Planet of Clay


An ode to fantasy and beauty in the midst of war-torn Damascus

Rima, a young girl from Damascus, longs to walk, to be free to follow the will of her feet, but instead is perpetually constrained. She finds refuge in a fantasy world full of colored crayons, secret planets, and The Little Prince, reciting passages of the Qur’an like a mantra as everything and everyone around her is blown to bits. Since Rima hardly ever speaks, people think she’s crazy, but she is no fool—the madness is in the battered city around her. One day while taking a bus through Damascus, a soldier opens fire and her mother is killed. Rima, wounded, is taken to a military hospital before her brother leads her to the besieged area of Ghouta—where, between bombings, she writes her story. In Planet of Clay, Samar Yazbek offers a surreal depiction of the horrors taking place in Syria, in vivid and poetic language and with a sharp eye for detail and beauty.

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Publication date

October 5, 2021




Samar Yazbek

Samar Yazbek is a Syrian writer, novelist, and journalist. She was born in Jableh in 1970 and studied literature before beginning her career as a journalist and a scriptwriter for Syrian television and film. Her novels include … Read more

Book Club Questions

  1. How would you describe this book? How did it make you feel?
  2. How do you think the style of the writing expressed the book’s themes?
  3. How would you describe Rima? What sort of a person is she?
  4. Could you say Rima has lost her mind?
  5. How do you distinguish what a character is intrinsically from what circumstances have made them? Is the distinction easier or harder to make in wartime?
  6. Do you think this book represents the chaos of war well? What do you think it taught you about the current situation in Syria?
  7. What do you think about the rope? Was it necessary? Would Rima have been better off in general without it?
  8. What do you think happened to Hassan and Rima’s brother?
  9. What happened to the two boys Rima saw from the cellar? Was their failure to reappear different from Hassan’s and/or Rima’s brother’s?
  10. Why doesn’t Rima speak? At a few points in the story it seems she is considering it: do you think she could have done more to change her situation if she had used words at times?
  11. What is the relationship between Rima’s feet and her tongue? What other experiences of her own body determine her point of view?
  12. How did you feel when Rima was with the girls on the hospital bed, or coloring with the children under the care of Um Saaed?
  13. What is the link between de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and Planet of Clay?
  14. Was there hope in this novel? If so, where did you find it?
  15. And was there room for love in Planet of Clay? If so, where did you see it?
  16. What were the effects of (enforced) gender roles on people’s experience of war in the book?
  17. Would you be interested to read more by Samar Yazbek, or have you already? Would you prefer to read her fiction or non-fiction, and why?

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Praise for Samar Yazbek

“One of Syria’s most gifted novelists.”

“Yazbek’s is the urgent task of showing the world what is happening. Thanks to her, we can read about the appalling things that go on in secret, underground places.”
The Guardian

Praise for Planet of Clay

“The young, mute narrator of this compassionate novel becomes a poignant emblem of the Syrian women confined by war…a bold portrayal of besieged people.”
The Observer

“Rima is a fantastic character.”
Kirkus Reviews

“The Syrian writer Samar Yazbek evokes the horror of civil war with gripping lucidity in her novel Planet of Clay.”
Le Monde

“With the brazenness typical of her recent work, Samar Yazbek immerses us in the horror of the Syrian conflict, and the way it resonates in the flesh and minds of those who are living it. It is through the women whom the author has met on the ground at certain moments throughout this war that she describes the capacity for resistance in the face of atrocity.”

“An ingenious character and a literary approach on the verge of the unimaginable. Samar Yazbek’s novel is brave on many levels.”

Planet of Clay is a deeply original, almost surreal fantasia, written in a simple, clear style. But the surrealistic stroke is raised, because the evil and the suffering surrounding Rima are real to such a great extent. A novel like Planet of Clay filters through all our conscious and unconscious blinkers.”

“We others can only read—and cry.”
Kristeligt Dagblad

Praise for A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution

“The best account of the revolution’s early months.”
The National 

“Amid the horrific news about Syrian dissidents, mass killings, and government claims of terrorists, this unique document, written in the first months of the uprising, is a chronicle both of objective events and the visceral and psychic responses of an impassioned activist and artist. The book weaves journalistic reporting with intimate, poetic musings on an appalling reality.”
Publishers Weekly 

“A feverish, nightmarish, immediate account.”
The Guardian

“An impassioned and harrowing memoir of the early revolt.”
New York Review of Books

“Arresting, novelistic prose. Uncompromising reportage from a doomed capital.”
The Spectator

“An essential eyewitness account, and with luck an inaugural document in a Syrian literature that is uncensored and unchained.”
Kirkus Reviews

“The heartbreaking diary of a woman who risked her life to document the regime’s brutal attacks on peaceful demonstrators.”
The Inquirer

“A remarkable, devastating account of the three increasingly dangerous trips that Yazbek made to northern Syria in 2012 and 2013, sneaking over the Turkish border each time.”
The Nation

“Poetic prose and gritty reportage successfully combine to create a terrifying picture of a woman whose body and soul are tortured by her experience of the uprising.”
Syrian Observer

In her book, Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution, she shows the reality of what’s happening there and brings us stories of many people who risk their lives in the struggle for freedom. The insight that Yazbek offers into the complex and bloody conflict is both incredibly valuable and inspiring.”
PEN Transmissions


Praise for Cinnamon

“There’s a pulsing vitality to the lives of the characters, despite their brutal circumstances, in this compelling novel by PEN Pinter Prize-winning Syrian author Yazbek.”
Publishers Weekly

“This is a book that is deserving of careful attention, by an author who bears following.”
Critics at Large 

“Yazbek’s prowess is her ability to demonstrate the freeing qualities of love between two women, but also her strong and realistic grasp of Syrian society. She positions these relations in a complex web of constellations built on discretion, racial hierarchies, financial interests, and abuse.”
Asymptote Journal

Praise for The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria

“A powerful and moving account of her devastated homeland. It bears comparison with George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia as a work of literature, Yazbek is a superb narrator—one of the first political classics of the twenty-first century.”
The Guardian

“Extraordinarily powerful, poignant and affecting. I was greatly moved.”

“Brave, rebellious and passionate. Yazbek is no ordinary Syrian dissident.”
Financial Times

“An eloquent, gripping and harrowing account of the country’s decline into barbarism by an incredibly brave Syrian.”
Irish Times

“Gripping. Does the important job of putting faces to the numbing numbers of Syria’s crisis.”
The Economist

“Samar Yazbek’s searing new book about her Syrian homeland is a testament to the indomitable spirit of her countrymen in their struggle against the Assad regime. Shocking, searing, and beautiful.”
Daily Beast

Washington Post