Monday, 30 July 2012

Fleeing: Today's Front Page and Yesterday's Back Story

This morning I spent a  long time looking at a photo of a group of people in the back of a truck fleeing the Syrian city of Aleppo. 

What can you tell from a photo like this?  Well, it probably is a family group--there's a strong resemblance between them.  And that they're reasonably well off to be able to pay for transport, instead of walking.  They women wear headscarves, which probably doesn't mean much about where they stand in the split between different Muslim groups, or just how traditional they are.  What is clear is that they are in a bad position, and even though the 13 or 14 year old boy seems fascinated by something in the air, this is a nightmare.

How this will end I have no idea.  But I've just read a most interesting novel that takes place in the aftermath of another city burnt and population displaced: The Goodtime Girl by Tess Fragoulis (Cormorant Books.)  The main character is a young woman who was her father's darling in the early 1920s in Smyrna.   WhenGreeks were driven from the city by Turks in 1922, she escaped to Pireaus and Athens where she ended up singing other people's songs of distress and love.

The worst of the story happens off stage.  Kivelli has wiped part of it from her mind.  It resurfaces in her dreams and in an abbreviated version told about half way through the book.  But we know always that a number of people were beastly to a number of others for reasons which in no way justify what happened.

Kivelli is a survivor, and sings her sorrows so movingly that she is able to escape. That she sings the songs of other people is also poignant, because Fragoulis makes it clear that while many people may have stories to tell, not all of them have the voice to tell them.

It's a good read, and will send you looking for more information about the bloodshed that followed World War I, as spheres of influence were redefined.  It will also make you wonder just what the stories are of the folk fleeing in the pictures we see all too frequently. 

Photo: Agence France Presse

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