The novel “The Berlin Papers” .. the city as a character in the story of two peoples and one face
“I entered the market from one of the two streets that surrounded the Umayyad Mosque from both sides, as if they embraced it, and passed the rope market, then the al-Saqatiyah market, the al-khish market, and the al-Attarin market, then I turned towards the gold market. A large part of these markets was burnt and destroyed, and the carpet market was destroyed, Even the arched ceiling was destroyed and fell.”
With these words, the narrator and the active character in the novel “The Berlin Papers” depicts the stricken city of Aleppo, humanly and architecturally, his city from which he was displaced by cutting off land and sea, reaching the German capital Berlin, to find himself after a while the son of two cities and two peoples with one face.
The novel “The Berlin Papers” by the Syrian screenwriter and novelist Nihad Siris – recently published by Mosaique for Studies and Publishing – extends to 188 pages of medium size.
The novel addresses urgent social, political and cultural issues and issues for the Syrian people, whose sons have toured around the world in search of safety and stability, to confront a complex reality and new challenges imposed on them by the host societies. Deep narrative reflections on it.
Aleppo and Berlin… two cities, two peoples and one face
The narration opens in the novel “The Berlin Papers” to the narrator’s character – for whom Ceres did not choose a name – as he sat in his house smoking his pipe and contemplating the manifestations of life in Berlin, the city he recently came to, and they are only pages until time breaks and we return through the character of Hilda to the war The second world, where Berlin is under the bombing of the coalition forces, while the Berliners panic looking for shelter.
Then we return to the present and learn that the narrator was introduced to Hilda – who was born in the thirties of the last century and was a witness to the Nazi era in the country and the devastation of Berlin – through her daughter and his lover Krista, with whom he lives a complex love story due to the presence of her former lover Gunther in their lives.
From Berlin in the present, the narrator returns in his memory to Aleppo when the struggle was raging between the army and the fighters to control eastern Aleppo. He depicts divided eastern and western Aleppo, the army’s checkpoints in which insults abound, and the army’s snipers who were hunting people from the rooftops.
In this vein, the narrator establishes indirect, lived and architectural approaches between Aleppo during the war and Berlin during the war, to discover that he is “the son of the two cities,” and about these approaches and what is meant by them, Ceres tells Al Jazeera Net, “Aleppo was behind me while Berlin stands in front of me now, and the two cities have a common history of The suffering and the causes of this suffering, and what happened and what will happen to our city can be understood by reflecting on the state of Berlin now. Berlin has overcome the ordeal of the devastating and deadly war, but it has not forgotten those pains and their causes, and the evidence is that it helped absorb a million Syrian refugees who came to it to escape the war.
The miracle of salvation
Returning to the events of the novel, the narrator gets acquainted in a forum in Berlin with Sabri, a Syrian refugee in Germany and a former lieutenant in the regime’s army. The latter tells the story of his escape from death in Syria.
And he felt nothing but a strange force that pulled him off the ground and lifted him to the top (…) and just as that strange force lifted them, it came back and lowered them on the other side of the wall. This is how Sabri and a group of Syrians escaped death on the borders of Turkey, a survival that symbolically refers to the hardship that millions of Syrians went through to reach safety, miraculously surviving from all forms of killing and death in their country.
The character of Sabri – who is unemployed and who keeps taking drugs in nightclubs to the tunes of techno music – illuminates a cultural and societal crisis experienced by a segment of the Syrian refugee youth in Germany, who finds himself in a state of loss of control and lack of purpose in the face of the shock of alienation and the difficulty of adapting with The new community.
As for Ceres, he explains what happened to Sabry’s character in terms of drug abuse, unemployment, and constant visits to nightclubs as a result of “the strangeness that happened to him. him or so that he could believe the absurd.”
Life goes on
In addition to the character of Sabri, the narrator meets the character Hanadi, who was born to a Syrian father and a German mother. She tells the story of her parents’ marriage in Germany and their return to Aleppo to settle there during World War II.
