In circumstances similar to those that led to the birth of novels “Magic realism“In the sixties and seventies of the last century at the hands of Latin American novelists such as Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez Author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the novel “Separation” by the Syrian writer Elie Girgis was born more than a decade after the outbreak of the Syrian war and the tragedies, humanitarian crises, and many political complexities it left behind, making it difficult to approach it in a comprehensive approach without shifting away from reality and its implications toward the world of magical imagination. And its potential.
Throughout 450 medium-length pages, its author attempts to formulate a kind of elaborate narrative archiving of modern Syrian social and political history, drawing on the artistic elements of magical realism with the narrative possibilities it opens up that make the literary text an indistinguishable mixture between realistic and magical events, giving the writer freedom. Fiction is outside the strict rules of logic and simulation that characterize non-fiction.
In “The Separation,” we are faced with a strange journey that Captain “Arif” undertakes through time, returning to the sixties of the last century, and instead of meeting the “gypsy” – as is usual in magical realism novels – Arif meets the “Bedouin” fortune-teller who will guide him to the paths of “The Separation.” “The separation test” in which the captain suddenly found himself in the midst of.
A separation will clear Aref’s mind and heart, give him enough time to judge reality, and most importantly, it will allow him to engage in a lived emotional and intellectual experience in a pivotal era in modern Syrian history following Syria’s secession from Egypt, the disintegration of the United Arab Republic on September 28, 1961, and what followed. Of the political and social events and developments that were one of the reasons for the Syrian revolution in March 2011.
The narrative in the novel “Separation” opens on the event of Captain Aref’s disappearance from his battalion, an accident that happened to the thirty-year-old young man – educated and obsessed with books on the political history of his country – after he boarded Colonel Mohsen’s car that afternoon and set off on a military mission that ended with him waking up in the middle of the desert. Syria took him back in time to 1961.
The white dog “Kursha” appears out of nowhere and leads Arif to the tent of her “Bedouin” owner. The latter kindly hosts the lost captain, gives him water, feeds him, and directs him to a rest stop near her tent.
In the rest house, Arif discovers that time has returned with him, and that Abu Matloob (the owner of the rest house) also took him back in time many years ago to this desert, linking the two with a strong relationship that opened the door wide to the biographies, dialogues, and debates of wisdom, philosophy, history, politics, man, and society.
A different narrative
Thus, through these dialogues, the novelist opens a cross-time window overlooking historical events that “remained unknown and ambiguous to most Syrians,” as Arif says while talking to himself, which makes the dialogues of Arif, Abu Matloub, and other visitors to the rest house a narrative archive of the events of the time period extending from 1961 to 2011.
Narrative archiving creates a historical narrative that is different, and perhaps contradictory – in many cases – to the official narrative taught by schools and universities to their students, and transmitted by the local media in Syria, about that era full of political and social transformations that paved the way for the explosion of anger and violence from 2011 to the present day.
According to the narrative narrated by Arif and his interlocutors, the unity that brought Egypt and Syria together on February 22, 1958 was not the fulfillment of a long-awaited Arab political and popular dream, but rather was the result of an emotional, hasty, and ill-considered decision that established the killing of political life in Syria, after the leader stipulated The late Egyptian Gamal Abdel Nasser dissolved all Syrian parties, followed a systematic policy to exclude Syrian politicians, pursue opponents through the security services, and dominate all decision-making centers in the nascent state, leading to secession on September 22, 1961.
After the separation, the Baath Party completed the mission of Nasiriyah in eliminating party pluralism and killing democratic political life in Syria once and for all, following the same repressive approach in silencing the mouths of opponents and throwing them in prison on charges such as “weakening the nation’s resolve.” To ensure the loyalty of the army, the party transformed it into an entity with a “partisan doctrine.” “Socialist nationalism,” as a Baathist visitor says to Aref at the break. To consolidate his rule, he infiltrated state institutions for four decades, offering exceptional privileges to those affiliated with him.
The narrative includes other pivotal events in Syrian political and social history, such as:Hama massacre (1982), the intervention of the Syrian army in Lebanon (1976), and the economic sanctions that affected the Syrian regime during that period, which led to the decline of the economy, the tightening of the security grip, and the deterioration of the living conditions of the Syrians, who began to stand in long lines to obtain bread, ghee, and other food supplies. .
A history whose actual facts have been blinded to Syrians for decades, but the activation of Internet service in the first decade of the new millennium played a role in rediscovering this history through e-books, news sites, and social media platforms, as happened with Arif, who used to spend long hours on the Internet reading. Articles and history books to learn about these hidden things.
