This is a work of creative nonfiction, not a memoir. The genre of creative nonfiction gave me some wiggle room to expand, shift, or recreate certain events and dialogue, while prioritizing the truth as best remembered by the Al Rabeeah family.
– Winnie Yeung, Read the full National Post article
Also, when Freehand Books published the book, Bakr’s name was added as a co-author to acknowledge his full permission and participation. Abu Bakr is the star-subject and primary storyteller in Homes. I am his writer. People often confuse our roles in the creation of the book, and think of me as transcriber, editor or even translator. Sadly, my Arabic is terrible so translation is out of the question!
As I was trying to map out the story arc [of Homes], there were so many blanks…There were parts of the narrative where the timeline just didn’t make sense and we discovered that he was remembering things incorrectly. As a result, I started sending [Bakr] home with lists of questions.
Memory is such a tricky thing. Never mind how trauma and stress can affect how we remember events, but have you ever tried to get details out of a teenaged boy? There were so many fine details he just simply couldn’t remember because he didn’t really pay attention to them. The minutia is important to a writer, so that’s where I got to flex my writing muscles in this creative nonfiction genre. Early on in the Freehand edition, my editor, Barbara Scott said something that I loved: the type of writing I was doing was about prioritizing the truth with the writer’s tools of the craft.”
In the midst of the horror, al Rabeeah’s tale also brims with humour and heart, balancing the unspeakable violence with the hallmarks of many childhoods: soccer games with friends, kite-flying with his cousins, and playing video games. His family is his lifeline, particularly the quiet bravery of his father, who emerges in this book as a hero.”
—Sheniz Janmohamed, Quill and Quire
Besides the terrific prose and its more harrowing details, what really makes the 220-page book special is its fully realized portrait of normal, everyday Syria slowly being chipped away at by numerous interests wrestling for power.”
— Fish Griwkowsky, Edmonton Journal
It started as a speech…but there’s a certain weight and gravitas to having your story written down, and I wanted to honour his life by doing that…[And] I was trying to draw him into working on his English by doing something he was passionate about. And he said he was passionate about teaching his classmates what Syria was really about.”