Book Review: We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman

Quote of the book

“What is a homeland? It’s not rocks or trees. It’s the humans who built the land. It is where you feel safe.”

5 key points

  • Wendy Pearlman interviewed hundreds of Syrians to learn about their experiences of the Syrian Revolution and this book brings together those conversations.
  • A couple of those interviewed touched upon the possibility of the truth being lost. They expressed the need to reveal their stories of the revolution so people are aware of what has happened in Syria.
  • The stories of those fleeing and arriving in Europe emphasised the importance of law in protecting the rights of those who have arrived.
  • Those who arrived in a new country in Europe described their arduous journeys and the mountains of bureaucracy to be able to stay. Some made very creative journeys through multiple countries to navigate this bureaucracy.
  • Ultimately, some pointed out what they want is not safety, but to live with dignity and to be their own person, not just a political story or a refugee.

Review

The book is written by Wendy Pearlman, as Associate Professor, who interviewed hundreds of Syrians across continents and countries. The book is a collection of first person stories of Syrians who have shared their experiences at different stages of the Syrian revolution. This book would be interesting to anyone who cares about human rights, the refugee crisis, the Middle East, and forced human migration. It is accessible to all audiences. It is particularly interesting how Pearlman conducted these interviews in Arabic, before translating to English, which allowed her to gain a more personal perspective.

The book takes the reader through eight different chapters: Part I: Authoritarianism has stories of the intense surveillance over Syrians’ lives. Part II: Hope Disappointed describes the desperation that Syrians faced when trying to survive. Part III: Revolution documents the demonstrations to overcome the regime. Part IV: Crackdown describes the decline in demonstrations since the regime has been going against the people. In Part V: Militarization, people shared their personal stories about the increase in army presence and checkpoints. In Part VI: Living War, the stories described how bombing became a normal and expected part of life. Part VII: Flight explores the journeys of those leaving Syria whilst they try and reach a new country. In the final section, Part VIII: Reflections, Syrians share their thoughts on what happened and their journeys with hindsight. 

Reading the book is an experience in itself. The personal, first person stories of Syrians takes the reader on a journey through the different stages of the revolution. It explores several themes, such as the psychological trauma of experiencing the revolution, being imprisoned, the emotions of losing friends and family, the bureaucracy faced when arriving in a new place and navigating a new life. The only downside to the book is that the interviewees are mostly male; however, this is likely to be a consequence of the environment rather than a conscious decision.

The linguistic style of the book is easy to follow, but emotionally difficult. One particularly moving entry explained how they feel it is “better to die once than die slowly every day”. The first person narrative and way of organising the stories into eight stages before, during, and after leaving revolution gives the book a personal feel. It defends the human story of the Syrian revolution and the experience of refugees, who are often reduced to numbers in the media. In this way, it protects their dignity and remembers them as people, not just another refugee.

Those interviewed describe the pain of the journeys made, with long miles crossed on foot and the conflicting emotions of whether or not to stay or leave their home. Should they guard their established life in Syria and what would be best for their children? This book is unique in asking and attempting to answer these very personal and human questions. This has also made the stories of those interviewed relevant for the reader, by placing the stories in a human and relatable context. 

A key theme, particularly towards the end of the book, was raised by some of those interviewed for not wanting to be known as a refugee. They discussed wanting to have their own identity as someone, to want dignity more than they want safety. This is again something unique about Pearlman’s book: since it was written in the voices of Syrians who experienced fleeing a regime to start a new life, the words and emotions are much more authentic.

Overall, this is one of the most powerful and moving books on the refugee crisis from Syria, written in the words of those who have experienced it. What Pearlman has done is unique: to offer refugees a chance to share their voice, to speak with rather than be spoken about. This book is timely and necessary in revealing the truths of the refugee crisis.

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Get the book | Official website | Goodreads

Published by sharemylibrary

Non-fiction book reviews, summaries, and recommendations

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