Eva Nour: City of Sparrows

“The birds have been a natural part of the city. That the sky was now devoid of the fluttering of wings was a clear sign that life had changed.”

One might find this in the fiction section of a bookstore, but only because the character’s real name and certain details had to be fictionalized to protect his identity and the identities of loved ones who are still living in Syria. Eva Nour is a pseudonym of the journalist who penned this.

This account is unusual for the different vantage points it acquaints us with, through the same character in different stages of his life — a regular boy growing up in peaceful Homs and whose father dismisses conversations on Hafez al-Assad’s dictatorship out of fear; an adolescent serving time in the government’s army when the protests against the regime begin; a rebel against the same army and regime but this time under Bashar al-Assad; a disillusioned man whose faith in the Free Syrian Army becomes tarnished in the midst of the mass exodus; a photographer who dangerously documents the inhumanity and the deaths so the world would be made aware; and after immeasurable suffering, an exile.

In a book about a place where the antagonist is the same government supposedly assigned to protect its people, would you expect to find these lines? “Poetry didn’t have anything to do with words. It was a way of viewing the world.”

I try hard not to abuse the word “beautiful” in my reviews even though the books that have come my way these days do not fall short of the adjective. This one, for all its gruesome and horrifying details, did not fit the description in almost its entirety — until I arrived at the last page and nearly uttered the word out loud.

Through my readings, I have realized how narratives from the Middle East are so important not only for the reader but more so for the storyteller, because their stories can either be one of three difficult things; an act of healing, an act of protest, or an act of love. In this case, it is all three at once.

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