“The Abode of the Wind” (Maqâm al-rîh), by Samar Yazbek, translated from Arabic (Syria) by Khaled Osman and Ola Mehanna, Stock, “La cosmopolite”, 250 p., €20.90, digital 15 €.
A soldier wounded by friendly fire – a bomb dropped by mistake on his patrol – is dying at the foot of a tree, on the crests of a mountain. Between his vain attempts to get up and appreciate the seriousness of his wounds, between the delusions provoked by the pain and the exacerbated consciousness specific to the moments which precede death, Ali revisits the defining moments of his short life, from the burial of his older brother, killed in the war, until the day when, arrested at a roadblock of militiamen, he was in turn enrolled in the Syrian army.
Syria remains at the heart of the writing of Samar Yazbek (born in 1970), living in Paris since she had to leave her country in 2011, after participating in the first months of the revolution and spending a short time in prison. . The Abode of the Wind is her third translated novel, in addition to three other works in the form of testimonies on the uprising, then on the civil war in Syria – a country to which she had returned clandestinely in 2012 and 2013 and from where she brought back a terrible story, The Gates of Nothingness (Stock, Prize for the best foreign book 2016). As often in a context of war, and even more so of civil war, fiction and non-fiction feed each other, complement each other and participate in a vast project of writing history, whose writers live as guarantors and trustees.
But with The Abode of the Wind, fiction takes its place, the artifices of literature unfold freely. The Syria mentioned here is that of the Alawite mountain, which Samar Yazbek knows well, coming from this community which is also that of the Assad family and whose original spirituality she shows, with very discreet little touches, ” anchor[e] in connection with nature and with life”.
In a bloodless country
This fusional bond with nature is what best characterizes Ali, the central character and narrator of the novel. Which gives us very beautiful pages where the writing of Samar Yazbek, impeccably translated by Ola Mehanna and Khaled Osman, takes on accents that evoke Giono. But the Alaouite djebel is not, or rather no longer has much to do with the mountain of Lure (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence), in a bloodless country where these mountaineers, already at the bottom of the ladder society in ordinary times, barely survive since the outbreak of the “war” – it is never qualified here, which gives it a kind of immanence. We don’t see it directly under Ali’s gaze, but we can clearly see the effects: “For several years, the country had been covered with new forms of tombs, some clearly visible, others more hidden. Some, of reduced size, were designed to bury only fragments of dismembered human corpses, others, on the contrary very large, acted as giant pits that could accommodate hundreds of remains. »
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Source: Le Monde