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Stripped to the Bone, by Ghada Alatrash.

September 22, 2016

Stripped to the Bone, by Ghada Alatrash.  Ottawa, CA: Petra Press, 2016.  176 pages.

2 stars

A raw collection of poetry and prose honoring women of Syria: those remaining in their country and those who have emigrated to Canada and the United States.

Ghada Alatrash is a poet, a student of Arabic poetry, and a translator. She was born in Syria and migrated to the United States, and then to Canada where she now lives.  Her father was a well-known Syrian diplomat to a variety of countries and represented his country in the United Nations.  He fostered his daughter’s love of Arabic poetry and encouraged her to give readings where she presented poetry in its original language and then in English.  In recent years, she has gained a following on the internet as part of a new wave of Syrian poets finding a voice there.

Stripped to the Bone is a collection of her own poetry and prose along with those of other Arabic poets. The book’s loose structure follows that typically found online.  Perhaps other, younger readers will find it more satisfying than I did.  The narratives of seven Syrian women form the backbone of the book.  They range from women dreaming of love, to women being tortured in prison, and those who have been forced to leave their homeland.  Alatrash tells their stories in lush expressive language.  At times her words seem to gush more than I liked, but that characteristic may reflect her native Syrian style.  She expresses a modern tolerance for a gay couple and a woman who chooses a long-term relationship with a man instead of marry him.  But she frequently uses terms like “essential femininity” that have been used to restrict women over time.

While I admire her intent in seeking to “amplify the voices of the silenced in our humanity,” I found the book unsatisfying.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 22, 2016 7:18 pm

    I have also noticed on TV what looks like gushing in the way people of the Middle East sometimes speak – remember the poetic way that Chemical Ali used to speak during the reign of Saddam Hussein? I think it has something to do with the poetry of ancient epics and what seem to be incantations that they drop into everyday speech, things like ‘if Allah wills it’ (rather like the Irish ‘God willing’) and ‘blessed be the name of the prophet’ and so on. But since I haven’t read a lot of books from the region I don’t know if the flowery expressions are used by everyday people or if it’s being used ironically or to impress, a way of showing that you are educated enough to be familiar with the ancient poetry.

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