A series bringing attention to contemporary short fiction from the Arab World. In A Bedtime Story for Eid by the Syrian writer Zaher Omareen, a mother explains events of the recent past to her son.
The story comes from his forthcoming collection, Tales of the Orontes River, which draws on the collective memories of the 1982 Hama massacre when the father of the current President Assad ordered his army to obliterate an entire city.
The translator, Alice Guthrie writes, "Zaher Omareen's tale takes us on a journey back to 1980s Hama, zooming in on some of the individual victims of the massacres and disappearances committed by the regime there, as told by a mother to her son. Between 10,000 and 40,000 people perished at the hands of Hafez al-Assad's forces in a 27-day massacre in 1982: such was the climate of fear that it has only ever been referred to - if at all - as The Events.
"As this story is told in the imagined voice of a Syrian mother talking to her child, pre-2011, there is much that is not spelled out as it might be if it was directed at the foreign reader: the words 'massacre', 'arbitrary detention', or 'torture' don't appear here, but are signaled by euphemisms such as 'the Events', 'serving a sentence', or 'having medical needs'.
"There are several other references that readers unfamiliar with Syria may be confused by: Tadmor and the Palestine Branch are both prisons notorious for extreme torture; the 'Tadmor Events', as they're known in Syria, refers to a massacre of at least a thousand inmates inside the prison in 1980. And al-rush - taking its name from a firing mode on a Kalashnikov - is a vernacular term for a mass execution of residents marched out of their houses and shot as one in the street."
Written by Zaher Omareen
Translated by Alice Guthrie
Reader: Jumaan Short
Directed by Jill Waters
A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4.