One Writer’s Story of Surviving the Syrian War

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Last November, as the Syrian civil war intensified, we were approached by a young writer who lives in Syria. We're often approached by writers from all over the world, but there was something different about this aspiring writer: his message.

One Writer's Story of Surviving the Syrian War in Syria

Nabeel Kallas is a medical doctor who writes novels in his spare time. He lives in the war-torn nation of Syria and writes about the people of his homeland. His first novel is called When the Jasmine Returns.
Nabeel has also recently started a fitness and nutrition blog, MasterMinding Perfection.

When the Jasmine Returns

When the Jasmine Returns is a story about young people living in Syria. It follows a group of friends trying to live normally despite their fears and the constant threat of the dangers of war. Despite the explosions and gunshots that have become the background music to their lives, they still dream, hope, and fall in love.

The book is not about where you are but rather who you are. The only thing standing in their way is the fight against death.

A Powerful Story

When I first received the manuscript, I read the entire thing in one night. I couldn't put it down.

Every page I read broke me more and more. The casual way he wrote of a bombing. The normality of gunshots. He wrote of death as just another everyday occurrence.

As I read his book, I read his story. His life unfolded before me and I realized he was not a stranger. He's just like me: he’s funny, he loves deeply, he’s bad at cooking, he loves coffee, and he dreams of being a writer. What?

I see pieces of me in him, and him in me. Our stories intermingle from worlds apart.

We're excited to be able to help Nabeel as he publishes this story. Please read the excerpt below and let him know your thoughts in the comments. Also, sign up here to receive updates on the book.

Read an Excerpt

Here is an excerpt of the soon-to-be-released novel When the Jasmine Returns:

I woke up after the shout I released. I was sweaty and confused.

“Damn it, why do these nightmares keep happening to me?”

I'm tired of all that. The war in my country has been on for many years now. Although I was from the five percent of the Syrian nation who hasn't lived a tragedy yet, this reality was strangling me every single day.

As a Syrian, when tragedy happens to you don't have fears anymore, because then, what you were afraid of will have happened. The problem is when the tragedy hasn't happened to you yet, and you witness the tragedies every day, you will start telling yourself each time “It's your turn now, you're next.”

After the nightmare I saw in that night, I woke up in the middle of the night. I went to the kitchen to drink some water. I got back to my room, grabbed my laptop and went to Ellentube. I have always considered watching Ellen's videos as a motivator and a booster for me when I felt down.

An hour passed and I was still not feeling that I got a sufficient dose, or as I like to call it my “Ellen fix.”

But I had an important day ahead of me and I needed my sleeping fix, too. So I closed my laptop and put it away. I then turned the light on. The nightmare thing wasn't something to be ignored. Especially since it was happening to me on a regular basis.

I sat down with myself and realized that what I was doing is not the right way of living! I can't live frightened from what might happen. Being worried is the worst thing you can do to yourself. It's the only misuse of your imagination.

I can't just continue like this! This way of living is consuming me each day. I determinedly decided to stop my worrying. To start fresh! Without any fears.

In my country, there is a saying that says: “When death comes, we will die.” The quote indicates to the importance of living in the moment—without the bad vibes. And when the bad things happen, we can deal with them.

I have had these thoughts before, but I haven't had the courage to apply them in my life until that night, when I remembered that the year that was about to start, was my graduation year, after which I would become a doctor who will need to specialize in another thriving country. This might be my last year in Syria. I can't spend it the way I was living—drowned in fear and worrying.

“If I see a tragedy, I will run from it,” I thought.

But will it run after me? Will it chase me wherever I go until it becomes my reality?

No. I can't think like that.

All I have to do is to start fresh.

Let Nabeel and us know what you think in the comments! Are you interested in reading more?

If you'd like to stay updated on Nabeel's book and be notified when it is released, sign up HERE.

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to read Nabeel's excerpt and practice giving feedback. Try giving a few positive and constructive pieces of advice!

Then post your thoughts in the comments!

Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book . She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.

On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.

She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.

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25 Comments

  1. Gary G Little

    Nabeel,

    I respect anyone that can write as well as this in a language that is not their native tongue. You found the voice of the story, and no it does not sound like my 70 year old west Texas voice. It sounds like yours. That is good.

    I would make a couple of suggestions though.

    “I woke up shouting. I was sweaty and confused.”

    As a Syrian, when tragedy happens, [] you don’t have fears anymore, because [], what you were afraid of will have happened. The problem is when the tragedy hasn’t happened to you yet, and you witness the tragedies every day, you will start telling yourself each time “It’s your turn now, you’re next.”

    The following is repetitious.

    “After the nightmare I saw in that night, I woke up in the middle of the night.”

    I would just drop this and make this the paragraph:

    “I went to the kitchen to drink some water. I got back to my room, grabbed my laptop and went to Ellentube. I have always considered watching Ellen’s videos as a motivator and a booster for me when I felt down.”

