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The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria
     

The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria

by Alia Malek
 

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At the Arab Spring's hopeful start, Alia Malek returned to Damascus to reclaim her grandmother's apartment, which had been lost to her family since Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970. Its loss was central to her parent's decision to make their lives in America. In chronicling the people who lived in the Tahaan building, past and present, Alia portrays the

Overview


At the Arab Spring's hopeful start, Alia Malek returned to Damascus to reclaim her grandmother's apartment, which had been lost to her family since Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970. Its loss was central to her parent's decision to make their lives in America. In chronicling the people who lived in the Tahaan building, past and present, Alia portrays the Syrians-the Muslims, Christians, Jews, Armenians, and Kurds-who worked, loved, and suffered in close quarters, mirroring the political shifts in their country. Restoring her family's home as the country comes apart, she learns how to speak the coded language of oppression that exists in a dictatorship, while privately confronting her own fears about Syria's future.

The Home That Was Our Country is a deeply researched, personal journey that shines a delicate but piercing light on Syrian history, society, and politics. Teeming with insights, the narrative weaves acute political analysis with a century of intimate family history, ultimately delivering an unforgettable portrait of the Syria that is being erased.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 01/09/2017
Malek’s (A Country Called Amreeka) multigenerational memoir is a brilliant combination of geopolitics and family history. In an accessible way to general readers, she chronicles the complex and devastating history of Syria, from the Ottoman Empire’s rule and the shift to French colonization to the country’s independence and the rise of the Assad regime. Malek begins with her great grandfather’s success as a businessman in the early stages of Syria’s independence in the 1940s and continues through Bashar Al-Assad’s authoritarian regime and Malek’s migration from her family’s reclaimed home in Damascus, eloquently exploring grief, resilience, and loss. She is a deft reporter and storyteller. She offers first-hand accounts and her astute political analysis as she traverses countries including Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, France, and Syria. At the core of this book are the chilling effects the regime of the Assad family—beginning with Hafez (Bashar’s father)—have on the Syrian people: sectarian rifts, disappeared citizens, extreme censorship, a bloated refugee crisis, and countless deaths in a nonstop war with humanitarian aid cut off. Malek courageously tells the stories of unforgettable family members and friends, including underground humanitarian aid workers who continue despite the risk of torture and execution. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"In The Home That Was Our Country, Alia Malek masterfully weaves together the personal and the political, and in so doing creates an unforgettable portrait of modern Syria in all its complexities and tragedies. Malek renders multiple generations of family, friends and neighbors vividly but unsentimentally, and what emerges is a portrait of a great people held back by tyranny. As Syria suffers through its darkest days, she reminds us of the humans behind the statistics. Completely engrossing and lucid, the book explains Syria's devolution better than anything I've read."—Dave Eggers

"What Alia Malek has done in The Home That Was Our Country is nothing short of extraordinary. With deep love and clear-eyed honesty, she weaves together the story of a family and the history of a country. Malek addresses the personal and the political like no other writer I have read recently. This book is an urgent and necessary read."—Laila Lalami, author of THE MOOR'S ACCOUNT

"Alia Malek's beautiful, arresting portrait of a Syrian family over generations takes you straight to the heart of that country's agony. Malek brings you inside the intimate world of a Damascus apartment building, while weaving in her own experiences as a journalist-laying bare the struggle for freedom like no other work I know. The Syrian war is perhaps the most profound moral and political crisis of our era, and this unforgettable book will forever change the way you see it and the Middle East."—Anand Gopal, author of NO GOOD MEN AMONG THE LIVING

"Alia Malek has written a beautiful, nuanced account of Syria recalling its complex political and social history, its many peoples, and her own family in this vividly detailed memoir. For a deeper understanding of the past and of the present Middle East, read this book. It offers not easy answers, but the "rougher edges of truth" that allow for a more profoundly humanistic portrait of the region and the causes of the current unrest. I missed home as I read: the hospitality and customs and cuisine; the diverse inhabitants that make up the rich tapestry of the old cities and villages; the women, of all socioeconomic backgrounds, who form the backbone of family life-the way it once was."—Micheline Aharonian Marcom, author of THREE APPLES FELL FROM HEAVEN

