This article is part of an in depth special report on the Lebanese in Brazil. Read more stories as they’re published here, or pick up July’s issue at newsstands in Lebanon.
Samir Yazbek’s mother was unusual among emigrants in that she never really adjusted to Brazil. Taken from her homeland to enter a loveless marriage, she pined for the Lebanon of her youth. Leaving in the 1950s, she did not return for nearly 50 years — a trip that was ultimately a disappointment. “She spent a great part of her life regretting having left Lebanon, until she went back after the Civil War and was disappointed, because it was a different Lebanon to the one she had left,” Yazbek says. “She was so excited to see her brother, but when she left he was 20 and now he was 65 and had changed.” Yazbek’s parents’ experience of loss and suffering helped form his writing style. The playwright has penned numerous successful stories, but none more so than “As Folhas do Cedro” — “The Cedar Leaves” — a semi-autobiographical tale of a family and their loss.
“I grew up hearing people speaking about Lebanon and their love for their homeland. I feel a great part of my work is specifically about the conflict of this influence — growing up in a different country to the one you live in. The old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the orient and the occident. Even the plays that I wrote that are not about the diaspora, these themes are always there.”
Yazbek says writing came to him despite his family’s wishes. “Neither of them supported my decision to write. At the end of his life my father had a hardware store and his ultimate dream was for one of us to take it over — but we never did.”
Next year he is working on a project based on the work of Gebran Khalil Gebran which he aims to take across the world, including to Lebanon. It would be his second trip to the country after an experience which he called “very emotional … It was very important to me, it was a necessary trip to see my roots and meet cousins and uncles I had never met before. Every day I found a new cousin. They showed me the church where my parents married, and even the grades from my mother’s childhood.”