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Award-winning journalist Delphine Minoui recounts the true story of a band of young rebels in a besieged Syrian town, who find hope and connection making an underground library from the rubble of war Day in, day out, bombs fall on Daraya, a town outside Damascus, the very spot where the Syrian Civil War began. In the midst of chaos and bloodshed, a group searching for survi Award-winning journalist Delphine Minoui recounts the true story of a band of young rebels in a besieged Syrian town, who find hope and connection making an underground library from the rubble of war Day in, day out, bombs fall on Daraya, a town outside Damascus, the very spot where the Syrian Civil War began. In the midst of chaos and bloodshed, a group searching for survivors stumbles on a cache of books. They collect the books, then look for more. In a week they have six thousand volumes. In a month, fifteen thousand. A sanctuary is born: a library where the people of Daraya can explore beyond the blockade. Long a site of peaceful resistance to the Assad regimes, Daraya was under siege for four years. No one entered or left, and international aid was blocked. In 2015, French-Iranian journalist Delphine Minoui saw a post on Facebook about this secret library and tracked down one of its founders, twenty-three-year-old Ahmad, an aspiring photojournalist himself. Over WhatsApp and Facebook, Minoui learned about the young men who gathered in the library, exchanged ideas, learned English, and imagined how to shape the future, even as bombs fell above. They devoured a marvelous range of books--from American self-help like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to international bestsellers like The Alchemist, from Arabic poetry by Mahmoud Darwish to Shakespearean plays to stories of war in other times and places, such as the siege of Sarajevo. They also shared photos and stories of their lives before and during the war, planned how to build a democracy, and began to sustain a community in shell-shocked soil. As these everyday heroes struggle to hold their ground, they become as much an inspiration as the books they read. And in the course of telling their stories, Delphine Minoui makes this far-off, complicated war immediate. In the vein of classic tales of the triumph of the human spirit--like All the Beautiful Forevers, A Long Way Gone, and Reading Lolita in Tehran--The Book Collectors will inspire readers and encourage them to imagine the wider world.


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Award-winning journalist Delphine Minoui recounts the true story of a band of young rebels in a besieged Syrian town, who find hope and connection making an underground library from the rubble of war Day in, day out, bombs fall on Daraya, a town outside Damascus, the very spot where the Syrian Civil War began. In the midst of chaos and bloodshed, a group searching for survi Award-winning journalist Delphine Minoui recounts the true story of a band of young rebels in a besieged Syrian town, who find hope and connection making an underground library from the rubble of war Day in, day out, bombs fall on Daraya, a town outside Damascus, the very spot where the Syrian Civil War began. In the midst of chaos and bloodshed, a group searching for survivors stumbles on a cache of books. They collect the books, then look for more. In a week they have six thousand volumes. In a month, fifteen thousand. A sanctuary is born: a library where the people of Daraya can explore beyond the blockade. Long a site of peaceful resistance to the Assad regimes, Daraya was under siege for four years. No one entered or left, and international aid was blocked. In 2015, French-Iranian journalist Delphine Minoui saw a post on Facebook about this secret library and tracked down one of its founders, twenty-three-year-old Ahmad, an aspiring photojournalist himself. Over WhatsApp and Facebook, Minoui learned about the young men who gathered in the library, exchanged ideas, learned English, and imagined how to shape the future, even as bombs fell above. They devoured a marvelous range of books--from American self-help like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to international bestsellers like The Alchemist, from Arabic poetry by Mahmoud Darwish to Shakespearean plays to stories of war in other times and places, such as the siege of Sarajevo. They also shared photos and stories of their lives before and during the war, planned how to build a democracy, and began to sustain a community in shell-shocked soil. As these everyday heroes struggle to hold their ground, they become as much an inspiration as the books they read. And in the course of telling their stories, Delphine Minoui makes this far-off, complicated war immediate. In the vein of classic tales of the triumph of the human spirit--like All the Beautiful Forevers, A Long Way Gone, and Reading Lolita in Tehran--The Book Collectors will inspire readers and encourage them to imagine the wider world.

