There are 87 narrators in Wendy Pearlman’s book WE CROSSED THE BRIDGE AND IT TREMBLED tracing the Syrian War. They are doctors, mothers, engineers, teachers, fighters, financial managers, business owners, students, activists, clerks, photographers, and accountants, a cross-section of a functioning society that could represent any country. But as these individuals recount their stories, it becomes clear that Syria is not just any other country.
Take the singular, stark sentence that constitutes theater-set specialist Fadi’s entire entry: “A Syrian citizen is a number. Dreaming is not allowed.” Another entry recounts the “empty, not free periods” in school: “It was better we do nothing than do something that would make us think or dream.” The brutal, breathless oppression of Syrian society is summed up in this same introductory section: “As a child, you’re afraid all the time. You fear the dark, what’s under your bed, whatever. But you’re not used to grown-ups being afraid.”
As the narrators change we learn about the delirious hope Syrians felt in those first heady days of the uprising, a sentiment that would give way to dismay and terror as the regime struck back, quickly and viciously. Looking back, some can still find humor in the grimness: “My first demonstration was better than my wedding day. And when my wife heard me say that, she refused to talk to me for a month.”
In WE CROSSED A BRIDGE AND IT TREMBLED, Pearlman arranges these vignettes chronologically. Apart from an introduction in which she recounts the events that led her to write the book and the way she went about it, the author astutely chooses to remove herself from the narrative, letting the stories shine. Freed from an editorial filter, these voices are raw but reflective, varying as much as the places and circumstances they narrate, whether recounting absurd conversations with bureaucrats, terror filled nights of bombings and snipers, or the exhausting, deadly treks out of the country, across neighboring nations and into Europe.
Representing a people shattered but unbent, some voices surge with hope, while others are sardonic and viciously mocking, weary and melancholic. They follow one from another, passing the narrative along like racers relaying a baton, and with them we travel from the early genesis of Syria’s woes to revolution, war, and flight. Wendy Pearlman’s book is essential to understanding not just Syria’s present but its past and future as well.