2023 / 11 / 9
The Uncaged Voice: Stories of Writers in Exile was launched on October 24, 2023, in an event hosted by Ben McNally Books, one of the oldest and most important bookstores in Toronto, Canada. The event included speeches by the publisher and Grace Westcott, president of PEN Canada, as well as Gezahegn M. Demissie, leader of the Writers in Exile Committee, and Arzu Yildiz, a representative of the book’s authors.
Syrian-Canadian writer and journalist Abdulrahman Matar was one of 16 professional writers living in exile in Canada who contributed to The Uncaged Voice, a collective book recently launched by Cormorant Books in Toronto, Canada. The Uncaged Voice book project was supported by PEN Canada and includes the stories of 16 writers from many countries in which they talk about their personal experiences as authors and journalists in their homelands, including the tyranny and oppression they faced in their personal struggles for freedom of expression. Although each of their stories is unique, they all share a common vision of the issues of freedom, justice, and truth.
Although there are many Syrians currently living in Canada who arrived there as refugees, Matar is the only one whose story is covered in The Uncaged Voice. He is currently vice president of the Syrian Writers Association and an editorial advisor for Awraq magazine. Matar has also published five books of poetry as well as stories and novels. While living in Syria, he was arrested five times and spent a total of almost 10 years in prison due to his writings. His novel Wild Mirage was written from inside a cell and talks about his experience in an Assad regime prison. As proof that his writing has been far better received in Canada than it was in Syria, Matar was also chosen to be the winner of the Commitment to the Arts Award – Toronto 2021.
Matar, whose chapter in the book is entitled “The Road to Freedom: Detention, Fear, and Displacement” was also in attendance. His story is one of political detention, torture, security prosecutions, and confiscation of freedom of expression, not only by the Assad regime and some terrorist organizations in Syria but also of restrictions imposed in various countries of displacement and exile before arriving in Canada.
In commenting about the book, Matar says: “This is a book of crossing over again into another life, after years of detention and asylum. In a new language, and a new homeland, its pages open the windows of writing to an unlimited horizon of freedom of expression. It is the rain of letters, which waters our thirsty souls and takes us to where others can listen to our voices… to touch the fires of the soul… our pains. To know our stories and to participate with us in creating the hope and future that we aspire to: Without prison cells, without torture, freedom without restrictions, until the end of the last dictatorship in the world […]. It is a book of our shared stories, so it is the light that illuminates the darkness of exile for us.”
The authors signed copies of the book in the presence of a wide range of Canadian writers and journalists, supporters of freedom of expression, and businessmen who support cultural work including Mohammad Zaibak, a Syrian-Canadian businessman
The event was considered by many to be highly important given the book’s main themes which are -dir-ected towards Canadian and Western readers. Published in English, the aim of the authors is to introduce the issues being faced in their respective communities related to the violence of dictatorship, of confronting tyranny, and the victory achieved through freedom of expression.