraj, the story of the city of Hama is also recalled through the fate of three women: May, a painter who dreams of freedom; another painter called Rima, who manages to join the rising social class formed by the bourgeoisie linked to the bureaucrats, and Kawthar, a devout architect who aspires to divine clemency.

The “events” are evoked through the stories of these women to assess their impact on the fate of human beings. We discover how the combatant Islam coped with its defeat and how it focused on social work, with the support above all of women. We realise the injustice suffered by the women due to the dominant system of values in society. We understand the role of Saudi Arabia and its conservative and obscurantist culture in the hundreds of thousands of Syrian economic migrants who live in that country. Lastly, we discover the hypocrisy concealed in the fundamentalist media that preach piety and devotion without applying them in their private ambit.

The “events” are evoked through the stories of these women to assess their impact on the fate of human beings. We discover how the combatant Islam coped with its defeat and how it focused on social work, with the support above all of women

Rosa Yasseen is from Latakia, a coastal city that occupies an important position in the contemporary history of Syria. Latakia, the fiefdom of Hafez al-Assad, born in a town in the region, has largely benefited from this geographic coincidence. Just like all Syrian cities, it suffered the side effects of confrontation between the regime and the Islamists. But here, to a greater extent than in other cities, these confrontations adopted an interdenominational appearance due to the mixed composition of the city and, above all, the abuses of power perpetrated by the local representatives of the regime’s apparatus.

In her first novel, Abanous,[5] the novelist weaves a century of history through the evocation of five generations of women of the same family. The evolution of the story shows the transformations, stage by stage, of the status of women in relation to the history of the country.

The “mother of Rima”, never mentioned by her name, represents the first generation. In the early 20th century she lived in a village impregnated with myths. Her husband was possessed by a fairy, causing his tragic death: “The poor thing had no idea that the fairy kills the man who sleeps with her.” Humiliated by the supernatural betrayal of her husband and by the system of values prevailing in the village, Rima’s mother, who had just turned twenty, decided not to meet any other man and saw how, despite her youth, she stopped menstruating. It is the era when the woman is completely subjugated to her social status and even her physiology bears the marks of that subjugation.

The second generation is represented by Rima, who lived alone with her widowed mother. It was a difficult period in which the Ottomans were at war on several fronts at the same time – the Suez Canal, in the South, and the Balkans, in the East –, which demanded a general mobilisation and the confiscation of all the goods in the territories of the Empire. Deprived of paternal protection in a closed and completely male chauvinist society, Rima became the whore of the village, although only in the imagination of the locals. One day she fell in love with a young foreigner fleeing the war. She succumbed to his caresses, to his promises of marriage and a tempting life in the city. But the young man left Rima pregnant and wasted no time getting away. After she gave birth, she left her daughter at her mother’s home to escape with the son of the Aga, theTurkish title given to landowners. After several months of happiness, the powerful father of her lover finds him and obliges him to the fold. On the day he leaves, Rima takes her own life.

Deprived of paternal protection in a closed and completely male chauvinist society, Rima became the whore of the village, although only in the imagination of the locals

The woman of this generation is always an inferior human being to the man. The dominant religious culture only concedes one way out for a woman’s desire for emancipation: death.

The representative of the third generation is Rima’s daughter, Soumayya, who became Oum Brahim ‒ the mother of Ibrahim ‒ after marrying a venerable sheikh. During the day she combined work in a tobacconist’s with the domestic chores in service of her husband, who devoted his life to transmitting the secret teachings of his esoteric doctrine to young followers. The family lived in a neighbourhood known for its fervour, but forty years of living together in the same place had meant that some doctrinal differences had been forgotten. At least, this is what the sheikh believed before the fateful days of August 1979, a date when the armed factions of the Islamists spread through the city and he himself became the object of a frustrated attack.

Women suffer a dual violence: the loss of husband and children and the rape by the enemies who attempt to strip the dignity of the towns in the flesh of their women

The woman of this generation is witness to the independence of the country and the introduction of modernity. She is beginning to form part of the industrial life of the city. She participates, increasingly more visibly, in political and social life. However, this progress does not manage to change the status of women subjected to patriarchal power.

The fourth generation is represented by two characters: Miriam, daughter of Soumayya, and Sanaa, her young neighbour. Both girls embody two aspects of revolutionary romanticism highly present in the Syrian youth of the 1970s.

Miriam was in love with one of her fellow university students. She experienced her love freely and, when the two lovers decided to get married, she had already been pregnant for two months. Her father opposed the marriage, but Miriam defied his decision and followed her convictions: “I have always dreamt of such a marriage, free of all these disgusting traditions.” The romanticism of the young girl and her husband is reflected in the name they choose for their baby, Angela:[6] “She is a black militant [Angela Davis] and we would really like our daughter to be like her.”

