Amiry: Damascus filled the absence of Jaffa in my life
Ramallah – (A.M. Qattan Foundation):
On Saturday, July 20th 2019, during the launch of her latest novel, “My Damascus” at the A.M. Qattan Foundation, Palestinian writer Suad Amiry said that Damascus has played a huge role in shaping her personality. After her family was forced to leave Jerusalem for Amman and eventually settled in the Syrian capital and since Jaffa - where her father was born - was far from her, Amiry filled the absence left by Jaffa with the presence of Damascus.
In her novel, Amiry tells a story spanning three generations in Damascus. Beginning with the story of her 28-year-old rich Damascene merchant grandfather, and her 14-year-old grandmother; Basima Abdulhadi from the village of ‘Arraba. Amiry narrates the way her grandparents met and married, and how her grandmother moved to Damascus in 1889. Later she tells the story of her parents in 1950 and finishes with her story and the story of her cousin Norma in modern times, in which Norma is the thread that connects the three generations.
Motherhood played a key role in the structure of the novel. Amiry considers the concept of motherhood to be the same in essence - whether through biological means or through adoption. The supreme sensation is the feeling of motherhood, regardless of how we reach it.
“My Damascus” is an autobiography of Amiry’s life, in which she shares with us the details of her family’s life, the way they lived, and the beauty of Damascus and Syria by describing her grandfather’s house as a model of Damascene houses and the different Syrian dishes and cuisines.
“My Damascus” is different from Amiry’s previous publications. In her previous novels, Amiry was a storyteller more than a writer, telling short quick stories about daily Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. However, in “My Damascus”, Amiry took a long time to finish the novel, and made a paradigm shift in her storytelling, placing her life experiences at the centre of narration.
The novel is feminist par excellence; Amiry focusses on strong female personalities in her life, from her aunt Suad, the head of the house, to her mother who is not afraid of anything. While she did not intend to write a novel about women per se, the most influential characters who feature in the book are those who played an essential role in shaping the way she is now - most of whom are women.
Amiry said that she started thinking about the novel after the launch of her novel “Sharon and My Mother-in-Law” in 2003, where she mentioned Damascus briefly, and started thinking about writing a novel about the history of Damascus through the story of her life.
Amiry is currently preparing to write a new novel about Jaffa, but she says she finds it difficult to write about a city she did not grow up in. When Amiry returned to Jaffa recently, the city felt alien; because all of her information about Jaffa came from sound recordings collected about the city and not from a lived experience as it has been with Damascus.
The Launch of “My Damascus” is part of a series of book releases organised by the A.M. Qattan Foundation to celebrate authors and their literary and academic productions, and to encourage the audience to read the latest Arabic and international publications.
The novel was published by Al Mutawassit Publishing House in Italy and translated from English into Arabic by Imad al-Ahmad in collaboration with the author. A 286-page A5 Palestine special edition was published by Al Raqamia Publishing House in Ramallah.