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The Road To Damascus

June 2005

Syria today is better known for its poet in exile, Adonis-often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize-than for its writers in residence. Yet it is home to one of the oldest and most complex artistic cultures in the Middle East, persisting in heroic fashion, even under dictatorship. In “The Lanterns of Seville,” Abd el-Salam al-Ujayli spins a dazzling tale of a search for the lost richness of Arabic culture in Spain. In “Darkness” and “Ahem,” Ibrâhim Samûel illuminates the most repressive corners of a world without any such lanterns. In Haifa’ Bitar’s “Fatima” and Hasiba Abd al-Rahman’s “First Breaths of Freedom,” two powerful women writers explore the response of strong women characters to poverty and injustice. Dissident Faraj Bayraqdar is the third of our featured writers to address the experience of prison, in three poems written during his own confinement for political activism. And classic poet Nizar Qabbani leaves another light burning, in his lyric meditation on a more romantic Damascus of memory.