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The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of…
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The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria

by Alia Malek

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Part of why Americans struggle to understand Middle Eastern history and politics is that we always begin by identifying and puzzling over the differences; in doing so, the differences become emphasized, and the puzzle becomes greater. The problem is compounded by the way we teach and study the Middle East as a unit, emphasizing broad regional and religious elements rather than coming to understand the distinct personalities and textures of individual areas. We even eat "Middle Eastern" food instead of Syrian, Yemeni, or Iranian cuisine.

Alia Malek's book is an easily accessible corrective to all that, for in her hands the vast tract of Syrian history, from ancient times though the conflicts of the last century to the morass of today, is transformed into a personal history. We are granted the privilege of viewing through her eyes a grand drama that, really, comes down to a home: a family home, one from which the family has been evicted, which she is taking up, repossessing, and filling with new life. This is history brought into the present and viewed close up. Alia challenges herself to look hard at individual characters, even close family members, and explore all of their humanness, from their worst flaws to their greatest generosity, and puts them in the context of their time and place. It is not an easy history, but it is a rich, entertaining, sad, funny, lively, and, yes, heartbreaking history. It is also a history of a woman who can speak to we sheltered Americans as an American and really bring it close to us.

Empathy is everything as we look at Syria today, absolutely everything. And this book breaks through the constant attempts to understand the history of Syria as a different place in a different region to help us instead realize we are all "balcony friends". I would heartily recommend this book to any reader, but would particularly recommend it for classes seeking to provide a human introduction to a land often put at a distance. ( )
5 vote A_musing | Jun 6, 2017 |
956.9144 M245 2017
  ebr_mills | Mar 23, 2017 |
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In The Home that Was My Country, Syrian-American journalist Alia Malek chronicles her return to her family home in Damascus and the history of the Jabban apartment building. Here, generations of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Armenians lived, worked, loved, and suffered in close quarters. In telling the story of her family over the course of the last century, Alia brings to light the triumphs and failures that have led Syria to where it is today. Her book bristles with insights, as Alia weaves acute political analysis into intimate scenes, interlacing the personal and the political with subtlety and grace. After being in and out of Syria growing up, Alia came back to Syria as a journalist at the time of the Arab Spring, striving to understand it as the country was beginning to disintegrate. As days go on, Alia learns how to speak the language that exists in a dictatorship, while privately confronting her own fears about her country's future, and learns how to carry on with everyday life. This intimate portrait of contemporary Syria will shed more light on its history, society, and politics than all of today's war reporting accounts written from the Syrian front. It makes for an eye-opening, highly moving, and beautiful read, and finds the humanity behind the disastrous daily headlines.… (more)

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