Anas Abbas

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Lebanon
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Anas Abbas’ father taught him how to read and write at a very early age. By the time he was four years old he was reading simple children’s books on his own, and had memorized many verses of poetry.

The poems Anas memorized in childhood were all political in nature, aligned with his father’s Communist leanings. Poems by Mahmoud Darwish and Muthfer al-Nuwab made several appearances. Despite their difficult vocabulary and his inability to fully grasp their ideological references, the poems affected Anas greatly, enhancing his ability to memorize things quickly, poetry in particular.

At the age of eleven, Anas discovered a lending library especially for students. He devoured numerous novels and non-fiction works such as a biography of Alexander the Great, books about astronomy, the theory of general relativity, physical cosmology and various scientific magazines.

Anas remembers the books about Marxism in his home library weren’t that attractive to him as a child, but that didn’t stop him from reading the associated Russian literature; discovering several books and usually choosing them based on their visual appeal, drawn to the images and colors on the covers.

When he got to secondary school, Anas qualified for a library card from the Dar al-Thaqafa (House of Culture) library in the city of Raqqa, considered the second-largest Directorate of Culture in Syria. His began reading more complex books on philosophy, psychology and increased his consumption of poetry. The first book he checked out of the library was Sophocles’ Oedipus the King.

It was during this time also that Anas began writing his own poetry, using simple language and sharing the poems with his peers. His Arabic language teacher was so impressed with his potential that she gifted him with the entire collected works of Mahmoud Darwish.

Anas successfully passed the secondary school exams and enlisted in compulsory military service. Even then, he never stopped reading, turning to books on religion and other subjects he thought he ought to know more about. Poetry remained his primary passion..

When he had completed his military service, Anas decided to continue his studies, and moved to Lebanon to study Arabic literature at the Beirut Arab University. “The university library had a rich and diverse selection of books. I read about Arabic literary criticism and oral poetry (the pre-Islamic poetry that was never written down), about the history of making a written record of literature and poetry, and I also read books by Taha Hussein, Elliot, and others. At the university, I took a class called Lexicology and discovered a new area of specialization for myself, studying the nature, function and roots of words, and I also discovered lesser-known Arab writers who have not received the recognition they deserved, such as Abd al-Qahir al-Jurjan and Abu Hilal al-Askari.”

After graduation, Anas moved to Damascus to pursue a teaching career. It was a period filled with new influences: rich in reading and new social relationships, until the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in 2011. The uprising and his subsequent involvement shifted his concerns, and his reading turned to matters of sociology and politics, the anthropology of sectarianism and social geography. Much of what he read helped to shape his understanding about the nature of political organization and the outcomes of revolution.

The growth of the internet and spread of social media allowed Anas to access electronic versions of any book published in any country, and he participated in several discussions in online forums. He was also able to stay up-to-date on the latest books that had received international acclaim or won awards.

Anas later took a job as an editor at a publishing house. He was responsible for the entire process from receipt of the digital version of the book, to production of the final tangible item. He learned the technical aspects of publishing, which haven’t changed much over the years, and editorial skills covering the copytext and visual layout.

“These things helped me deal with a book with confidence,” says Anas, “whatever the idea contained therein might be. And they allowed me to imagine the book as an object from the moment when it was a mere idea in an author’s mind until it was realized as a book. And I came to understand that I had grown even closer to books, getting to know them personally. I was no longer just a reader, I was a participant in the process of making books a reality.”

“In short,” continues Anas, “it’s true that we determine the books we read, but they in turn determine who we become. Life is nothing but thought.”

Anas will shortly take on another role in the book industry, as he prepares to publish his own work in Beirut as a first time author. Anas sees it as a huge responsibility, and in the past had been reluctant to take on this role, as he is his own biggest critic. For this project, Anas said he was willing to sacrifice some of his perfectionism in order to get the book published, and aims to author more books in the years to come.