Lit - A HIP Read - cover pic                                                 A Hip Read – reviewed by Pete Donohue

Hastings author Bronwen Griffiths describes herself as an activist committed to solidarity with the Syrian Revolution. Whether those opposing an oppressive regime should be labelled revolutionaries or terrorists is no new argument. In this slim volume of short stories, flash fiction and poems Griffiths’ declared criticism of Assad and his allies is combined with the empathic insight of a writer who has had close-up contact with some of the everyday victims of this horrific crisis.

In the opening story a young woman tries to make sense of unforeseen vulnerabilities and a search for hope in the future of her people through the myth of Achilles. From there the work moves on towards themes of blind fear and the instinct for survival. Where does that ‘kill or be killed’ mentality come from? Tyranny and detachment from humanity perhaps, suggests Griffiths, citing the bloodstained hands of Lady Macbeth.

These stories and poems mark a brave attempt at exploring a variety of perspectives from a people ‘torn apart’ in all senses of that phrase. The pregnant widow, the father who has lost his wife and child, the fleeing refugee, the unwelcome seeker of sanctuary, the groomed suicide bomber and his confused family, the volunteer aid worker and the anti-war demonstrator are all given a voice by the author.

By skilfully weaving a diversity of experiences together into a moving collection of writings Griffiths achieves some success in guiding the reader towards an increased understanding of a terrible situation. Beyond a shared awareness, however, there is, as with any war, little sense to be made of it other than a fight for power, wealth and influence amongst the global elite.

Countless questions remain to be answered within this complex six year-long civil war, yet, as the author reminds us, many in Syria who dare to speak out are either killed, imprisoned or forced to flee. In one poem, ‘Border’,  Griffiths alludes to the futility of man-made divisions.

The border is a river, a mountain range, a line on the map, a sentry post, a wall, barbed wire. The border is a way of thinking, a national debate, it’s something your mother embroidered, it’s a frame surrounding a picture, a passport, a margin, the edge of something, a riot of flowers.

Birds, flowers, mountains and rivers are repetitive motifs throughout this collection – symbols of hope, peace and freedom. Nature alone, however, is unlikely to make the situation in Syria any better and Griffiths knows well that only a shift in human nature can really do that, which I suspect is why she is an activist for change. Clearly this was never intended to be an easy read but it is an important one, and one this reviewer certainly recommends.

  •  Not Here Not Us is published by Earlyworks Press (December 2016) and is available from Bookbuster in Hastings or from Amazon – £8.50, 53 pages. Ten percent of profits from its sale go to ‘Women Now’ a charity that helps support Syrian women. Bronwen Griffiths is the author of A Bird in the House a novel
    set in Libya during the fall of the Gaddafi regime (Three Hares Publishing – 2014).
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