introducing readers to writers since 1995

June 13, 2005

Want to See Exotic Syria, the Crown Jewel of the Middle East?

by Ron Hogan

Words Without Borders devotes its latest issue to Syrian literature, including a series of poems written in prison by Faraj Bayraqdar and a short story from Abd el-Salam al-Ujayli in which a young man visiting Seville runs into an elderly Arab gentleman who spins a tale for him:

"People say that it is a myth, but in Meknes alone I know of ten houses where the Keys of Return hang from their portals. Five centuries ago our ancestors, yours and mine, dear cousin, were forced out of this country to the shores of Africa. In the confusion of defeat and the humiliation of loss, they could not carry with them the land that they had watered with their blood nor the palaces their hands had built or the art treasures they had created in the paradise of Andalusia. They left everything behind, fleeing with their lives. But some carried with them to the other shore the keys of their palaces as mementos of the lost paradise and as prompts for the return. If by chance you were to enter the old homes in the alleys of Meknes, Fez, Melilla, all the way to Kayrawan, you will find in any one of them, at the entrance, a rusty key, its meaning forgotten by the present owners who think that it is nothing but a useless object. But if you really know the extent of what the world owes our ancestors, you had better kiss that rusty metal object and lift it up to your forehead in reverence, for it is one of the many Keys of Return."
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