Wendy Pearlman is a professor and award-winning teacher at Northwestern University, specializing in Middle East politics. With a BA from Brown and PhD from Havard, Pearlman speaks fluent Arabic and has spent more than twenty years studying and living in the Arab World. She is the author of dozens of articles and two books, Occupied Voices: Stories of Everyday Life from the Second Intifada (Nation Books, 2003) and Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Pearlman’s most recent book, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria (Custom House) debuted in June 2017.
We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled is based on interviews that Pearlman has conducted from 2012 to the present with more than 300 displaced Syrians across the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. It chronicles the Syrian war from its origins in peaceful protest to its present horror, solely through the words of ordinary people transformed by its unfolding. Parents, children, students, teachers, web designers, artists, playwrights, bloggers, poets, doctors, engineers, lawyers, activists, government employees, rebels, refugees, military defectors, prisoners, hipsters, Christians, Muslims, shopkeepers, grandparents—these are just some of the voices that cohere into a breathtaking mosaic. The assembled narratives, ranging from the uplifting to the heart-wrenching, take readers deep into Syrians’ lives and allow them to understand the conflict as they have lived it. Together, they cohere into an unforgettable narrative that will both move readers and surprise them.
Pearlman has delivered more than 100 talks or presentations to diverse audience on four continents -- from Sweden to South Africa and from Dubai to Denver. Her teaching has been recognized by numerous awards at Northwestern, including a Weinberg College Distinguished Teaching Award, repeated election to the Government Faculty Honor Roll, and receipt of an endowed professorship reserved for outstanding teachers. Her public speaking showcases this tested ability to make comprehensible the often bewildering complexities of Middle East politics. It is also infused with captivating vignettes and poignant everyday detail -- human touches only available to someone who has spent years living in the region and recording the intimate stories of the people who live there.
Currently Pearlman resides in Chicago, Illinois.
Praise for We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled:
"Many of these voices are unforgettable … Pearlman shapes her subjects’ narratives, winnowing interviews down to stirring examples of human adaptation … essential reading.”
--New York Times Book Review
“[Wendy Pearlman] foregrounds the extraordinary heroism of ordinary Syrians, both those who are trapped in the country and those who struggle to make new lives. Her work is an essential addition to the emerging body of literary reportage from Syria in English.”
--New York Times Book Review ‘Editor’s Choice, Recommended New Books’
"Everyone talks about Syrians, but very few actually talk to them … We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled bucks the trend … These best of all possible informants – the people who made the events, and who suffer the consequences – provide not only gripping eyewitness accounts but erudite analysis and sober reflection … The result is testament both to Syrian expressive powers and the translation’s high literary standard. These heart-stopping tales of torment and triumph are perfectly enchained, chronologically and thematically, to reflect the course of the crisis.”
"The book is not a plea for pity but an invitation to empathy – to see Syrians as ordinary people, caught in a lethal vortex, forsaken by the world, but holding on to their humanity. Above all, the book is an assertion of memory against forgetting at a time when truth has become fragile.”
--Times Literary Supplement
"Something closer to poetry than reportage. The voices that speak to us here are all too close, only a step away from our own lives … It is in these smallest of details that the reality of life in a state of war is brought home … Lines like this threaten to haunt the reader long after Pearlman’s book is set down. Perhaps they should.”
--The Irish Times
“Incendiary—this heart-wrenching testament could not be more timely. Beyond headlines or breaking news or political posturing, this work of witness allows real people to expose Syria’s terrifying heart.”
--Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway and Into the Beautiful North
“To read these pages, to meet these men and women, is to cross a bridge ourselves, and to tremble: at the fragility of social order and the ferocious nihilism of power in the face of popular hopes and aspirations–but also at the love, anger, terror, trauma, compassion, endurance, awe, and determination a single human voice can convey.”
--Larry Siems, co-author of Guantanamo Diary and author of The Torture Report
“Pearlman masterfully stitches together a collective journey, stories moving seamlessly from one to the next, like friends completing each other’s sentences. The disparate voices, ranging from defiant, funny, mournful, wistful, and tragic form a complex narrative of the Syrian tragedy — my story, my family’s stories, the stories of the people and lives that we lost.”
--Lina Sergie Attar, cofounder and chief executive of the Karam Foundation
Praise for Wendy Pearlman:
“Wendy Perlman always gives a star performance. She’s articulate, insightful, a master at making sense of complex issues and engaging her audience.”
--Jan Jentes, Coordinator, “The Monday Class”
“Sarah Lawrence was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to hear Wendy Pearlman speak about her recent research on the Syrian war and refugee crisis. Wendy is an extremely compelling, engaging speaker, and her insights - based on her numerous oral history interviews with Syrians - were incredibly moving and inspiring. Wendy’s presentation energized the campus community, raised a host of critical questions, and was the perfect way to launch a new campus-wide refugee studies initiative."
--Matthew H. Ellis, Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation Chair in Middle Eastern Studies and International Affairs, Sarah Lawrence College
“Whether her audience is undergraduates or senior citizens, Wendy Pearlman explains the Middle East with clarity and passion. Her lectures on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict untangled the history and politics of the situation with impeccable balance and sensitivity to all sides. When she lectured on the Syrian civil war and the refugees it has produced, her audiences could appreciate the results of her on-the-ground reporting as she told the human stories of those caught in the conflict, from the first peaceful protestors to refugees scattered across the region.”
--Mary Ann Weston, Associate Professor Emerita, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University