Book Review: Those left behind in Yemen

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Monday 1 Oct 2018

Yemeni Journalist, Boshra Maqtari, documents the suffering of over 400 Yemeni victims of the on-going war since 2014


Maza Tarakt Wara'k (What Have You Left Behind), by Boshra Maqtari (Beirut: Riad Elrayyes Books), 2018.

In her latest book "What Have You Left Behind? Voices from the Land of a Forgotten War", Yemeni writer Boshra Maqtari uses narration and documentation of victims’ lives to put the human tragedy in Yemen in the spotlight.

Yemen has been ravaged by a civil war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and government forces for four years.

An Arab-coalition led by Saudi Arabia has intervened militarily since March of 2015 to support the government of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi.

All international efforts to end the conflict, which has left thousands dead and triggered health disasters, near-famine conditions and a refugee crisis for millions of Yemenis, have so far failed.

Boshra explains in her introduction that war remains alive in the souls and memories of those who lived it, but that the world wants to bury the events and reward the gladiators, yet the voices of the survivors and the victims alike will continue to resist oblivion and omission.

Documenting the political facts of the war is not the purpose of the novel. Instead, Maqtari aims to give life to the victims by putting faces and names to the burned bodies. These are real people, not just numbers and faceless casualties, who had lives, dreams and a whole world revolving around them.

The writer used reports from international organizations to establish a detailed biographical for those who were killed between March 2015 and September 2017, including the names of the victims, where and when they were killed and the circumstances of their murders, be it from bombing by artillery, military jets or bullets of the different fighting factions.

The biographical work can also be looked at as a legal document that can be used to pursue “war crime” lawsuits that should and will be filed against the criminals who hit mainly civilians during the war that would not stop.

The effort put in gathering the data, including visiting the places where bombing occurred and meeting with the survivors and the family members of the victims, along with adding the hard facts, earned Boshra massive respect for refusing to leave her country, instead daring to produce this important narrative and witnessing the massacre in Yemen.

The writer uses survivors’ stories to write the novel. Her style is a series of short stories that offer a glimpse into the victim's lives and a recording of their time and place of death.

Throughout 75 chapters, the writer chose sometimes painful titles for her stories.

“They Can’t Get Enough of our Blood” describes the slow death of an old sick man stuck in the Al Zahraa district where no ambulance or hospital would dare venture. The district is the main stage for the fights between the various factions, with snipers and militias just shooting at each other and regarding civilian casualties as collateral damage.

In this chapter, the narrator is his wife Nazira Abdel Wadood, who survived the fights and managed to escape after her husband died but was able to return to her destroyed house after a few months. She could not give her husband a proper burial or even get his death certificate. She simply doesn’t want anything from this life anymore, just for the war to stop.

“It’s a terrible feeling when you can’t help the ones you love or ease their pain,” stated the sad widow.

In another chapter, “A Story That Wants to Sleep”, the narrator is Somaya, a mother that lost three of her four children in an air strike, while her husband lost his eye.

The memories of the incident haunt both of the parents, unable to believe that they lost their children. Their daily activities have been whittled down to simply asking and demanding answers for the tragedy and visiting the tombs of their lost children.

“Every house in our city has a similar story. Our stories and memories do not want to go to sleep, I don’t want anyone to feel pity for me. I want to cry alone.”

A harsh statement that everyone deals with their sorrow differently and that is exactly what this book reveals.

The novel ends with a heart breaking fact when the writer reveals that her friend Riham Badr, who was distributing food for the stranded families in the city of Taaz, was killed by Hoosyeen militias.

Boshra Maqatari is a journalist, human rights activist, and winner of the 2013 Francois Giroud Prize in Paris and the 2013 Leaders for Democracy Prize in Washington DC.

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