How Ahmad Danny Ramadan honoured his Syrian home with 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. Death joins the couple, eavesdropping on the series of cruel events that have brought Hakawati to love and to Vancouver. The novel is the first in English 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.
"The Clothesline Swing starts at the end of the lives of two queer Syrian refugees. They live their life, grow old together and — around the time one of them is about to pass away — the other tries to keep him alive by telling stories. These stories are inspired by their stories back in Syria, how they fell in love, what it meant to leave Damascus and what it means to find a home in Canada. I decided to make my characters older because I wanted to present the wisdom of queer, elder, gay men who are people of colour that I wouldn't be able to present otherwise. There are many stories of courage, resilience and stories that don't entirely make sense, but this is the trickery of memory — this is how we tell our own stories to ourselves and how it impacts our personalities."
"Having people sit down with you to tell stories is a tradition in Syria. My main character is named after the hakawati, whose job it is to sit in cafés and tell you stories. I wanted to honour that tradition from my heritage. When I came to Canada, I didn't have anything other than my stories. I didn't know any other way of connecting with people. I found that this is how I came to understand my identities better, the many identities I carry with me. This dance of stories allowed me to understand myself."
Ahmad Danny Ramadan's comments have been edited and condensed.