Hanadi immigrated from Aleppo to Berlin in the 1990s to settle there, where she filed a lawsuit to restore her mother’s citizenship, which the Nazi authorities stripped her of after her marriage to a Syrian.
As is the case with the Syrians who are victims of war and conflicting powers, Serres tells Al Jazeera Net, “His wife (Hanadi’s mother) was a victim of Nazism that led Germany to destruction. If it weren’t for the war, she and her Syrian lover would have stayed in Germany, or they might choose to travel to Syria at any time they wanted. Then, Zabeenah’s story indicates that life continues despite death and destruction, and that the marriage of a Syrian man with a German woman is a normal thing, as we know, despite exceptional circumstances.
In contrast to the current roles played by the two peoples – the Syrians as immigrants and the Germans as the hosts – the roles appear inverted in the story of Hanadi’s mother, who was the immigrant to Aleppo while her husband is the host, in reference to the two peoples’ equality and their different roles as a result of common factors (war and extremism). And as a rejection of the racist argument made by some extremist groups and parties in Germany against refugees as a danger to society.
The city as a character… and the narrative as a cinematic lens
The fictional characters in the “Berlin Papers” are not limited to those that pronounce and feel like Hanadi, Sabri, Christa and Hilda. Ceres builds at this level his characters influenced by the semiological school, where places and times are transformed into narrative characters that are as important at the level of constructing meaning and interaction as those formed by speaking persons.
The Aleppans call this market “the city”, and they consider it the backbone of their lives, and the city is a network of narrow roads in which shops are distributed on both sides, even if the road is two meters wide, or less. preceding the holidays.
It is one of the narrative passages through which the narrator delves into the details of places to delve into them as if they were an active character. Ceres says, “The novelist must provide the knowledge necessary to build the city’s ‘character’. or the narrator to slow down a little to complete our knowledge of it, which is a form of artistic necessity.”
He adds, “Then the city – whether it is Aleppo or Berlin – plays a pivotal role in the novel, and as we know that the city, whatever it is, has a unique character that can only be known through the narration, and writing about a specific place makes the writer photograph this place. It is not sufficient to say that the novel takes place in a specific city, but rather the writer must be a guide for the reader and make him roam in it.
Thus, Ceres relies on the cinematic lens style that enables him to convey events and details in an artistic and neutral manner that allows the reader to judge events and characters without influence or direction from the writer.
It’s not just a story
Returning to the story of the narrator with Christa, the German girl who loved him and abandoned him for the sake of her German lover Gunter, we find that she has become pregnant with a fetus and does not know whether it is from the narrator’s body or from the body of her lover.
As the novel draws to a close, and in the hospital where Krista gives birth to her tan and black-eyed baby, Gunther is in a good mood to welcome the baby, no matter who his biological father is.
And when Gunther saw the child with Arab features, he turned to the narrator with great joy and said, “We will call him Omar.”
And about this ending, which is a mixture between emotional loss and human gain, Ceres says, “It can be understood as if the protagonist (the narrator) is setting his feet here (Germany) and putting his biological imprint in the fabric of German society, and what is important is that he has become accepted and welcomed for integration, not only bureaucratic Rather, as a new element in the human and societal fabric of this country, which can compensate the Syrian for his terrible loss of his home, his village, and his world.”
Concerning the general significance of the text of the Berlin Papers, Ceres tells, “War is, in consequence, one thing, wherever it erupts. This novel is a stance against war and not just a story. When war erupts in a certain place, its victims will be human and stone, as they say. What we saw in Aleppo is nothing.” It can be seen in Berlin, Vietnam, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Beirut or anywhere else.”
Ceres also points out that the novel says a lot about the attitude of the German people towards the “other”, whether a refugee or a legal immigrant. Which can be found in the novel, which tried to monitor the positive shift in that position and simulate it through what we saw of acceptance and openness among its German characters to the Syrian other.