The novel "Secession" by the Syrian writer Elie Gerges (Al Jazeera)

In circumstances similar to those that led to the birth of "magical realism" novels in the sixties and seventies of the last century by Latin American novelists such as Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, the author of "One Hundred Years of Solitude", the novel "Separation" by the Syrian writer Elie Gerges is born after more than a decade of the outbreak of the Syrian war and its tragedies, humanitarian crises and many political complexities that make it difficult to approach it comprehensively without shifting from reality and its obligations towards the magical world of fiction and its possibilities.

Throughout 450 pages of medium pieces, the author tries to formulate a kind of elaborate narrative archiving of modern Syrian social and political history, using the artistic elements of magical realism with its narrative capabilities that make the literary text an indistinguishable mixture between real and magical events, which gives the writer the freedom to plot the novelist outside the strict rules of logic and simulation that characterize realistic works.

In "Separation", we are facing a strange journey that Captain "Aref" goes through time back to the sixties of the last century, and instead of meeting the "gypsy" – as is customary in magical realism novels – Aref meets the "Bedouin" divination that will guide him to the paths of the "separation exam" that the captain found himself in the midst of suddenly.

A separation that will clear the mind and heart of Arif, give him enough time to judge reality, and most importantly, it will allow him to engage in an emotional and intellectual experience lived in a pivotal era of modern Syrian history following the separation of Syria from Egypt, the dissolution of the United Arab Republic on September 28, 1961, and the subsequent political and social events and developments that were one of the causes of the Syrian revolution in March 2011.

Arif's disappearance

The narrative in the novel "Secession" opens to the disappearance of Captain Aref from his battalion, an incident suffered by the thirtieth young man - educated and obsessed with the political history books of his country - after he boarded that afternoon's car Colonel "Mohsen" and set off on a military mission that ended up awake in the middle of the Syrian desert desert and went back in time to 1961.

The white dog "Karsha" appears out of nowhere, and leads Aref to the tent of her "Bedouin" owner, so the latter improves the hospitality of the lost captain, waters him, feeds him and shows him a break near her tent.

In the break, Aref discovers that time has returned to him, and that Abu Matloob (the owner of the break) is also back in time many years ago to this desert, linking the two to a strong relationship that opened the door wide to the course of dialogues and debates of wisdom, philosophy, history, politics, man and society.

A different narrative

Thus, through these dialogues, the novelist opens a window that crosses times overlooking historical events that "remained unknown and foggy to most Syrians," as Aref says, updating himself, making the dialogues of Arif, Abu Matloob and other visitors to the break serve as a narrative archive of the events of the time period from 1961 to 2011.

Narrative archiving creates a different historical narrative, and perhaps often contradictory to the official narrative taught by schools and universities to their students, and reported by the local media in Syria about that era full of political and social transformations that paved the way for the explosion of anger and violence from 2011 to the present day.

According to the narrative advanced by Aref and his interlocutors, the unity that brought Egypt and Syria together on February 22, 1958 was not the realization of a long-awaited Arab political and popular dream, but rather the result of an emotional, urgent and ill-considered decision that established the killing of political life in Syria, after the late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser stipulated the dissolution of all Syrian parties, a systematic policy to exclude Syrian politicians, prosecute opponents through the security services, and dominate all decision-making centers in the nascent state. leading up to secession on September 22, 1961.

After the separation, the Baath Party completed the Nasserist mission of destroying party pluralism, and killing democratic political life in Syria permanently, following the same repressive approach in muzzling opponents and imprisoning them on charges such as "weakening the determination of the nation", and to ensure the loyalty of the army, the party turned it into an entity "with a nationalist socialist party doctrine", as a Baathist visitor to Aref says at the break, and to consolidate his rule, which penetrated for 4 decades into state institutions, providing exceptional privileges to its affiliates.

The narrative deals with other pivotal events in Syrian political and social history, such as the Hama massacre (1982), the intervention of the Syrian army in Lebanon (1976), and the economic sanctions that affected the Syrian regime during that period, which led to the decline of the economy, the tightening of the security grip, and the deterioration of the living conditions of Syrians, who now stand in long queues to obtain bread, ghee and other food supplies.

A history that Syrians have been blinded from for decades, but the activation of the Internet service in the first decade of the new millennium played a role in rediscovering this history through e-books, news sites, and social media platforms, as happened with Arif, who spent many hours on the Internet reading articles and history books to learn about these secrets.

