Title: Don’t Forget the Couscous
Author: mir Darwish
Published by: Smokestack Books
First Published: October 1st, 2015
Source: NetGalley (in exgange for honest review)
Don’t Forget the Couscous is a book of poetry about exile and home, love and loss. It is a beautiful love-song to the Arab world – Syria, Kurdistan, Morocco, Palestine and his native Aleppo. It is a memoir of the failed Arab Spring and the civil-war that has turned his native Syria into a ‘fountain of blood’. It’s a bitter account of the demonization of Islam in the West, and the violent interference of the West in the Islamic world. It is about being a Muslim and not a terrorist.
Amir Darwish draws on the magical-realism of Naguib Mahfouz, the social satire of Muhammad al-Maghut and the love poetry of Rumi to describe the experience of Islam in Europe – from ‘a Friday night doner kebab after a good night out’ to a ‘girl who has taken off the hijab in order to feel safe’ and ‘a mosque with broken windows’. It is a book about travel and love, and an apology on behalf of Muslims everywhere for having contributed nothing to the modern world except astronomy, coffee, clocks, algebra, falafels, apricots and doner kebabs. And don’t forget the couscous…
Don’t Forget the Couscous is a debut poetry collection that talks about an Arab’s experience in the western world while also showing nostalgia for the home he left in the Midle-East.
The collection opens with a poem titled “Sorry” described to be: “an apology from Muslims (or those that precieved to be Muslims) to humanity.” In the poem he apologizes for all the things Muslims have invented or contributed to the society. It’s the poets way of addressing Islamaphobes as well as breaking through the negative image given to Arabs and Muslims and opening the eyes of anyone who are unaware of the many contributions Muslims have made for society.
Abdul in the US is sorry for what so and so did;
He does not know him but he’s sorry anyway.
Sorry that we accompanied Columbus on his journey to the Staets.
And sorry for the Arab man with him
Who was the first to touch the shore and shout ‘Honolulu’
And named the place after him.
Sorry for the architecture in Spain and the Al Hambra palace there.
We apologise for churches in Seville
With their stars of David at the top that we built with our hands.
We say sorry for every number you use in your daily life from the 0 to
I love that he opened with this poem; Sorry (along with a coulpe more of the first poems) debunk the misconception that ‘Muslim’ is synonymous or in any way a correlation to ‘terrorist’. The first two lines in this small snippet holds especial reverence because it sums up the prejudice that the Arab and Islamic nation suffer from because a handful of specific people decided to tarnished the name. It’s unfair to hold a mad man as a staple to any group of people; Hitler should not be a representative of Germans, Stalin should not be a representative of Russians and terrorists should not be representatives of Muslims. Starting with this poem clears the palette for the rest of the collection.
There are then poems depicting the life of those in Syria, describing the streets, people, food and overall life style there. The poems are told with a tone of such love and nostalgia that it’s not hard to see how much it means to the poet himself.
From there the setting pans away from Syria off to other places (such as Morocco, Amsterdam etc.). But I didn’t enjoy them as much and easily lost interest. I think the thing that initially pulled me in was that I was seeing a culture that’s not normally depicted or talked about in books, but once the setting went from one place to the other it lost some of the endearing tone and a little of the culture references. At that point there wasn’t anything that made me want to pick this book up.
On the Writing:
There wasn’t anything about the writing style itself that griped me. I didn’t find anything bad about the writing style (and it’s not that I don’t like free verse poetry – I love it), I just didn’t really care for it. I guess I just have a particular taste for poetry. I absolutley love the culture references and the arabic words that I’d find every now and then in here. Don’t worry, glosssary in the back of the book makes sure you know what they mean, which was also very much appreciated.