30 review for The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War

  1. 5 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    This is a heartbreaking tale, but one that demonstrates the transportive power of books and education. In the mid-2010s, in the war-torn town of Daraya, Syria, a suburb of Damascus, bombs and chemical weapons would rain down from the sky. The Syrian Civil War was in its early years (and still rages on today, nearly a decade since its start in 2011). A group of young people dedicated to resisting the pro-Assad forces would sweep the rubble in the aftermath of each violent attack, looking for survi This is a heartbreaking tale, but one that demonstrates the transportive power of books and education. In the mid-2010s, in the war-torn town of Daraya, Syria, a suburb of Damascus, bombs and chemical weapons would rain down from the sky. The Syrian Civil War was in its early years (and still rages on today, nearly a decade since its start in 2011). A group of young people dedicated to resisting the pro-Assad forces would sweep the rubble in the aftermath of each violent attack, looking for survivors, but instead, what they found were books. Then more books. And more books after that. Before too long, they had enough volumes to create a collection, and thus the secret underground library of Daraya was born. French-Iranian journalist Delphine Minoui first saw a post about this library on Facebook in 2015. She was determined to track down the library’s organizers in order to hear their story and, hopefully, write a book about it. From her office in Istanbul, she made contact with the self-trained librarians, speaking to them over literally shaky internet connections as the bombs made the ground overhead tremble. The young men with whom she spoke told her about how the remaining residents of Daraya would devour the available titles; just like other groups of readers worldwide, certain titles would become trendy in their small community. The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo was their most popular book, giving a much-needed sense of escapism to Daraya residents who were fighting every day just to survive. The optimism of the community could be reflected in the eventual popularity of the well-known self-help title, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This small, but mighty group of book lovers dared to hope for an end to the conflict and for a chance to return to a normal world, one in which they would be prepared to become the highly effective people their reading was preparing them to be. Minoui was largely incapable of providing any assistance to this group of people she grew to care for so much; often, she was only able to send a quick message over WhatsApp, asking if things were okay. She would be thrilled to get an emoji in response, a temporary assurance that they were still alive. Meanwhile, the author mirrors the chaos in Syria with attacks in her hometown of Paris which she watched from afar with horror, and the March 2016 suicide bombing in Istanbul that the author and her young daughter were just blocks away from as they were on their way to – of all things – a children’s story time in the basement of the French Consulate. The scene following, in which the children are oblivious to the chaos on the street above, focusing solely on the story being read to them, was my favorite of the book, and so clearly illustrated her point. Books are an escape from the world. They let our minds be somewhere else in periods of unimaginable stress and trauma, but they also can propel us forward with the knowledge we gain. We can reach further with their help, and although this story does not have the happy ending with which so many of us hope to close out a good book, the tenacity of this brave group of young people is downright inspiring.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This is kind of about a library but it's more about how a small group of people tries to survive through years of ongoing siege in Daraya, Syria. Throughout the bombing and blockade they rescue books from buildings and create a library underground. The book was written up in Elle Magazine just last month because it is written by a female journalist. She gets her information second-hand through however she can connect with the people in Daraya, sometimes it's up to WeChat. There is a accompanying This is kind of about a library but it's more about how a small group of people tries to survive through years of ongoing siege in Daraya, Syria. Throughout the bombing and blockade they rescue books from buildings and create a library underground. The book was written up in Elle Magazine just last month because it is written by a female journalist. She gets her information second-hand through however she can connect with the people in Daraya, sometimes it's up to WeChat. There is a accompanying documentary called "Daraya: A Library Under the Bombs."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Veronica ⭐️

    I have to admit I don’t know much about the war in Syria however Delphine Minoui brings the conflict and danger up close as she describes her Skype conversations with a young revolutionist whilst explosions are going on in the background. Inspired by a photo, the author saw on Facebook, of two young Syrian males looking over books Delphine tracks down the photographer and then over dodgy internet connections the story of the secret library of Daraya unfolds. This is a fascinating story of how peop I have to admit I don’t know much about the war in Syria however Delphine Minoui brings the conflict and danger up close as she describes her Skype conversations with a young revolutionist whilst explosions are going on in the background. Inspired by a photo, the author saw on Facebook, of two young Syrian males looking over books Delphine tracks down the photographer and then over dodgy internet connections the story of the secret library of Daraya unfolds. This is a fascinating story of how people come together during a time of immense conflict and through books and reading they can see some sort of future. I loved that this was from the point of view of people actually involved and living through this turmoil. We get to see their real passion for books and learning, their ideals and dreams. The photos included throughout the book and the small background information on each of the men that provided content for the book makes it become so much more than just a history of the secret library. *I received a copy through Beauty & Lace Bookclub

