Growing up amidst the Syrian conflict, young author and artist Engy Jarrouj pens a book, Blue Birds, as a message of hope and resilience for an entire generation coming of age in the shadow of the war.
1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing stories about my and other people’s wartime experiences when I was 14, as I felt the responsibility to do something about the horrible pain we were all facing during the war in Syria. Writing helped me cope with the war and express our pain. I wanted to urge the public to help stop the war before more people died or got displaced.
2. How long did it take you to write Blue Birds?
I wrote Blue Birds as a short story when I was 15. When I turned 16, I got a scholarship to study for the International Baccalaureate at the United World College, Mostar. I thought I had escaped the war, but I realized I was suffering from many of its consequences, including PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). While working with the school psychologist to break through my horrible experiences, I went back to that short story because what I was going through connected with it so much. I wrote the book while going through a journey of healing myself.
3. What inspired you to write Blue Birds?
All of what I’ve lived and seen throughout the war. The destruction that happened to my city, the scary noises that would stop me from sleeping at night and going to school in the morning, hunger, the siege, losing the people I love and seeing children suffer. But mainly believing in the importance of love and the power of hope in the midst of a war. My book is a message of love and hope to all the children suffering in the world and a scream of pain expressing the horrors of the war through a child’s eye. The book tackles issues surrounding war’s destruction of minds and souls, grief, family, mental health, freedom and inner peace.
4. What role did your publishers play in spreading the message of Blue Birds?
Jabal Amman Publishers gave me their full trust and a great opportunity to share the story of children experiencing war. They reached out to award-winning illustrator Hassan Manassrah, launched a major media campaign in support of the book, and even produced a song in support of children in war to give the book and the cause wider exposure and most importantly give children hope. They also made the right connections with public figures and influencers, as well as organizations such as the UNHCR, who helped us spread the book’s message around the world. The recognition I get as an emerging writer is beyond what I expected.
5. What is your dream as an author?
I’d like this story to reach the world, and especially adults. I’d like them to realize children are the future, and to be aware of the consequences of the wars they start, especially on children. But mainly, I’d like children to use the character’s journey as a motivator to break free and overcome all the obstacles war is putting in front of them. I want children to know it’s okay to ask for help and be aware of the importance of their mental health.
6. What’s the symbolism behind your book’s name?
The child in the book used to listen to his mother’s stories about bluebirds and used to watch them on TV. War made him mature fast. But his resilience, love, and hope brought him to the point where he experienced inner freedom in the middle of the war. And that is when the bluebirds started dancing with the child. The bluebirds were the child.