‘My Country’: Kassem Eid’s memoir of enduring survival
Kassem Eid, author of the recently published “My Country: A Syrian Memoir,” was raised in the Western Ghouta suburb of Moadamiya near Damascus with ten siblings and both parents.
Eid’s father, Fawaz, died when he was in elementary school but he had told Eid about the Ba’athist dictatorship and the cruelty of Syria’s then President Hafez Assad. While Eid said he did not fully fathom his father’s stories of the Syrian regime as a young child, he developed a ceaseless curiosity about his surroundings.
Eid and his siblings supported their mother after his father’s death but he could not have expected that his mettle would be tested by the harshest circumstances of the Syrians.
Eid, a Syrian-Palestinian, witnessed much of Syria’s war first-hand. He survived bombing, siege, starvation and chemical weapons before fleeing Syria in 2014. He said he has since been unable to rest and that he is committed to telling the world about Syria, about the revolution, about the war, about the cruelty he witnessed and about his hopes. He said he found comfort in writing his story.
“My Country” is an impassioned account of life under dictatorship and war in Syria. This memoir provides the human story necessary for understanding Syrians’ struggle for freedom. Through the eyes of a young man, “My Country” takes the reader along a path from an intense oppression to fervent human rights activism.
Throughout the memoir, Eid documents key events of his life that relate to Syria’s tragedy. He details his experience of Ba’athist indoctrination in schools, his family and their view of the state, the people’s fear of authorities and the state-engineered sectarian divide, the 2011 protests and life as a rebel and of survival.
Above all, Eid creates a portrait of the Syrian people’s immutable hope for freedom and humanity’s indictment in abandoning a tormented country.
At the heart of his memories, Eid recalls August 21, 2013, the horrific day he was brought back from the dead. Although he had no external signs of injury, Eid recalls: “My eyes were burning, my head was throbbing and my throat was rasping for air. I was suffocating” as a result of the first chemical weapons attack in Syria. Regime rockets filled with sarin gas landed in rebel-held towns in the Ghouta agricultural belt around Damascus. Eid’s town, Moadamiya, was among the targeted suburbs.
“Suddenly my windpipe opened again. The air ripped through my throat and pierced my lungs. Invisible needles stabbed my eyes,” he writes. “A searing pain clawed at my stomach. I doubled over and shouted to my roommates, ‘Wake up! It’s a chemical attack!’”
Eid survived that day but more than 1,300 people did not.
“My Country” is a personal journey of survival. Many more hardships followed the chemical attack but Eid managed to flee the country. He went to the United States and testified before the UN Security Council. Today, he lives in Germany as a refugee.
“I wrote this memoir to send a reminder that what is happening in Syria should continue to get attention,” Eid said. “I know there are millions of Syrians who didn’t get the chance to tell their story.”
Now that his memoir is published, Eid said he feels that he will be able to take time to look after himself and try to move on.
“My Country” is not just a story of the pain of the Syrian revolution turned war. It is a remarkable story of resilience as well. It is a gripping combination of fear and bravery, a heartfelt account of one’s life in dictatorship, revolution and war. Eid provides a valuable perspective absent from much of what has already been written on Syria — it is an epic view of what Syria was and has become.
This book does not attempt to explain the dynamics and politics of Syria and the war. However, Eid’s memoir should serve as a first reference on Syria’s conflict, to comprehend the backstory of life in the country before and after 2011.
This memoir is one man’s story and thus is not comprehensive. Nevertheless, it encompasses an identity and experience with which many Syrians can identify.