  4. 5 out of 5

    Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

    It was a caption under the photograph of two young Syrian men browsing the shelves of a library that piqued the interest of Delphine Minoui, an award winning French journalist - ‘The Secret Library of Daraya’. Curious as to how a library could operate in a place like Daraya, but unable to travel to Syria due to the region’s instability, Delphine reached out and made contact with one of the young men in the photo via Skype. Twenty three year old Ahmed was born in Daraya, and remained even after hi It was a caption under the photograph of two young Syrian men browsing the shelves of a library that piqued the interest of Delphine Minoui, an award winning French journalist - ‘The Secret Library of Daraya’. Curious as to how a library could operate in a place like Daraya, but unable to travel to Syria due to the region’s instability, Delphine reached out and made contact with one of the young men in the photo via Skype. Twenty three year old Ahmed was born in Daraya, and remained even after his family fled, determined to document the devastation and support the rebels. One afternoon he was called to help a group carrying books from a deserted, bombed out home, an idea that first struck him as absurd in the middle of a war zone. Yet from the moment he picked up his first book he was struck by what it represented - freedom. As the collection of scavenged tomes grew, a room was found for them in a basement, and the Secret Library of Daraya was born. Daraya is a suburb on the outskirts of Damascus. Declared a hotbed of terrorists by Syria’s ruler Bashar al-Assad for daring to peacefully protest his dictatorship, it was placed under siege and ringed with with his forces in 2011. I have to admit to having very little understanding of the conflict in Syria, so I appreciated that Minoui explains the events that led to Daraya’s position and the steady escalation that saw the suburb attacked with missiles, bombs, and even chemical weapons, including sarin and Napalm. Delphine has written The Book Collectors of Daraya by speaking with Ahmed, and his friends through an unreliable internet connection via Skype and WhatsApp. Initially her focus is on the library; how it came to be, which books are popular, and what it means to the residents of Daraya. It’s a delight to hear how the library and its books provides a refuge and haven from the devastation on their doorstep, how it provides a respite of normalcy, and brings people together. Non-readers become readers, free to choose something other than propaganda, soldiers take books with them to the frontline to read, trade, and discuss, in between wielding their Kalashnikovs. Unsurprisingly the miracle of the library does take somewhat of a backseat as Delphine learns of the daily hardships and horrors faced by the suburb’s residents. It’s a harrowing tale of danger, deprivation, and starvation as the siege drags on for more than five years. Not content to reduce Daraya to rubble, the Syrian dictator stops any attempts to provide food or essentials, determined to quash the rebels. There is a little repetition in the narrative of The Book Collectors of Daraya, but I found it well written and readable. Minoui adds a personal perspective, sharing her experience of terror attacks in her home of Istanbul, and in Paris, and freely admits her bias. I think she treats those she speaks with sensitively, and it’s clear she believes that it’s important their story is told. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of photographs that show the library, the men whom Delphine introduces us to, and the streets of Daraya. The Book Collectors of Daraya is as much about the Syrian civil war, and particularly the experience of the young men who established the library, as it is the library itself. Simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, this book speaks of grief, and courage, of resilience, of humanity, and the power of books.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sam Sattler

    One day in late 2015 Delphine Minoui stumbled upon a picture on a Facebook page maintained by “Humans of Syria” that would ultimately change her life. It was a picture of two young men in what appeared to be a windowless library of some sort. One of the men was leaning over an open book, and the other was browsing one of the library’s crammed shelves. The photo was captioned simply, “The Secret Library of Daraya.” The French-Iranian author/reporter was well aware that Daraya was a Damascus subur One day in late 2015 Delphine Minoui stumbled upon a picture on a Facebook page maintained by “Humans of Syria” that would ultimately change her life. It was a picture of two young men in what appeared to be a windowless library of some sort. One of the men was leaning over an open book, and the other was browsing one of the library’s crammed shelves. The photo was captioned simply, “The Secret Library of Daraya.” The French-Iranian author/reporter was well aware that Daraya was a Damascus suburb that had been under siege by Bashar al-Assad’s army since 2012. She knew that the city was completely surrounded, and that thousands of people were trapped there as everything was slowly being destroyed around them. And yet these two men were making use of a “secret” library somewhere in the city. How could that even be possible? She had to know their story, and after several calls on WhatsApp and Skype, she finally found the man who could answer all of her questions, photographer and library co-founder, Ahmad Muaddamani. The library, as it turns out, was filled by books that Ahmad and others found in the rubble of Daraya’s bombed out buildings. Their underground library relatively quickly became home to some 6,000 volumes, and would eventually grow to 15,000, each of them lovingly marked inside with the original owner’s name. That would be amazing enough, considering that all of this happened during the time an army was trying very hard to wipe out the city and every one of its inhabitants. But what is even more amazing is how the salvaged books helped make life bearable for so many of Daraya’s people. For some the books were an escape, a window into the outside world; for others they were a source of inspiration, a glimmer of hope that a better life for them was still possible; and for others, the books offered a whiff of the freedom that Bashar al-Assad was trying to steal from them. They could read and study whatever they wanted to, and the dictator could do nothing to stop them. _____________________________________________________________ “The conflict causing bloodshed in Syria has paradoxically brought them closer to books. Reading is the new foundation for the bubble of freedom they’ve constructed. They read to explore a concealed past, to learn, to evade insanity. Books are their best way to escape the war, if only temporarily. A melody of words against the dirge of bombs. Reading – a humble gesture that binds them to the mad hope of a return to peace.” _____________________________________________________________ Bottom Line: The Book Collectors is a reminder of just how powerful the written word can be, and why dictators around the world consider the “wrong” books to be such a threat to their hold on power. They are right about that. Without Daraya’s secret library for inspiration and comfort, it is unlikely that the city’s fighters and civilians could have resisted their powerful enemy as long as they did. Inspirational as The Book Collectors is, its overall style is more reminiscent of a long newspaper article than a standalone nonfiction book. Considering that Minoui is a reporter and Middle East correspondent for France’s Le Figaro, this is understandable, if a bit regrettable. Uncorrected Digital Galley Provided by Publisher for Review Purposes

