Geschrieben am 6. November 2013 von für Bücher, Litmag

Aboud Saeed: The Smartest Guy on Facebook

Es begann auf Facebook, wo Aboud Saeed in seinen Statusupdates über sein Leben in Syrien berichtete. Diese Einträge sind im Berliner Verlag mikrotext als eBooks erschienen,  auf Englisch („The Smartest Guy on Facebook“) und auf Deutsch („Der klügste Mensch im Facebook. Statusmeldungen aus Syrien“). Nun ist Abous Saeed auf Lesetour in Deutschland unterwegs – Lucy Renner Jones stellt Ihnen Autor und Buch etwas näher vor.

Aboud Saeed_Smartest Guy on facebook‘The revolution: it stood up and the Facebookers took its place.’

(July 29, 2012, 12:42am. 121 likes)

To find out something about the town where Aboud Saeed lives and ‘facebooks’ from – Aleppo, Syria – I skim through Guardian reports about rape, torture and chemical weapons from the past 6 months until a familiar feeling of outrage and helplessness comes over me: this war is barely hitting headlines any more, and yet the crisis couldn’t be worse. There are outbreaks of polio and TB among children, 2 million registered refugees, a million more unregistered, and doctors are having to use equipment from the 1950s. “Syria has been abandoned by the world and we have been abandoned trying to help Syria,” say one Turkish NGO worker. I realise that many of the eyewitness reports of chemical weapons attacks sound familiar – in other words, I’ve read them before but I have put them out of my mind because they were so gruesome . I’m back in my daily life in the western world: eating, drinking, surfing, Facebook.

In everyday life I would never have come across Aboud Saeed, a ‘blacksmith and literati’ as a ZDF report describes him. (Actually when I interview him later, it turns out he was studying Economics in Syria until the war broke out and he is now working as an ironworker to scrape a living.) Our paths, even on Facebook, have never crossed. That is, they didn’t. Until Nikola Richter, a Berlin-based epublisher and founder of mikrotext, published Saeed’s status updates in March in ebook form and on 31 October in print form. (They are available in German and English: the translations were done by Yusuf Sabeel, Sandra Hetzl and Nik Kosmas). The result is The Smartest Guy on Facebook, a moniker Aboud Saeed has coined to describe himself.

Aboud Saeed has started his own personal revolution via Facebook. Except he doesn’t claim that himself, that’s what the critics tend to say. He says: ‘I simply sign in and make myself look good.’ No one could accuse him of false modesty. But the very nature of his writing reflects on the nature of social media and its function as a self-promotion tool. For example:

January 20, 2012, 8:00pm
‘Life is not as just on Facebook as it is outside / here, there’s no mud. Everyone seems clean, elegant and eloquent / but outside, well, me for instance, when I’m on the bus, no girl wants to sit next to me. I don’t know why / perhaps because of my worn-out shoes. Or maybe it’s my hat. Or maybe there is no reason. Yet, that’s justice.’


4 March 2012, 8:03pm
‘Dear Facebook, I propose that you change this question: What’s on your mind?/ who told you that we’ll write what’s on our minds?/ the things on our minds we could never write here. “What’s on our minds?” Oh Facebook, you idiot, we write it and then bury it underground/ not even the sun can know what’s on our minds. (…) I think you should tell us to: Make yourselves look good, hit on some girls, say some bullshit, bully some people, theorize from your couch, spout nationalist rhetoric, pontificate endlessly etc.’

Saeed has started a revolution on Facebook that starts from the premise that his life is not like Facebook. Cats do not appear on his wall. He deletes anything with a heart or a smiley. His political views can be summed up thus: ‘My mother’s plastic slippers are more beautiful than any thought and more important than the General Women’s Union.’ He does not accept friend requests nor should anyone accept his: ‘How many times have we been refused?! How long have we waited for our friend requests to be accepted?! Now it’s their turn to wait for us to decide.’

Facebook is not just an idiot, Facebook is a God to rail against in times of war and injustice. A large part of Syrian life is shifting to Facebook, as Sandra Hetzl, one of his translators writes, in the book’s afterword. Why? Because military checkpoints separate city districts and dissident discussions in cafés cannot take place. Facebook provides space to debate, not only for Aboud Saeed but also for many Syrian writers and ‘citizen journalists’. It’s a virtual meeting place to find out what’s happening just down the road.

He writes poetical, absurd, chauvinistic and funny things. As you read, you start picturing Aboud Saeed’s life: his friends in the blacksmith’s workshop, his mother, his endless online girlfriends. He claims his influences are Henry Miller (‘I read Tropic of Cancer and every word made sense to me’) and Bukowski. He has an apprentice, Ibrahim, who posts sometimes when Aboud is busy or not looking. Ibrahim writes: ‘I am Ibrahim. The days of my boss Aboud are numbered / down with the tyrant.’ Ibrahim might be a brilliant literary invention. Or Ibrahim might be real. Aboud’s mother and her opinions feature in many posts. She disapproves of his many virtual girlfriends. Aboud is teaching her how to smoke and how to speak her mind:

May 9, 2012, 12:25pm
‘Also, despite the civil war / while my mother and I sit and smoke together, I tell her, “Mom, take a long drag, drag so deep you feel the smoke playing in your heart.”
My mom takes a drag and laughs happily. “Mom, tell me, you want to enter paradise right? Then repeat after me, “Fuck the Sunnis and the Shi’ites and the Christians, and the Druze, and the Jews, and the non-believers, and the Muslims … all of them.” My mom hesitates, looks at me, her eyes all red from the smoke, and she asks me, “But is it OK to say something like that?” “Sure Mom, of course! What’s wrong with that?”’

Aboud takes his laptop to work and posts in his breaks surrounding by workers:

June 5, 2012, 2:25pm
‘(…) One wants me to send a tune to his cellphone. Another one points at the picture of Rola El Hussein and says, “Open this photo for me.” A kid whispers to his friend saying, “This is The Facebook, have you seen it?” And my neighbor asks me, “Aboud, is it true you can say whatever you want about the government here?”’

I realise, as I finish the book, that I haven’t once felt that sinking feeling of helplessness while reading The Smartest Guy on Facebook. I have probably learnt more about everyday Syrian life during the war than any of the newspaper reports with their statistics. What is he really like? What is behind Aboud Saeed? What is he trying to do? I send Aboud a friend request on Facebook. I explain I am a friend of Nikola Richter’s and am writing a review of his book. Within seconds, he accepts. He writes back: hi lucy. am in berlin. can meet if u want. So we are meeting in Café Kotti at 9am on tomorrow (3 November) morning. I want to meet the Smartest Guy on Facebook in person. It will be like meeting the character from a novel, I think. You can read about my interview with him on my blog.

If you want to meet him and hear him read, you can hear him in the Kunstverein Munich on 6 November, during the Lange Nacht des Buches in Moabit, Berlin on 11 November and in the taz café Berlin on 13 November.

All details of the reading tour in Germany are here.

Lucy Renner Jones.

Aboud Saeed: The Smartest Guy on Facebook. Deutsch: Der klügste Mensch im Facebook. Statusmeldungen aus Syrien. Beide erschienen bei mikrotext, 2013. eBook. Circa 79 Seiten. 2,99 Euro.

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