Freedom Hospital: A Syrian Story
written and drawn by Hamid Sulaiman, 2016
translated by Francesca Barrie, 2017
This is a gorgeous graphic novel, with stark images that carry a lot of impact. The style matches the story too, in its stark contrast that still manages complex characters in a confusing state of social collapse.
There’s a cast of twelve main characters in and around the underground hospital Yasmine has set up to provide medical treatment to the resistance of the current regime. It’s not strictly non-fiction — Sulaiman took liberties with combining characters and stories, but it’s not really fiction either. It starts in spring 2012, and covers the year in four seasons with a short epilog set in spring 2013.
It’s not particularly long or technically hard to read, but it’s a hard subject and the characters are all complex and the situation even more so. And I keep on thinking about days later. One of the things that really struck me about it was the way Sulaiman created a background by the simple matter of, when there was a time cut between scenes, there’s a small line saying how many hours or days later it was, and how many people had died in that time.
“six days later: another 731 killed.”
“ten hours later: another 69 killed.”
“two weeks later: another 2,157 killed.”
“twelve days later: another 793 killed.”
And the people who survive carry on trying to do something: to win, to get noticed, to be saved, to survive…
Some of them do and some of them don’t, and everyone just keeps on trying to find some right thing to do, whether it’s to stay or leave or join one of the militias.
It’s heart breaking and wearying and shows just how easy it is to become accustomed to truly horrifying circumstances.