If the writer allocated the events of the past time to present a different narrative about the modern political and social history of Syria through the dialogues of Aref, Abu Matloub, and visitors to the rest house, then he devoted the narrative to the present time to archive the first events that followed the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, using active figures on the scene of events who contribute to their creation.
Through the character of Colonel Mohsen, who is preparing with his battalion to launch a surprise attack on opposition men in a number of villages surrounding them, the novelist presents an example of the mentality of some of the military leaders in the country and how they dealt with the new events on the political scene in 2011.
It suffices for the writer to review Colonel Mohsen’s mentality when he was imagining a scene in which he walks “among the bodies of the dead from the opposition, raising the victory sign” to record “a heroic position with the leadership, and thus receives a promotion” so that the reader understands the criteria on the basis of which this colonel arranges his priorities. There is nothing wrong with promotion, even if it is At the expense of internal fighting, the colonel did not hesitate to reprimand one of the officers who wondered how they should deal with unarmed civilians. This reprimand marked the beginning of a phase in which “no voice louder than the sound of battle.”
The narrative also immerses itself in depicting the tyranny of arrogance, selfishness, contempt and contempt in the space of communication between the upper and lower ranks in the army, which would have led to the death of the conscript “Abdo” by suicide, and the rebellion of the conscript “Saqr” after a series of punishments and abuse directed at them by Colonel Mohsen. Without a clear reason.
By shedding light on these and other manifestations, Girgis seeks to dismantle the system of oppression, tyranny, and nepotism upon which the military institution is based, wondering if the doctrine of “corruption and sectarianism” has replaced the doctrine of “Arab socialist nationalism” that the Baath wanted for the country’s army when it came to power in 1963. .
In its archiving of the events of that stage, the narrative did not ignore the manifestations of division that affected most aspects of the lives of Syrians, who were divided between supporters and opponents, beneficiaries and harmed, frantic and indifferent to what was happening.
By tracing the repercussions that Arif’s disappearance had on his fiancée Hind and her family, the narrative is able to intensify the scene on the Syrian street at that stage: the suppression of Friday demonstrations, the tightening of security and the spread of checkpoints, arrests and torture, the arming of the opposition, and the outbreak of battles between the two sides.
By looking at the political positions of the main characters (most of whom are from a Christian religious background) in the present time, the reader sees the state of apprehension that dominated this Syrian social component at that stage, an apprehension of sectarian traps, of international conspiracies, and of sliding into undesirable acts of violence. Its aftermath.
A situation that led the characters of the novel to adopt a moderate opinion, which Abu Hind expresses best when he says: “We are the supporters and the opponents, supportive of every glimmer of light and building block, opposed to any spot of corruption and mismanagement.”
But on the other hand, the writer wanted to portray his “moderate” characters as national figures capable of making sacrifices if required to do so. The reader follows how Abu Hind risked the safety of his family when he hid Youssef, who was being pursued for security reasons by the regime’s security forces, in his house, and then provided A safe place for him, away from suspicion.
There's still a long way to go
Returning to what happened with Arif in his miraculous journey through time, we find Karsha, the same white dog, leading him in a magical scene to her Bedouin owner, but this time not to the tent, but to the ancient Roman amphitheater in the Syrian city of Palmyra.
Arif stands at the bottom of the amphitheater, astonished by the appearance of the Bedouin on the stage like a ghost whose features cannot be distinguished. The Bedouin tells the Captain that the test is over, and that he must now either remain in this time or return to the time he lived in. Arif chooses to return to his time, where his loved ones are waiting for him.
Thus, Arif drives his car and drives down a dirt road. He becomes very sleepy, and as soon as he wakes up, he finds a blue sign in front of him that says, “Damascus 100 km.” Arif gets out of the car, takes a chat room, and writes on the sign, “There is still a long way to go.”
On the impact of this event, the novel closes, announcing its end, while the text reveals its meaning without the need to interrogate it. Despite the end of Aref’s “separation” from his reality (which is a metaphor for the Syrians’ separation from their history and their reality, which ended with the beginning of their revolution), the road to Damascus is still long, to The longed-for Damascus without war, pain and fear.
Thus, Girgis succeeds, through the formal use of the elements of magical realism and keenness on narrative archiving, in presenting a work of fiction that almost encloses between its two folds the most important events and political and social transformations that Syria has witnessed recently, which the novelist conveys to us between magic and reality to give their sequence a special significance that leads us to the core of his perception of what It happened in his country during the last five decades.
However, in the novel “The Separation”, the tyranny of the declarative and documentary style is criticized at the expense of the narrative style of discourse, and the great similarity between the voices and positions of the main characters, all of whom appeared as educated figures with extensive knowledge of historical, political and social issues.