Review of ‘Farewell Damascus’ by Ghada Samman
Samman’s repertoire, but within the literary arena. Originally published in Arabic in 2015, the book was then translated into English by Nancy Roberts and published by Darf Publishers in 2018.
There is lasting humor in the contradictions Zain finds herself in when exploring Damascus’s old, traditional neighborhoods and its deep patriarchy.
As a 17-year-old who falls in love with a rich young man and fights to marry him, she is rebuked by her family’s older generation of aunts and uncles who tell her that “you’re not allowed to get to know someone before you marry him. You’ve got to sign the marriage contract first!” But Zain, with her father’s permission, marries the man she loves, only to find a year later, that she does not want to be married any more.
When news spreads that she is getting a divorce, she is berated by her family’s younger generation of cousins who had only just mustered up the courage to tell their parents about the people they loved and wanted to marry. Now the parents are using Zain as an example to oppose their children’s spousal choices.
Unafraid and unapologetic, Samman’s book is impactful, told with ease and wit. She writes with clarity as she describes Damascus, with its vibrant history, ancient corners and the societal contradictions that fall within its walls.
Samman does an incredible job of writing about Zain and her dreams of seeking freedom and independence in a world that does not allow many women that privilege.
Samman’s book is about desires versus reality. It is about what one wants in life and then what life gives you. Through Zain, Samman shows that life is what one makes of it, whatever the outcome.