Translating sights, sounds and feelings into colour
Sumia Sukkar wrote a novel about a young Syrian boy with Asperger Syndrome who paints the horror and violence of the war around him in vivid colour. BBC Radio 4 adapted the novel for its Saturday Drama series. Susannah Tarbush read the book, listened to the radio play and spoke to its young author
The drama "The Boy from Aleppo who Painted the War", broadcast recently on BBC Radio 4, was a powerful and moving prelude to a week of special, intensive coverage of the Syrian conflict across BBC radio and TV.
The play was adapted from the debut novel of the same title by British-born Sumia Sukkar, daughter of a Syrian father and Algerian mother. Remarkably, Sukkar was only 21 when the novel was published in hardback in 2013 by London-based independent Eyewear Publishing.
Sumia Sukkar reads from her novel at the launch party for the paperback
To coincide with the radio drama, the publisher brought out a paperback edition of the novel with a new cover design. The paperback includes an afterword by Laura Guthrie, a Glasgow University PhD student who researches fiction featuring characters with Asperger Syndrome.
Adam, the central character in Sukkar's novel, is a 14-year-old Syrian with Asperger's, a condition on the autistic spectrum. His mind translates sights, sounds and feelings into colour. He has a talent for painting, in which he engages obsessively.
Through Adam's first-person present-tense narration, Sukkar skilfully conveys his bewildered perceptions of the growing violence and horror around him "Why do you always paint war?" asks his brother Isa. "Because it's filled with endless painting possibilities and the range of colours is so wide," Adam replies. The harsh realities of war
Adam's mother died when he was 11. He lives in Aleppo with his schoolteacher father, older sister Yasmine, and student triplet brothers Khaled, Tariq and Isa. The family is badly impacted by the war. The physical and mental health of Adam's father disintegrates, and his brothers get caught up in the fighting.
Yasmine does her best to keep the family together and to protect Adam. At the same time, she suffers the pain of an impossible love affair. When she is abducted and tortured by militiamen, the first-person narration switches from Adam to her.
Sukkar started writing "The Boy from Aleppo" while reading for a BA (Hons) in Creative Writing at Kingston University, London. Her tutor was the Canadian-British poet, critic and teacher Dr Todd Swift, director and publisher of Eyewear Publishing.
Dr Swift told Qantara.de: "I taught creative writing at Kingston University for seven years and had about a thousand or so students on the BA, MA and PhD levels; Sumia would be in the top three or four of those in terms of talent."
She was a "dedicated, serious, ambitious writer, who took the support I gave her editorially and ran with it. Her novel was completed in less than a year, and her hard work was impressive. She has a great mind for metaphor and surprising detail. I knew when we met she was a born writer."... continued here