Sanaa, for her part, was a political militant in one of those leftwing groups that emerged during the first decade of the reign of Hafez al-Assad, and that thought they could bring down the “dictatorial regime”. All the militants ended up in prison.

The woman of this generation begins to break free from the yoke of tradition, albeit without completely turning her back on the patriarchal power. She goes to university and can live independently. That independence, although not total, allows her political and personal projects that do not coincide with family options.

Angela, Miriam’s daughter, represents the fifth generation. She is an enfant terrible who from childhood has received a different education, which explains her early emancipation. At the age of nine she plays in the street with the boys. Later, she begins to live alone in the capital and stands up to her father when he assumes the role of wise man experienced in life: “Why don’t you let me have my experiences alone? […] Let me know something of what your generation has known. Let me appreciate the taste of this life whose finest details I will decide for myself.” To understand herself, Angela decides to write the family history.

The woman of this generation has been brought up in an era marked by the disappearance of liberties, both in the national ambit (the autocratic regime) and the regional ambit (the crushing of the Palestinian people and the invasion of Iraq by the Americans). She is a woman who no longer accepts being a second class citizen or who resigns herself to what the patriarchal society offers her. She wants to recover her position in the world and tries to understand why this world is the way it is.

Women suffer a dual violence: the loss of husband and children and the rape by the enemies who attempt to strip the dignity of the towns in the flesh of their women. This dual violence is represented by the Bosnian novelist Jasmina Musabegovic, who wrote about her work and that of other writers and filmmakers in an article in French for the aforementioned issue of Quaderns de la Mediterrània, and currently out of stock, entitled “Women’s Faces in the Mediterranean”.[7]

Syrian woman with her son (IEMed Collection)

In this article the writer deals with two overlapping issues: “faceless women and women’s faces”, and talking about one of them necessarily involves talking about the other. Jasmina Musabegovic says: “I belong to that generation that in the ambit of the history of literature learnt everything about ‘Bovarism’ (Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert), or ‘Kareninism’ (Ana Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy), but once they reach maturity, they move on to sharing the ideas of Christa Wolf (Cassandra, Medea), Elsa Morante, Marguerite Duras, etc.”

Musabegovic continues: “In Bosnia, in this ambit, the situation is atypical and highly complex. During the war that has recently devastated the country, the women had to learn to fight desperately to maintain their face, because they were the first victims of the mass and planned genocide ‒ including the systematic rape ‒ whose objective was to eliminate a whole people.

“Consequently, the self-affirmation of the woman – and therefore, ‘gaining’ a face – is a difficult task, and very especially for Bosnian women, who, as we have said, have had to suffer genocide, ethnic cleansing and group rape. This stain, it is worth emphasising, is almost more painful in itself than the fact of having lived through the known horrors. Because the victim, however innocent, cannot avoid feeling ashamed, branded, tarnished forever, and that was precisely, among other things, the end of those acts of destruction. However, self-awareness not only means the return to a normal life, but also the capacity to articulate this awareness in all ambits. Women, in other words, half the human race, both the heirs of Islamic culture and those of Christian culture – I repeat, half the human race –, have always been a minority, and this is also within European borders.

“Bosnian women were not only systematically raped because they were (are) a link in the chain of reproduction, but also because they were (are) an anthropological link of the family cell and, therefore, carriers of the stock of the cultural code of the community. Thus, faceless women, carriers of cultural chains, as, because of their status of ‘stock’, allow the renewal of the cultural and family cell. They are the ones who teach the children their native language, who sing them lullabies, who whisper the first prayers and those who, laying a Bosnian map on the floor, create a home where there will always be freshly-baked bread and sweet-smelling cake. So it was the woman, with such an important role in society and in her community, who had to be annihilated!

“She had to be eliminated completely and not only deprived of her entity. It had to be ensured that she was rejected physically, and not only for the values she symbolised and the role she played in society. Unfortunately, the official institutions made the political non-existence imposed by the aggressor their own. For example, none of the numerous women’s organisations protested alongside the women of Srebrenica when they demonstrated.”

Jasmina Musabegovic continues: “If we have not suffered the fate of these women, we prefer not to recognise that this same fate could have been reserved for all of us. It is understandable. Bearing such a weight leaves you breathless and annihilates you.” During the war, that situation inspired her to write a poem entitled “Cut throats do not sing”.

