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A Day in the Life: Daughter of Damascus
Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 6:15pm
A Day in the Life: Daughter of Damascus

Multnomah County Library Central Library, U.S. Bank Room, 810 SW 10th Avenue

Featuring a discussion with Andrea Rugh, translator and Middle East Institute scholar

About the Book

Daughter of Damascus, by Siham Tergeman,  presents a personal account of a Syrian woman’s youth in the Suq Saruja (“old city”) quarter of Damascus in the 1940s. Siham Tergeman wrote this book to preserve the details of a “genuine Arab past” for Syrian young people. In it, she relates the customs pertaining to marriage, birth, circumcision, and death. She writes of Ramadan festivities, family picnics to the orchards of the Ghuta, weekly trips to the public bath, her school experiences, Damascene cooking, peddlers’ calls, and proverbs. She includes the well-known dramatic skits, songs, and tales of the Syrian Hakawati storytellers. And, through the words of her father, she describes the difficult period when Syrians were involved in the Balkans War and World War I. All this wealth of ethnographic detail is set in real-life vignettes that make the book lively and entertaining reading.

Little has been published about modern Syrian social life. In this English translation of an Arabic memoir originally published in Syria in 1978, Tergeman appeals to a wide audience. General readers will find a charming story, while scholars can find source material for university courses in anthropology, sociology, family and women’s studies, and Middle Eastern area studies. The introduction by anthropologist Andrea Rugh portrays Syrian social life for Western readers and points out some of the nuances that might escape the attention of those unacquainted with Arab culture.

About the Author

Siham Tergeman received her doctorate from Damascus University in 1955.  She currently resides in Damascus, Syria.

About the Translator

Andrea Rugh is currently a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C.

She has been a technical advisor for USAID development projects in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. She was a Research Associate at the Harvard Institute of International Development from 1987 to 1994, and worked for Save the Children and UNICEF in Pakistan and Afghanistan from 1998 to 2002.  Over a period of 40 years residence and work in the Middle East, she has written on local culture and society. Her books include Family in Contemporary Egypt (Syracuse University Press, 1984), Reveal and Conceal: Dress in Egypt (Syracuse University Press, 1986), Within the Circle: Parents and Children in an Arab Village (Columbia University Press, 1997), and two translated books: Daughter of Damascus (Siham Tergeman, University of Texas Press, 1994), Folktales of Syria (Samir Tahhan, University of Texas Press, 2004). Her latest books are The Political Culture of Leadership in the United Arab Emirates (Palgrave-Macmillan 2007), Simple Gestures: A Cultural Journey Into the Middle East (Potomac Books 2009), a memoir of living and working in the Middle East and International Development in Practice: Education Assistance in Egypt, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (Palgrave-Macmillan 2012).

Sponsorship

Presented as part of A Day in the Life: Memoirs from the Middle East, a book club series which aims to dispel common stereotypes of the Middle East by exploring literature from the region.  The rich narratives, stimulating detail and enchanting dialogue of the selected memoirs will draw readers in and provide new perspectives on the Middle East, beyond war and politics.  Through interactive and participatory book club discussions, readers will engage with the text, with experts and authors, and each other to explore the diversity of daily life in the Middle East and consider both the similarities to and differences from our own lives in Oregon.

A Day in the Life is presented by the Multnomah County Library and the Portland State University Department of English and Centers for Public Humanities and Middle East Studies and was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities, a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds Oregon Humanities’ grant program. Any views, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect the views of Oregon Humanities or the National endowment for the Humanities.

The Portland State University Department of English offers a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate courses to meet the needs of students with a diversity of interests, and academic and professional backgrounds. The department offers courses in literature, rhetoric, composition, and critical theory and emphasizes intertextual and cross-disciplinary inquiry represented by many cultures and historical periods.

The Portland Center for the Public Humanities (PCPH) coordinates, promotes and supports rigorous humanistic inquiry into the languages, histories, and ideas that both shape our ways of life and offer a means of positively transforming them. PCPH’s mission is to connect the scholarly community of PSU with the city, and its programs have focused on topics vital to public life. PCPH programming has examined topics such as sustainability and the humanities; the prison industrial complex; Holocaust and genocide studies; and religion and secularism.

The Portland State University Middle East Studies Center promotes understanding of the people, cultures, languages and religions of the Middle East. As a National Resource Center for Middle East Studies under the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI program, the Center serves as a resource on issues pertaining to the Middle East through activities that reach students and scholars, as well as businesses, educators, and the media. The Middle East Studies Center supports academic conferences, workshops, cultural events, lectures, and a resource library.  

Multnomah County Library (MCL) is the oldest and largest public library in Oregon, serving nearly 20% of the state’s population (approximately 724,000 residents).  MCL cardholders are voracious consumers of the Library’s collection, checking out over 33 items per person in 2011-12, the highest circulation of all libraries serving populations of fewer than one million. MCL hosted more than 22,000 events during the last year, including monthly meetings of 27 book discussion groups.  More than 300,000 residents attended library programs. The community is eager for connection and learning – visiting the Library online or in person nearly 35,000 times each day in 2011-12.  This November, nearly 63% of voters in the County voted to establish a library district, providing permanent, stable funding for this well-loved and well-used institution. MCL is guided by three pillars that define its role in and value to the community, which guides how MCL builds its collection and develop and present programming: 1) A free resource for all, 2) A trusted guide for learning, 3) The leading advocate for reading.