Interview with longlisted author Nizar Aghri


When did you start writing In Search of Azar and where did the inspiration for it come from?

A long time ago. This novel had been with me for years before I began writing it in 2018. Qamishli was a beautiful melting-pot of diversity. What I mean by that is the variety of peoples, creeds, nationalities, races, religions and sects existing there. One could find Syriacs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Jews, Kurds, Arabs and Yezidis. It was Syria in miniature. There was mutual harmony and love. Then nationalistic and racist ideologies came, and the noose tightened around everyone’s neck, cages sprang up and walls between people were erected, until everyone scattered to different regions.   

I spent my childhood and adolescence in that stunning milieu. My schoolfriend was actually Jewish from the Azar family, one of the first families in exile to come to Qamishli. In fact, they built Qamishli, alongside the Armenians and Syriacs.

In that environment, the image of that astonishing garden of languages, clothing, voices, smells, songs and chants was imprinted in the deepest parts of me, and my friendship with my native soil solidified.    

Later, I felt a burning desire to try one day to paint a picture in words of that unique world in which I lived. The fruit of that desire was this novel.  

Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?

It took about three years to write. I was living then, as now, in Norway.

How have readers and critics received it?

Everyone who has read it has liked it.

What is your next literary project after this novel?

It’s a novel about a relationship between two university students, involving love and desertion.