Never Can I Write of Damascus
By Theresa Kubasak and Gabe Huck (Just World Books, 2016)
News from Syria over the past several years has been anything but good: an intractable civil war and millions of families displaced, some to wash up on distant shores. It was not always so, as Theresa Kubasak and Gabe Huck remind readers in their memoir recounting their seven years in Damascus. The book features a series of portraits sketching an ancient yet contemporary civilization, the religions that have coexisted there peaceably for centuries, and the rich blend of poetry, faith, food, and hospitality that marks Syrian culture.
While Kubasak and Huck provide the lenses with their prose, they recede into the background to allow the people they meet and the land itself tell their own stories. Among the sages is the couple’s first Arabic teacher, Hussein Maxos, who provides first-person accounts of life in the now-besieged city; others can be found at Deir Mar Musa, an ancient monastery reborn through the work of now-missing Italian Jesuit Paolo Dall’Oglio as a place for peace, dialogue, and prayer.
The authors made their way to Syria after years opposing the war in Iraq in the hopes of making amends for the destruction brought on that nation by U.S. foreign policy. Their desire became the Iraqi Student Project, which over five years brought 60 college-ready Iraqi refugees through Damascus to the United States to complete degrees. The stories of those students figure prominently, along with their poetry, which both celebrates and mourns the land of their birth.
Most coverage of the conflict in Syria is content with skimming the surface—violence, despair, terror. Never Can I Write of Damascus leads its readers to deeper wells: human resilience in adversity, the power of poetry to reconcile and heal, and above all, testimony that working together against all odds can indeed make a difference.
This article also appears in the October 2016 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 81, No. 10, page 41).