Daughter of Damascus 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.