character par excellence. He is a painter who, in a dramatic shift, joins Hezbollah. However, given that he is, in fact, a true artist, he must of necessity return to his art.When I describe Youssef’s perception of the bedbugs in his house, this is a symbolic way of saying that a fanatical, closed society (a society of darkness) exudes “bedbugs” and stinking corruption. After his decision to join Hezbollah,Youssef continues to feel alienated from this decision, and love for life still lives inside of him. As a consequence, his final painting turns out more beautiful than anything he has painted before. However, it remains without a signature.Youssef’s end is a symbolic one.Youssef’s involvement with Hezbollah and the way of thinking associated with it is bound to be temporary, its flame bound to be extinguished. This is why I view this work as my most powerful novel in terms of symbolic meanings, imagination, and the issues it addresses. KT:Why do we never learn anything about the man addressed in the novel – the “you” to whom Basma speaks throughout the book? Who is this unnamed man, this reader concealed behind the second person pronoun ‘you’?
AS: Basma is in need of a neutral, anonymous figure; someone to whom she can reveal everything, pour out her story. What draws her to this person is the fact that he is a producer and a playwright who treats people with art, and because she needs to talk, to be healed. Narration is necessary for her recovery, in order for her body to heal and retrieve its memory.
Consequently, I wanted the person being addressed to be present yet absent: a mere reader, a listener. I wanted him to be a new hope, an open horizon that wouldn’t interfere in events. Expressing things inevitably frees us from those things, draws us closer to ourselves, makes us stronger and more transparent. I didn’t want this novel of mine to be just a personal cry. I wanted to put a finger on the pain experienced by Arabs as individuals, and specifically, the women among them. I wanted to strip bare the regimes of tyranny and the ‘ISISes’, both Shia and Sunni, of anything with a connection to extremist, tyrannical organizations, religious and political alike, within a narrative framework. And the result was this character.
This unnamed listener becomes Basma’s physician, her book,
76 BANIPAL 70 – SPRING 2021
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