Book Review: Readings in Syrian Prison Literature: The Poetics of Human Rights
Readings in Syrian Prison Literature is a timely, compassionate, and incisive work of literary scholarship, arriving at the end of a decade marked by new nadirs of mass incarceration, forced disappearance, torture, and executions in Syria since the revolution of 2011. Taleghani's corpus is largely the product of an earlier moment of intensified imprisonment in Syria: the repression of the domestic left and Muslim Brotherhood opposition movements between the late 1970s and 1990s under President Hafez al-Assad, the father of Syria's current president, Bashar al-Assad. Taleghani skillfully interweaves past and post-2011 campaigns of incarceration without erasing the substantive distinctions between these two time periods, such as shifts in prison geography and uses, as well as the unprecedented scale of imprisonment since 2011. Multiple chapters open with reflections on events that propelled 2011's uprising (e.g., the imprisonment and torture of children in Daraʿa) and that have followed since, including the destruction by ISIS of the notorious Tadmur prison in 2015. This narrative structure to Readings in Syrian Prison Literature subtly tracks the weight of Syria's post-1970 carceral past on the present, as well as the ongoing negotiation of its meaning among writers and activists, the majority of whom now live outside Syria.