"Alia Malek takes us on a journey through time as she travels from her birthplace of Baltimore to the country from which her family hails, Syria. There she rediscovers her own family history through the renovation of her grandmother's home. She finds the meaning of what it is to be Syrian through the diverse characters that lived in her grandmother's building in Damascus. But as Malek restores her grandmother's home she watches her country fall apart with the Syrian conflict unfolding in the background. She tells the story of violence engulfing Syria as a brutal war shatters the mosaic of ethnicities and faiths that make up the Syria she'd always known. A beautiful, nuanced and human memoir that weaves the tale of Syria's history through Malek's own family and leaves the reader with the vivid sense of loss, alienation and fear likely common to all Syrians trapped in this conflict."—Leila Fadel, Middle East Correspondent, NPR

"Moving and insightful, Malek's memoir combines sharp-eyed observations of Syrian politics, only occasionally overdone, with elegiac commentary on home, exile, and a bygone era. Provocative, richly detailed reading."—Kirkus Reviews

"Malek's multigenerational memoir is a brilliant combination of geopolitics and family history...Malek courageously tells the stories of unforgettable family members and friends, including underground humanitarian aid workers who continue despite the risk of torture and execution."—Publishers Weekly

"Malek's writing vividly captures the personalities of her family members and friends as well as her own impressions of Syria, allowing readers insight into the personal stakes of the ongoing war."—Laura Chanoux, Booklist

Library Journal
01/01/2017
Born in Baltimore to Syrian refugee parents, Malek is an award-winning author (A Country Called Amreeka), journalist, and civil rights lawyer. While her original intent was to trace her family's history over the course of the last century, what Malek has produced is a valuable collection of stories of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Armenians, and Kurds as they interacted in Syria since the waning days of the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century. Based on her own travels, the narrative recounts the fate of her ancestral home through her final departure in 2013. Readers will be moved by the insights and analysis included here: her own alienation as an Arab living in the "provincial" suburbs of America, the difficulties of traveling as an unmarried woman in a Muslim country, and the struggles among the different ideologically driven political parties that have scarred her homeland. Most poignant is her concluding query: How can Syria ever emerge again, let alone prosper? While she gives no answers, her powerful story will cause thoughtful readers to pause and ponder. VERDICT Using scholarly sources in English and Arabic, Malek's extremely timely and highly readable narrative humanizes one of today's most complex political tragedies and will intrigue readers interested in current world affairs.—Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
Kirkus Reviews
2016-12-05
A Syrian-American journalist/civil rights lawyer interweaves narratives about her family with the history of modern Syria. Malek (A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots, American Stories, 2009, etc.) moved to Damascus in the wake of the Arab Spring. Brimming with optimism, she intended to finish restoration work on her grandmother Salma's house while helping Syria transition from "decades of stifling and corrupt dictatorship." But by 2013, she had returned to the United States, disillusioned. In this book, the author narrates a multigenerational family saga that begins with a charismatic maternal great-grandfather but focuses mostly on Salma's life. When a newlywed Salma moved into the house that Malek would finish restoring more than 60 years later, Syria was independent from Ottoman rule and French influence. Like Salma's life, the country was "more potential and possibility than broken promises." Both Damascus and Salma's apartment building were home to people from all walks of Middle Eastern life: "Turks, Kurds, Arabs…all of different classes, some Christian and others Muslim." By 1970, the year Hafez al-Assad staged the coup that would catapult him into power, Salma lost the rights to her apartment, which Malek's parents would not be able to reclaim for three decades. By the time they did, Syria had become a place in which the government divided the people from each other through tactics intended to breed fear and distrust. After anti-government, pro-democracy protests and uprisings swept through Tunisia, Egypt, and other parts of the Arab world, Malek decided to return to the place where she had been conceived but from which she and her parents seemed destined to be separated. However, as an independent, unmarried American female, she felt unwelcome. Some of her relatives wanted her to leave because they feared for her safety and their own, while others saw her presence as a way to "curry favor with the [al Assad] regime." Moving and insightful, Malek's memoir combines sharp-eyed observations of Syrian politics, only occasionally overdone, with elegiac commentary on home, exile, and a bygone era. Provocative, richly detailed reading.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781568585321
Publisher:
PublicAffairs
Publication date:
02/28/2017
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
53,249
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Alia Malek is an award-winning journalist and civil rights lawyer. She is the author of A Country Called Amreeka and editor of Patriot Acts and EUROPA. Her reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Policy, Nation, and Christian Science Monitor, among others.

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