I was immediately attracted to this book as the author, Ahmad Danny Ramadan is a Syrian refugee living and working as a journalist and author in Vancouver. He publishes in both Arabic and English. Like the novel ‘Hide’ this book is a report and reflection on the life of two men whose love commences in war-torn Syria and is now concluding in Canada as Hakawati (the story teller in Lebanese) tells stories of the past and present as a series of bargains with his partner and the ever-hovering Death waiting to claim his lover.
It was my pleasure to visit Syria extensively before the most recent implosion of war in all its destruction. I hoped that I would hear of many of the places I visited and respected and enjoyed as I did so many of its people. I knew about the destruction of much of old Damascus and other locations and thus found it doubly moving to hear of lives (gay and straight) being lived in this true holocaust.
Ramadan stays true to his Arabic metier with his story-telling style. Arabic is a poetic language and prone to colourful descriptions, sometime lyrical, sometimes elegiac, and these are found in plenty here and that might be a problem for readers looking for a straight narrative. I had the pleasure of visiting traditional coffee shops and hearing (with not much understanding) a traditional story-teller at work. Anyone who has read either the Arabian Nights or the story of Scheherazade would have some idea of this genre and appreciate the way past and present are interwoven, also the presence of spiritual and ghostly presences.
Essentially this is a tale of the quest for love and happiness (gay or straight) and how it is experienced in war-torn Syria, escaping through Lebanon and Cairo and concluding in the safety of Canada though with the constant yearning for a lost way of life and those who peopled it. The title ‘The Clothesline Swing’ is a reference to past times, loves and simple pleasures.
Ramadan does not stint in his descriptions of familial, social and cultural problems and disasters and how a gay existence continues under the most repressive conditions. There is sadness here that ennobles suffering and offers readers an insight into other culture.