Shafak, despite speaking to us movingly about the Armenian genocide shows, that current Turks do not remember or feel involved in the great drama of the early 20th century

With her expressive strength and her linguistic power, the words that spring from her mouth, like prophetic truths, go beyond our understanding. The word of the artist is another leitmotiv. Like many others, during the war, the artist endeavours to go beyond the object of her creation with the aim of better capturing it. The title of the poem“To this so beloved and yet undesired child” forms part of this life. Undoubtedly, the lava contained in this first sentence has to cool to be moulded. But women artists, above all women filmmakers, had to handle an ignited material, like visual artists or writers.

The Turkish-born writer Elif Shafak tells in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul the story of two girls and their respective families, one of Armenian origin who lives in the United States and the other Turkish who lives in Istanbul. Families that, in addition to sharing the same culinary tastes, are unknowingly related by marriage, which leads the young American of Armenian origin to visit Istanbul. In The Bastard of Istanbul Shafak presents a matriarchal family, because of the lack of men who die or soon disappear. This family, despite the ideological and vital diversity of its women, protects the young Asya, who moves in an Istanbul that if it were not for the geographical and historical context could resemble a city like Barcelona or London, where they drink alcohol and the women are freer than in any Muslim country. The city the writer presents to us is much more modern than the young Armenian-American can imagine. Shafak, despite speaking to us movingly about the Armenian genocide, in the fiction viewed crudely by a djin ‒ Muslim spirit in the popular tradition ‒, shows that current Turks do not remember or feel involved in the great drama of the early 20th century. Because of this work the writer, born in 1978 in Strasburg of Turkish diplomat parents, was accused in 2006 of insulting the Turkish identity in accordance with article 301 of the Penal Code, because she refers to the Armenian genocide.

There are other hopeful voices, such as that of Farida Benlyazid, filmmaker and scriptwriter, a prototype of the first women who have paved the way for younger women in the Maghreb, specifically in Morocco. In an article where the filmmaker recalls her personal and professional life she explains: “I married at the age of seventeen and had two daughters… I thought that my husband, a revolutionary who had been sentenced to death, would understand my thirst for freedom. Of course I was very romantic. After many difficulties that brought me up against the laws of my country, I managed to get a divorce. At the age of twenty-three, contrary to everyone’s opinion, I went to Paris to study in a film school. I worked, brought up my children and studied. After ten years I returned to Morocco with the firm intention of making cinema.

“Day after day, we try to persuade the public powers of the importance of cinema for our culture. Today, it is as if a country without an image is a country whose culture is bound to vanish. The images of the other are the only ones that are imposed on our young people and shape them unilaterally (hence the desire to emigrate). I recall that, at first, Moroccan viewers could not avoid laughing when seeing characters express themselves in their language, in settings that were familiar to them. With time, our productions improved, and the audience became interested in them. Finally, a political will was established that allowed the emergence of young filmmakers, through the creation of a production assistance fund.

“For years I was the only woman who worked in cinema, but for some time now we have seen the arrival of new young women, who make very beautiful films promoted at international level. Narjis Nejjar became known for her film Les yeux secs (“Dry Eyes”); Yasmine Kassari has won more than forty awards with L’enfant endormi (“The Sleeping Child”); Layla Marakchi stirred up great controversy with her film Marock, which annoyed the Islamists; Zakia Tahiri, who together with her husband directed Origine contrôlée (“Control of Origen”), is preparing her new film, this time alone: Number One, and Fatema Zemmouri Ouazzani directed the very notable film Dans la maison de mon père (“In My Father’s House”).”

With this article I have tried to recover some of the Mediterranean voices, some better known than others, who use the story and image to not forget, and also use memory to forge a future. All these voices belong to women creators of the southern and eastern Mediterranean, who contribute with their striking images to universal communication.


[1] Mujeres magrebíes: la voz y la mirada en la literatura norteafricana, Barcelona, Icaria, 1998.

[2] Women on the Mediterranean Mirror, Barcelona, IEMed, 2006, pp. 225-232.

[3]Editions of the Department of Culture and Information of the Government of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, 2003. This novel, prohibited in Syria by the censor, received the third prize for Arab creativity in Sharjah in 2002. There are extracts of the novel in English.

[4] Damascus, al-Mada, 2005.

[5] Editions of the Ministry of Culture of the Arab Republic of Syria, 2004. This novel obtained the second prize for best novel in the contest (Hanna Mina) organised by the Ministry. To everyone’s surprise and especially the author’s, before it was published it was censored and some things were changed, such as the name of the city (information provided by Hassan Abbas).

[6] There is a parallelism between the narration and the author’s real life. The character of the father, Hazem, resembles his, Bou Ali Yacine, a very well known communist researcher. Moreover, she is called after the German militant Rosa Luxemburg (information provided by Hassan Abbas).

[7] Ibid, pp. 243-246.