Books·How I Wrote It

How Ahmad Danny Ramadan's experience as a Syrian refugee influenced his debut novel

In The Clothesline Swing, Hakawati, a storyteller, prolongs the life of his dying partner by telling story after story about his childhood in Damascus.
Ahmad Danny Ramadan is the author of the novel The Clothesline Swing. (, Nightwood Editions)

In The Clothesline Swing, Hakawati, a storyteller, prolongs the life of his dying partner by telling story after story about his childhood in Damascus. Death joins the couple, eavesdropping on the series of cruel events that have brought Hakawati to love and to Vancouver. The novel is a first for Ahmad Danny Ramadan, who came to Canada as a refugee from Syria in 2014. He's since become well-known for his activism on behalf of LGBTQ refugees. 

In his own words, Ramadan discusses how The Clothesline Swing draws from his roots in Syria.

Syrian storytelling

"I've always written in a magical realism style of writing. I've always written about characters that are weird. This is something that is very common in my culture; we have a visual style of storytelling. In Syria, we are a nation of storytellers, so I find I'm not straying away much from what I grew up reading and understanding."

The novel's origins

"When I was 24 or 25, I wrote a short story about a storyteller who is trying to keep his partner, a listener, from passing away by telling him story after story. Death is there mocking the storyteller, until the storyteller surrenders to the fate of his partner and lets go of him. The story felt like a beautiful story that I wanted to evolve into a novel, but I wanted them to share something meaningful, not just fairy tales.

"Then I went through the experience of being a refugee, then I came here to Canada. I think that experience helped me mature and helped me recognise so many different identities that I carried in myself. I found so many unique situations in that perspective that I thought, 'This is exactly the kind of story that I want those two characters to tell one another.'"

Real friends, fictional characters

"I had a lot of friends and met a lot of people and witnessed their stories. I borrowed some aspects of their personalities. You pick and choose the parts that you'd like to tell and you create a dramatic representation of what that story is. I don't know anybody whose brother went to jail and then committed suicide. This is a drama that I created for a character."

Inspiring readers

"I hope that this can push folks to believe in the talents of folks around them. These are the talents of the refugees who come to Canada. Hire them for jobs. Support them as they explore their artistic selves. Try to see them as productive people. Support them as they learn the language here. They bring their art, their skills and their abilities here with them. Maybe that will produce something beautiful."

Ahmad Danny Ramadan's comments have been edited and condensed.


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