The Clothesline Swing
by Ahmad Danny Ramadan
286 pages, $19.95
TWO YEARS AGO, in an anthology of essays by queer and transgender writers, the activist and then would-be novelist Ahmad Danny Ramadan wrote: “Being an lgbtq person in the Arab world is not a challenge you face every now and again. You face it every day, feeling unsafe in almost every context. Like children lost in the woods, every sound is a bear attacking, every pair of fireflies is the haunting eyes of a crouching wolf.”
By the time of that essay, Ramadan, who immigrated to Canada from his native Syria in 2014, had already published two collections of short stories in Arabic. Now the Canadian publisher Nightwood Editions has brought out Ramadan’s first novel, The Clothesline Swing. Written in English, it powerfully fleshes out just how much of a challenge it is to be gay in the Arab world.
The Clothesline Swing is the story of two gay Syrians, lovers and refugees, who flee their war-ravaged country for a new life in Canada. Set in the future, some forty years after they first arrive in Vancouver, the story focuses on the now old couple’s final months together. The narrator’s partner is dying. His only relief comes from the stories that his lover, whom he calls Hakawati (“storyteller” in Arabic), tells him. “I’m your Scheherazade,” Hakawati tells his sleepless partner. “I offer you souvenirs: my stories, the pieces of my soul, to help you sleep.”