Där vinden vilar

Out of all the books I’ve read in my life, in all the places, Samar Yazbek‘s Där vinden vilar was the first to have me so engrossed that I missed my stop on the subway. Maybe that’s really the only review I need to write.

A young soldier in the Syrian civil war has been grievously injured by friendly fire. Ali’s struggle to reach the shelter of a nearby tree is interspersed with flashbacks to important people and moments of his short life. The lyrical translation from Marie Anell paints a vivid picture of a dreamy and mystical young man with a deep reverence for nature, completely ill-suited for the battlefield. Yazbek also uses this limited perspective to depict dictatorships from a grassroots, ground-up perspective.

If there’s any criticism to be made, you could argue that Ali is deliberately crafted to have the maximal emotional impact; to be the perfect war casualty. He is just too kind, too innocent to be anything but deeply sympathetic. The comparison to Frère d’âme is a natural one to make here, given their similar topics and structures. In Frère, however, it seems like Diop makes at least some effort to present unsavory or off-putting aspects of Alfa’s character alongside his more admirable traits. As a result he ends up as a perhaps more realistic, or at least more typical, teenage boy.

But I think if Yazbek had taken the same approach, it would have landed very differently, potentially undermining the point of the book. In a way, Ali is less of a character and more of a symbol, a way to link the anonymous violence of the battlefield to the people and the communities it devastates. He’s the best parts of everyone’s lost son, the physical embodiment of the collective hope a village or town has for their young people, the perfect angel doting parents see in their children. Alfa’s story is about himself; Ali’s story is about the people around him.

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Stockholm-based translator and copyeditor of American extraction.

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