  6. 4 out of 5

    DIVISHA MITHAL

    ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Syria. The land which is always on the news yet an enigma to many. Many of its inhabitants have moved to safer shores and some lie at the bottom of the many seas that they have tried to cross. But there are some who still call it home, their motherland. How, then, is their life there? What is it that they take refuge in when the darkness around them seeks to engulf them, when life seems stranger and more painful then death? When silence is an expensive commodity and life goes on with the sou ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Syria. The land which is always on the news yet an enigma to many. Many of its inhabitants have moved to safer shores and some lie at the bottom of the many seas that they have tried to cross. But there are some who still call it home, their motherland. How, then, is their life there? What is it that they take refuge in when the darkness around them seeks to engulf them, when life seems stranger and more painful then death? When silence is an expensive commodity and life goes on with the sounds of bombings? Life is overall made of small moments but when all those small moments are torn up in pieces leaving only a constant fear in its place; then how do you still go on living? How does one hold on to those small moments? There are so many such questions that run in our mind when we hear about this war ravaged country. To be honest, I did not have much information about Syria’s Civil War and that is one of the reason I picked up this book. The main reason was, of course, the name of the book. When a fellow reviewer posted the review for this book I instantly got pulled towards its premise. Premise: This non-fiction book is the story of a group of boys in Daraya, narrated by them over Skype calls and WhatsApp messages to French journalist Delphine Minoui. Delphine found about them through the Facebook page Humans of Syria, where they had posted a picture of a library that these boys founded by digging up books from the rubble of the buildings bombed by the Assad government. Daraya, a suburb of Damascus had been in lockdown since 2012, a year after its first peaceful uprising against the Assad regime in 2011. To break the nerves of these rebels the city had been completely cut off from others and was being burned by bombs and destroyed by isolation. Amongst all this, the boys find the only thing that kept them sane and gave them the strength to plough through this turmoil: Books. Looking for survivors in the destroyed buildings they instead found these books. Over a period of time they dug up thousand of books which they salvaged by various means and eventually converted a basement into a small library where residents of Daraya could come and read these books. As one of the boys said in his interview with Delphine, “War is destructive. It transforms men, kills emotions and fears. When you are at war you see the world differently. Reading is a diversion, it keeps us alive. Reading reminds us that we are human.” This story is thus about the power of books and stories that have always been the guiding light of people who suffer. Where there are books like the ‘7 Habits of the effective people’ which is much in demand with the residents because of how it talks about improving oneself before others, there are others which talk about a history similar to their present. There is Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ which lends them a hope that like the shepherd they too will one day find their destination if they persevere. It is what Delphine puts as, “They read to explore a concealed past, to learn, to evade insanity. As Ahmad, the guy with whom Dephine communicates the most, says about the library; “The symbol of a city that won’t bow down – a place where we’re constructing something even as everything else collapses around us.” The library was that symbol for them, that the fight was for constructing something better and more free from the current regime. The book does not only talk about the effect of books on these boys but through their conversations we get a glimpse of their lives which they live without any help. Most of the their families left for safe harbors on the first signs of trouble, but these boys who had hope for better future stayed back not knowing what that future held for them. Living each day at a time, with almost no food, no medical assistance and fear of being killed, looming over their head, they still persist in fighting the atrocities of the regime. It is therefore a book about resilience, persistence and peace. Through this book we get to know Ahmad, the person behind the library, we know about Ustez, the mentor to these boys, about Omar a soldier on the frontline fighting with Kalashnikov in one hand a book in another. We run the city along with Shadi, who uses his camera to capture each and every bombing, risking his life every time. There is Hussam who has his lady love waiting for him outside Daraya but the only things he has left of hers are two books which he re-reads when he misses her. The book is therefore a collection of these stories which would have gotten buried in that rubble of war. Writing Style: The author has dealt the subject