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Thanks for these thoughts Gary! We are really trying to keep his voice, while still making it the best it can be to flow for native English readers. I love these suggestions though. I’ll pass them on to Nabeel!

      Reply
  2. Ryan

    Nabeel, your story is a story that not many of us can write. I can write about difficult circumstances in my fiction, but they are more often than not circumstances that I have only imagined or read about. One of the great values of your story is that you have lived it. That you can turn the storms of your life into a story that brings hope to others is a special gift. I encourage you to pursue it with all your heart and to continue growing in your craft. I am sure that your writing expresses the hearts of millions right now. Speak for them, my friend!

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Love this encouragement Ryan! Thanks for sharing. I’ll be sure to pass this on to Nabeel!

      Reply
  3. Reagan Colbert

    Love how you really come through this story, and how you are willing to be transparent in order to powerfully deliver your message! I find it to be intriguing, and it feels like you are setting up for a great plot.

    Constructive advice: Make sure to thoroughly edit, and if you aren’t an editor, hire one. It will really help if you have someone comb through it and erase inconsistencies, so the readers aren’t distracted by them.
    I am a copy-editor, so my eye is probably more critical than most readers’. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
    (I’d be willing, if you don’t already have an editor lined up 😉

    Looks like a great story! Thanks for sharing the excerpt with us, Kellie. 🙂

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Thanks Reagan! Glad you liked the excerpt 🙂

      Reply
  4. Ai-tama

    Just from reading that short excerpt, my heart aches. Every day, we take for granted our safety and peaceful corner of the world we live in. We go about our lives worrying about traffic on the way to work while other people worry about their loved ones in war-torn countries like Syria. It’s very sobering, reading about someone whose life is full of chaos and misery–yet he still manages to take control of a senseless, orderless life.

    Reply
  5. Sarah

    Nabeel, your words are powerful and the truth of them penetrates straight into our hearts. I will be purchasing your book once it is published.
    Kellie, thank you for such a great introduction.

    Reply
  6. Iman Alkhateeb

    Nabeel, I really like the way you drew us into the story and introduced the main character. Now we feel for him and are concerned about his future. The language is plain and simple which also fits the character being portrayed. My only suggestion is to have your sentences and punctuation checked. Remember also that after you finish you can go back and eliminate unnecessary words.
    I’m sure it will be a best seller because it reflects true sincere feelings from within.
    Best wishes.

    Reply
  7. Addhaya

    Go aheah Nabeel, can’t wait to read your novel.

    Reply
  8. Sarkis Antikajian

    It is a sad situation in that part of the world. Yes, I will read Nabeel’s book. ‘When the Jasmine Returns’ when it is published. I have visited Syria many years ago, and it’s a very beautiful country.

    Reply
  9. Jean Maples

    I think of Bosnia. They never expected such a time. This is even worse, and you are a surviver. I thank you for writing your experiences, and I want to read more.

    Reply
  10. LaCresha Lawson

    This is really inspiring. Thank you for sharing this piece of writing. You are a true soldier. It’s a lot different from what I see here in America. The struggle for life and freedom is not appreciated. When I see people living in this country illegally, their is a disrespectfulnesss. You all just want to see another day and live. They think that they should be promised another day.

    Reply
  11. oddznns

    Nabeel,

    I laud your courage in sharing this story.
    When are you expecting to publish this?

    This is exceptional subject matter. My sense is it will still need work before it becomes the polished piece with “oomph” that you want it to be.

    As an author of 3 published works of fiction ( 2 novels), I guess my feedback is as follows for you to get other eyes to look at it and then to edit, re-edit and re-re-edit.

    You’re getting feedback from our community here. But, it will be great if you can have a dedicated reader or 2 or 3 look at the whole thing for structure, POV and voice.

    Afterwards, you’ll need to edit and re-edit.
    Let’s start first with opening sentences.
    Then go on with pacing.
    And finally, the grammar.

    I guess that’s my feedback.

    Keep going.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      This is great advice! We’ve been working with Nabeel on all of these things. We’re hoping to publish in the next couple months!

      Reply
  12. Stella

    Hi Nabeel,

    A number of ideas stood out when I was reading your piece. First, the quote that ‘when death comes, we will die.’ It stands out in contrast to more cheery sayings like ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’. It resonates with me because it suggests a more mature way of accepting death.

    Second, your paragraph about how you are more afraid when tragedy hasn’t happened to you yet. As someone who worries about the future a lot, I can identify with this feeling. Although one question I had was why haven’t tragedies happened yet? Is it because you are part of the most privileged 5%? The fact that you are publishing a novel in English and hoping to become a doctor does hint that you are among the privileged Syrians, but I would like to know more about your background.

    Small question – what is ‘Ellentube’? What came to mind was watching Ellen DeGeneres’ talk shows on Youtube. Just checking if I understood you correctly.

    I thought the weakest part of this excerpt was the middle, from the paragraph starting ‘After the nightmare I saw that night…’ to the one ending ‘To start fresh! Without any fears.’ It was somewhat repetitive and read like generic positive thinking.

