The moving story of a Palestinian musician and his family suddenly thrust into the perilous vortex of the Syrian civil war.
In a book originally published in Germany, Ahmad, a humble pianist and cherished son in his Palestinian refugee family, chronicles his young life and early ambitions as a new husband and father in Yarmouk, Syria, before the Arab Spring and subsequent war shattered his adopted land. The author was born to a teacher mother and a blind violinist and carpenter father, who essentially raised the boy, taking him to school and compelling him to apply to the State School of Music in Damascus. Ahmad was a talented pianist, but his status as a poor refugee son rendered him a charity case at the music school; at public school, he was bullied “because I was so small and skinny.” Moreover, as a child of parents with torn loyalties, he could not adequately demonstrate the necessary obsequiousness to the Syrian state of Bashar al-Assad. Remarkably, the author and his father opened a thriving music store in Yarmouk, where they gave lessons and built ouds to be shipped all over the world. With the coming of the civil war in 2012, the author was in his early 20s, engaged to be married, and increasingly aware that the Syrian regime was using the Palestinian refugees as pawns in a game involving the “alleged Zionist conspiracy” with Israel. Entrenched in their hometown and determined to stay despite the bombing and snipers, Ahmad used his musical prowess to galvanize his community, organizing gatherings for young people and videotaping his efforts to export hope to the besieged Syrians at large. Ultimately, the town was sealed off, overrun by the government and rebels alike, forcing the family to flee. Ahmad’s dangerous solo journey to Germany forms the last part of the book, as his story aroused the concern of Western aid and refugee groups.
Well-rendered and affecting, this is a fine delineation of the plight of an unwitting protagonist in the Syrian conflagration.