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Syrian literature is literature originating from present-day Syria (officially the "Syrian
Arabic Republic"), and which may be written in any of the languages of Syria. Syrian
literature has been influenced by the Arabic literatures of other countries, by French
literature and by the country's political history.
From early times to 1948
Under Ottoman rule, literary production was subjected to censorship. In the second half
of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, aspiring Syrian writers often chose
emigration, moving primarily to Egypt—where they contributed to al-Nahda, the
renaissance of Arabic literature—and to the United States, developing Syrian literature
from abroad.
From 1920 to 1946, while Syria was under French rule, French Romanticinfluences
inspired Syrian authors, many of whom turned away from the traditional models
of Arabic poetry.
From 1948 to the present day
In 1948, the partitioning of neighbouring Palestine and the establishment of
Israel brought about a new turning point in Syrian writing. Adab al-Iltizam, the "literature
of political commitment", deeply marked by social realism, mostly replaced the romantic
trend of the previous decades. Hanna Mina, rejecting art for art's sake and confronting
the social and political issues of his time, was one of the most prominent Syrian
novelists of this era. Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Adab al-Naksa, the "literature
of defeat", grappled with the causes of the Arab defeat.
Baath Party rule, since the 1966 coup, has brought about renewed censorship. As
Hanadi Al-Samman puts it,
"In the face of threats of persecution or imprisonment, most of Syria's writers had
to make a choice between living a life of artistic freedom in exile-as do Nizar
Kabbani, Ghada al-Samman, Hamida Na'na', Salim Barakat, and prominent poet,
critic, and novelist 'Ali Ahmad Sa'id(Adonis)-or resorting to subversive modes of
expression that seemingly comply with the demands of the authoritarian police
state while undermining and questioning the legitimacy of its rule through subtle
literary techniques and new genres".
In this context, the genre of the historical novel, spearheaded by Nabil
Sulayman, Fawwaz Haddad, Khyri al-Dhahabi and Nihad Siris, is sometimes used as
a means of expressing dissent, critiquing the present through a depiction of the past.
Syrian folk narrative, as a subgenre of historical fiction, is imbued with magical realism,
and is also used as a means of veiled criticism of the present. Salim Barakat, a Syrian
émigré living in Sweden, is one of the leading figures of the genre.
Contemporary Syrian literature also encompasses science fiction and
futuristic utopiae (Nuhad Sharif, Talib Umran), which may also serve as media of
dissent.
Mohja Kahf has argued that literary dissent is typically expressed through the "poetics
of Syrian silence":
"The nostalgic, moist-eyed silences of Ulfat Idilbi's narrative could not be more
different from the chilling, cynical silences in Zakaria Tamer's stories. The
impassioned lacunae in Nizar Kabbani's proclaim exactly what it is they are not
saying explicitly, while the poet Muhammad al-Maghut's silence is sardonic,
sneering both at the authorities and at himself, at the futility and absurdity of the
human situation under authoritarian rule".