On Being a Writer
"I never imagined, even at the age of 40, that I would become a famous author, I started a journey of destitution at the age of 3, and this journey which has been a struggle to negotiate with space, is now 80 years old, as for my journey through time it is older and it will remain as long as I exist.
My father, God rest his soul, was a unique sort of traveller, he benefitted no one nor did anyone benefit from his travels, he wanted to roam to obey the unknown, often abandoning the family, my mother and three sisters worked as maids, I was the only boy, slim, ill, a paid worker.
My literary beginnings were very modest; since I left primary school I started writing letters for our neighbours, and government petitions, I was the mouthpiece of our street, and its trusted embassador in official Chambers where I presented, instead of credentials, petitions containing complaints and demands, here I was confrontational and youthful: "We are starving, unemployed, ailing, illiterate, so what do the likes of us want? work, bread, school, hospital, an end to the French mandate and we demand that the government at the dawn of independence fulfils its promises to the likes of us" ...
My literary life began with a play, inspired by Don Quixote, I shouted to my heart's content, I changed the world to suit me, I turned the world upside down, the script was lost, and since then I have been reluctant to write for the theatre, my short stories were lost as well, I have not felt regret, how could I when my entire life is lost? When I worked as a barber or when I was a persecuted politician, I never thought that I would become a writer, it was beyond my ambition, believe me, until now I feel that I am intruding on this craft and I often ponder how, after this long life, I can correct the situation and stop writing, for the occupation of writer is the quickest route to complete misery.
I have carried my cross since 60 years ago and I have not found anyone to crucify me so I can find peace, I have begun to hate writing, this sad career from which there is no escape except in death and I have begun to fear that I may not die and that this would be my punishment for infiltrating the familiar; I live with worry, and I bless this worry with the Trinity¹ and curse peace of mind, the worm in my mind that keeps me restless, the wounded soul that does not age but descends with its owner to its tomb, the body is the traitor and my body has betrayed me.
I lived my entire life with adventure, I had a date with death and did not fear it, death makes cowards to those who surrender to it, 80 years and the death that I seek escapes me."
¹Mina is a Christian writer; this is a colloquial Arabic-Christian expression ("To bless with the Trinity")
Social Context into which he was born
My mother is called Myriana Mikhail Zakkour, and she had been blessed with 3 daughters who were considered, in those days, 3 calamities, she suffered with them a great deal, for in that poor and destitute social environment, an atiquated and harsh mentality dominated; and this environment collaborated with the severe judgemental attitude of our relatives to humiliate my mother, by accusing her of only conceiving daughters, when it was required that she would give birth to sons, and in the least, to have a son after the first daughter, but fate dictated that she would bear 3 daughters consecutively, a matter which brought her much misery.
When I grew up my mother told me: "Listen Hanna, you are the son of charity, for I have begged for you, since I married your father, and with each pregnancy she² would punish me, so I would receive a daughter, me who repeatedly asked for a son, asked for you, and you didn't arrive until the fourth pregnancy, I cried with joy whereas before I would cry with sadness. She gave you to me after a long wait, and great suffering, but this gift was riddled with illness, and my fears for you, then I would plead with God, that you would live, for my sake, so I won't live in shame anymore, and that is what happened, because you were born weak, grew up a weakling, and death and life hovered over your bed which was a rug on the floor of an impoverished house ... you were a candle lighting up the darkness of sickness, and I used to ask God, and vow, and humbly beg the wind not to blow out the candle, so that I wouldn't grieve my way to an early grave, and God willed, that you live in the heart of danger, and this danger haunted you to your youth when it transformed from danger of death to danger of loss, in prisons or exile, and this made me cry even more, for fear of not seeing you while you were torturing yourself fighting what you called "the dependence on the French mandate and the lack of social justice"
² she refers to charity; the mother would beg for a son and charity would punish her by sending her a daughter
Note on the translation
Mina writes about his life with great emotion and passion. In this translation of a short excerpt from his autobiography, I have tried to keep his unique punctuation and to reflect the characteristic meandering style of his writing. Although I have sometimes added a semi-colon where it was necessary to convey the English meaning accurately, no semi-colons are used in the Arabic text.
The Arabic text can be found on SyrianStoriesFriends