    Lastly, I enjoyed your realization that you want to cherish your last year in Syria before you graduate. As someone living in a peaceful country, if I were living in Syria, I can’t imagine anything but looking forward to my last year there. But for you, no matter how war-torn, Syria is still your home. Of course you wouldn’t want to spend your last year there drowning in fear. This was a very human realization.

    I hope this feedback is helpful. All the best Nabeel! The world needs writers like you to tell the stories that have not been told.

    Reply
  13. LilianGardner

    I like the straightforward way in which you introduce yourself and how you feel about the war in your country; that what has happened will happen to you, too.
    You have decided to face the future by starting afresh and putting aside your fears, and this a positive, good point.
    There may be some flaws in your story, but to me, it makes it more interesting because I can cleary see that it comes straight from the heart.
    I’ll be looking out for a further read of your story on The Write Practice.

    All the best Nabeel for continuing your story.

    Reply
  14. Gladys Bauer

    We need witnesses like you to crack open the nutshell in which the conscience of the world is hidden. Please, never give up on this story. The editing can come later.

    Reply
  15. Sheila B

    Nabeel, I really want stories about the current wars around the globe. We need to hear/read them in formats that are longer than news soundbites and social media memes.
    I like Gary Little’s editing suggestions .
    I also agree with Gladys Bauer – get the story written, the editing can come after. The tragedies of war are rarely experienced in the USA, except in cases like mass shootings, War is coming to us more and more often, yet it is still TV drama to most, not everyday reality we live.

    I love the gem: worry, “It’s the only misuse of your imagination” but would change “your” to “our” so as to identify more with reader and the reader with you.
    I also appreciated the Syrian saying about death, the simplicity of it, and the acceptance. It is a reality for everyone no matter our circumstances.
    I just returned from 2 funerals. We survivors had a lot to say about death, how in our 60’s its going to be more and more common among us, and specifically what it was for these 2 particular individuals a relief due to their health problems, but also about the importance of acceptance, coming to terms with it, even preparing for it, i.e. with documenting DNRs, last wishes, what kind of heroics we are up for or not to prolong our lives.

    I think with some editorial help, like avoiding phrases that include “myself,” yourself. because they are usually unnecessary, you will find ways to make the action more immediate, especially in the opening drawing the reader in and at same time conveying reflections. Perhaps show us the action in the nightmare that caused narrator to shout in the opening. Thoughts and feelings can be briefer and expressed through action & dialogue, Also with inner reflection kept briefer and more intermittent to the action, you can make this a very compelling read. I love reflection myself, but find my feedback group wants less of it told and more of it shown.

    Reply
  16. nelly

    This look very interesting . You found your voice wich is great , I didn’t not anything that wasn’t already said in the comment . Than ks for sharing !

    Reply
  17. Veronica Gilkes

    Nabeel,

    I could never understand your fear and worry. You are very brave, I don’t think I could live like this, but it seems to me you have no choice at the moment. Keep on writing I can’t wait to read your book.
    Veronica.

    Reply
  18. Beck Gambill

    Nabeel,
    I remember your first appeal to Joe and the community of writers. I love that you were courageous and reached out at all. And I love that Joe and The Write Practice stepped up, not that that surprises me!

    I have little to offer but my prayers. I prayed for you the first time I saw your request, for protection, for success, for peace. And I pray now for your words to make an impact, for them to be noticed and heard. The conflict in Syria and the middle east has moved many of us and grabbed our heart, but often it seems like reaching for another planet. How could we, in the west, make a tangible difference? If listening to you, reading your story, financially supporting your words will make a difference then I’m all for it! I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your story, but more than that watching to see where your journey takes you, and cheering you on!

    Reply
  19. Tina

    Nabeel,
    Just a thought. You could put your completed work to the supportive jury of a group such as Inkshares … There is a great deal of potential with this work. Number 1 is the timeliness … I get impression that Inkshares is not just for the e-publisher or the self-publisher .. it’s for the work product itself, however it gets published.

    You are, remarkably, coming in not from totally raw origins (I’m talking about the book; not about your young but challenged-enough-for-several-lifetimes Syrian life) …

    You can get excited about this book the way you get excited about med school … I’ve no idea if your character’s life and your life have that in common, or what, btw …

    My personal muses are two TV doctors, but it could have easily been Ellen in another life …
    Hint: one has a magazine out, characterized by prose so terse I’d love to emulate it more than I do because you need that with comedic elements.

    Reply
  20. Mercy Thomas

    Great idea for a story. I am inspired that you write with death knocking on your door day and night. I think careful editing will help.
    Line editing to weed out surplus and commentary, improve pacing and build plot. You will also need to forget your own story and allow your characters to tell theirs for your novel to work and have a life of its own.That’s one piece of advise I was given once and you may want to consider it as you revise your novel. All the best.

    Reply

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