Distorted mentality

If the author devoted the events of the past time to presenting a different narrative from the modern political and social history of Syria through the dialogues of Arif, Abu Matloob and the visitors of the break, he singled out the narrative in the present time to archive the first events that followed the Syrian revolution, using active figures on the scene of events that contribute to its creation.

Through the character of Colonel Mohsen, who and his battalion are preparing to launch a surprise attack on opposition men in a number of neighboring villages, the novelist provides an example of the mentality of some of the country's military leaders and how they dealt with the new events on the political scene in 2011.

It is enough for the writer to review the mentality of Colonel Mohsen when he imagined a scene in which he walked "among the bodies of the dead from the opposition, raising the sign of victory" to record "a heroic attitude when driving, and thus promoted him" so that the reader understands the criteria on which this colonel arranges his priorities, there is nothing wrong with promotion, even if it is at the expense of infighting, then the colonel does not hesitate to reprimand one of the officers who wondered how they should deal with unarmed civilians, and this reprimand marked the beginning of the stage of "no voice" It is louder than the sound of battle."

The narrative also sinks into the depiction of the tyranny of arrogance, selfishness, contempt and contempt over the communication space between the higher and lower ranks of the army, which would have led to the death of the recruit "Abdo" by suicide, and the rebellion of the recruit "Saqr" after a series of punishments and abuses directed at them by Colonel Mohsen without a clear reason.

By shedding light on these and other manifestations, Gerges seeks to dismantle the system of oppression, authoritarianism, and patronage that underpins the military, wondering if the "corruption and sectarianism" doctrine of "Arab nationalist socialism" that the Baath wanted for the country's army when it came to power in 1963 will be replaced by the doctrine of "corruption and sectarianism."


The narrative in his archive of the events of that period did not lose sight of the manifestations of division that affected most aspects of the lives of Syrians, who were divided between supporters and opponents, beneficiaries and affected, frantic and indifferent to what is happening.

By tracing the repercussions of Arif's disappearance on his fiancée Hind and her family, the narrative manages to intensify the scene on the Syrian street at that stage: the suppression of Friday demonstrations, the tightening of security and the spread of checkpoints, arrests and torture, the arming of the opposition, and the outbreak of battles between the two sides.

Looking at the political positions of the main figures (most of whom are from a Christian religious background) at the present time, the reader will see the state of apprehension that dominated this Syrian social component at that stage, which is a fear of sectarian traps, international conspiracies, and a slide into violence with ominous consequences.

A situation that prompted the characters of the novel to adopt a centrist opinion expressed by Abu Hind when he says: "We are the supporters and opponents, supporters of every glimmer of light and the building block of Imran, opposed to any spot of corruption and mismanagement."

But on the other hand, the writer wanted to portray his "moderate" characters as national figures capable of making sacrifices if necessary to do so, so the reader follows how Abu Hind risked the safety of his family when he hid in his home Youssef, who was pursued by the security forces by the regime, and then provided him with a safe place away from suspicion.

There's still a long way to go

Going back to what happened with Aref in his miraculous journey through time, we find Karsha, the same white dog, leading him in a magical scene to its Bedouin owner, but this time not to the tent, but to the ancient Roman amphitheater in the Syrian city of Palmyra.

Aref stands below the amphitheater stunned by the appearance of the Bedouin on the stage stage as an indistinguishable ghost, the Bedouin tells the captain that the test is over, and that he must now either stay in this time or return to the time he lived, Aref chooses to return to his time where loved ones are waiting for him.

As soon as he wakes up, he finds a blue sign in front of him that reads "Damascus 100 km", Aref gets out of the car, picks up a dialogue room and writes on the sign, "There is still a long road."

Despite the end of Aref's "separation" from his reality (which is a metaphor for the separation of Syrians from their history and from their reality, which ended with the beginning of their revolution), the road to Damascus is still long, to Damascus without war, pain and fear.

Thus, Gerges succeeds, through the formal employment of the elements of magical realism and the keenness on narrative archiving, to present a work of fiction that almost folds between its books the most important political and social events and transformations that Syria has recently witnessed, which the novelist conveys to us between magic and reality to make its sequence a special significance that leads us to the core of his perception of what happened in his country during the last five decades.

However, the novel "Secession" is taken for the predominance of the declarative and documentary style at the expense of the narrative style in the discourse, and the great similarity between the voices and attitudes of the main characters, who all emerged as educated figures with a wide knowledge of historical, political and social issues.

Source : Al Jazeera