Nothing but Soot; the Story of a Syrian Refugee in America

Sirwan Kajjo is a Kurdish writer. He has been living in the US since he was 21. He has released two poetry books in Kurdish that were written six years apart under different circumstances; Bîranînin Serxweş (Drunken Remembrance) in Beirut and Xewn û Vodka û Tiştên Din (Dreams, Vodka and Other Things) in Washington.13015103_10154105094103766_7051322571644749183_n

He focuses on personal issues that can resonate with the collective imagination of his surroundings, he told ZIV. “It is an attempt at personalizing broader issues in the society in order to simplify them for a better understanding,” he explained further.

His novel; Nothing But Soot, published by CreateSpace Publishing Platform in 2015, was a finalist at the Beverly Hills Book Awards. The novel narrates the journey of an 18 years old Syrian Kurdish boy, Kawa, leaving Syria in search for opportunity. Kawa moves to Beirut to pursue his studies. The young man from Amuda then leaves Beirut to settle in America.

Sirwan decided to write this autobiographical novel after going through some challenges in life.

When the 30-year-old Kajjo crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and settled down in the US, he went through several stages of identity crisis. Sirwan demonstrates the importance of the identity saying, “When one feels abandoned from within, things start to seem dreamlike in every dimension. When you lose an essential part of your being, you tend to be less inclined to express your reality. For me identity is an important element of my being. It’s a vehicle through which I can carry the true nature of myself. Without it, I’m incapable of being honest with myself. So, I believe your identity is really what you believe as an individual – regardless of all cultural clichés,” he told ZIV.16295619_10154924912433766_2086943396_n

His novel talks about issues related to its readers, as sexuality, love, religion, and ethnic politics in the Middle East – many of which are controversial in the Middle East and some are even taboos.

“Sex is beautiful and important. We, as Kurds and Middle Easterners, constantly think about it, but we rarely talk about it.” Sirwan stressed “… I believe that people need to be more open about it. It’ a central element in our lives and it deserves to be treated that way,” he continued.

In the land of opportunities, Sirwan became one of many immigrants to experience the American dream. The notion that “tomorrow will be better” was constantly on his mind, he said. He knew positive change for him would happen. When he first arrived in the US, he took the advice of a devout Christian man and started to learn everything about the country; language, culture, history, economic structure, human relations.

Winning the Beverly Hills Book Awards for his Nothing But Soot made him believe that his future works can achieve more success in America, and when asked about his advice for all the Kurdish youth, he stressed on education as a method to catch up with the rest of the world that is “being evolved so rapidly”, he said.

“I would like to see young people from Amuda take part in the change that’s happening. The current situation of Syrian Kurds is very difficult but it won’t always be like this,” he added optimistically.

Sirwan believes that as a Syrian Kurdish refugee he “offered spontaneity, sincerity to his surroundings in America and a unique perspective to Americans on life in the Middle East”, in return, he got “hope, opportunity, freedom, security and a dignified life in the US.”

Sirwan Kajjo is currently working on a new novel, which will be different from Nothing But Soot in many ways, but the essence will be similar.

You can get a copy of Nothing But Soot here.

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