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Wash U grad drew inspiration from local protestors in her novel about Syria

This collage of file photos shows the "Words for Love" book cover and author Emily Robbins.
Collage images provided by Riverhead Books
This collage shows the "Words for Love" book cover and author Emily Robbins.

Author Emily Robbins was a Washington University grad student in August 2013 when she saw St. Louisans protesting in University City against U.S. plans to attack Syria. She was profoundly moved by the local activists and incorporated those feelings into the book she was writing, called “A Word for Love.”

On Wednesday night, Robbins will appear at Left Banks Books to sign copies, and speak about the book and its St. Louis roots.

“There is a very active community here,” Robbins said. “That was something I really drew on and felt proud of in St. Louis.”

Muslim ban sparks interest

Robbins also drew on her own experience in Syria, living with a host family in 2007 as a Fulbright fellow. She saw the father in the family risk prison and exile for speaking out against the Syrian government about its civil war against Syrian rebels.

“That really showed me what bravery could look like,” Robbins said. “And, the importance of speaking out and the importance of small acts of resistance.”

Events of the past few weeks have sparked curiosity about what Robbins felt like in Syria: an outsider. She’s seen a greater interest in her book and others like it, following President Donald Trump’s executive order barring citizens of seven-majority Muslim countries from entering the United States.

“I think this is one of many, many stories about the types of people, intellectuals and workers in their own country who are affected by this ban,” Robbins said.

At its heart, “A Word for Love” examines the Arabic vocabulary for ways to express love, thought to number as high as 99. Some are more like concepts than “words,” Robbins said. She draws from an ancient Arabic love story in which a man takes the name his loved one calls him, actually forgetting his own name.

“I was just so excited by the idea of falling in love so deeply that you gain this whole new identity,” she said.

Robbins’ book was featured in the New York Times “Modern Love” column last year.

If you go:

Emily Robbins speaks about "A Word for Love"

7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 22

Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid Ave., 63108

Free; proof of purchase from Left Bank Books required for signing.

Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL 

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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