How did the idea for The Frightened Ones come to you and how long did the first draft take?
Four years after the revolution in Syria, I decided to complete a novel I had started five years previously. I couldn’t separate myself from the events taking place in my country from devastation, ruin, killings, arrests, and suppression to demonstrations and initiatives in a peaceful city. I immersed myself in details and started to research daily life, as though I was recording the diary of brave friends, who decided to stay or didn’t have the opportunity to leave. This allowed me to finish the novel I was writing decisively and to start The Frightened Ones. I wanted the writing to go deeper than daily events, to reveal what lies beneath for the last few decades, what made the Syrians move out into the streets, to not come back. Fear is the only sensation that binds all Syrians together in all their facets, their communities and their backgrounds socially culturally and religiously.
What have been the general reactions and responses from readers to the novel?
The responses have been positive generally speaking from friends and from critics, especially because the novel mimics the memory and daily lives of millions in any Arab country where fear lives.
The novel is being translated into English? What are you hoping a Western reader will learn or take away from your novel?
The novel is currently being translated into 7 foreign languages; English is only one of them. Literature is the real history of countries and cities and nations. Unfortunately, Syria today is all over the world’s newspapers as a savage country, with nothing in it except for military and religious tyrants. This horrific stereotype of cities and nations in the Middle East isn’t new. As translation from Arabic into foreign languages flourishes, especially the work that the younger generations is doing, there will be an opportunity for foreign readers to know and understand that our lives and our environment is far from the stereotypical, oriental view.
The novel deals with this interesting idea of ending – be it literature or a love story. How do you deal with endings when you are finishing a novel? Do you find them harder then beginnings?
I think beginnings are much harder than endings, they require more thinking and hesitations and procrastination, mean while endings come to me in a much clearer way. The writer, in my opinion, chooses beginnings whereas an ending supposes itself on the writer.
The character of Suleima is really interesting. How did she come to you and how do you feel about her? Do agree with the decisions she makes?
As I’ve said many times in other interviews, a writer cannot completely separate themselves from their writing, their characters are the same whether they are male or female. All the characters are plucked from the writers memory and experience and of their relationships with their surroundings and themselves. I like Sulaima as much as I like Naseem and Kameel and every character in the book.