with enough sensitivity for us to feel for these boys and their sufferings, but at the same time I felt that her own bias on this war and Assad regime’s atrocities directed the readers opinions too. I would have loved if she would have left the readers to form their own opinion on the boys as well as the regime. Another thing that I missed in the book was the voices of the women left behind in this death city. Though we do get a glimpse of their sufferings through a letter that reaches Delphine, we don’t hear an individual story like we do of the boys. The author herself says this about them in the book: “As happens in war zones, women are as invisible as they are effective.” and “Behind the courage of men can be found the suffering of women.” In this book of loneliness, depravation, sadness and war there are moments of humor as well. The shield that the boys have adorned to safeguard their sanity. The smiles come more from the feeling of relief that they have not lost it all, that they still will be able to lead normal lives if given a chance. It reminds me of another line from the book, “Do books hold, if not the key to happiness, at least the power to make us believe in it?“ So why read this book? The same reason that the writer gave to write this book. “To record it within the vastness of time and memory. To collect the traces – even slight and sometimes intimate – of this present that is disappearing at the speed of a bomb: too quickly condemned to the past.” Verdict: If like me you need to know the human side of Syria, away from all the politics surrounding it, do pick this book up. It’s a melancholic read, but still will make your heart a little bigger with hope. P.S: I thank NetGalley for providing me the ARC for this book. The book will be published on 03 Nov 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux publishers.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I was about half-way through this bio-memoir, The Book Collectors of Daraya  when I came across a very interesting article by Katharine Murphy at The Guardian.  It's called When Donald Trump is peddling outrageous lies, where is the line between reporting and enabling?   and (while I urge you to read the article yourself), the crux of the piece is the issue of of reporting about something that is morally wrong, untrue and/or misleading, which by so doing gives that event or opinion publicity I was about half-way through this bio-memoir, The Book Collectors of Daraya  when I came across a very interesting article by Katharine Murphy at The Guardian.  It's called When Donald Trump is peddling outrageous lies, where is the line between reporting and enabling?   and (while I urge you to read the article yourself), the crux of the piece is the issue of of reporting about something that is morally wrong, untrue and/or misleading, which by so doing gives that event or opinion publicity and possible influence, which may lead to confusion, violence, civil unrest or other harm. French journalist Delphine Minoui wrestled with this problem during the writing of this book.  As Middle-East correspondent for Le Figaro, she had come across an arresting photo with the caption 'the secret library of Daraya' at the Humans of Syria Facebook page and decided to follow it up.  Through the miracle of WhatsApp and Skype she was able to make contact with an amazing group of young rebels who had created a secret library in the basement of an abandoned building during the siege of Daraya.  They salvaged the books from buildings damaged during the bombardment and set up the library as a refuge from the horror of war and as a place of learning for people denied education because of the siege. It's clear where Minoui's sympathies lie.  Most Western nations oppose the Assad regime and were/are supporters of the movement for democratic change — Minoui calls the conflict for what it is: a proxy war between Iraq and Saudi Arabia; between the US and Russia, plus also Qatar and Turkey.  But Minoui is not naïve and she's not on the ground to see for herself.  The story comes filtered through her phone app and she sees only the footage and images they enable her to see.  She can interview only the people they select and all of that is through an interpreter anyway. For her there is the question of possible connections with Islamic State in the battle against Assad, and whether she is giving them an opportunity for a propaganda coup.  She interrogates the young men — and herself — about the question of links with jihadis, and I think it's important that this is included in the book.  Minoui asks specifically: Does the suburb of Daraya harbour, yes or no, Islamist terrorists, even if they're a tiny minority. The answer is that yes, there were some who infiltrated the Daraya protest group in the early days before the emergence of the Islamic State.  But it didn't take long for their extreme views to clash with the rebels, and they gave them short thrift. To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2020/11/09/t...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Annalise Nakoneczny

    A gorgeous little book. Just holding it, I can sense the treasure and the preciousness of the library of Daraya. The prose in this book is beautiful and searching, fraught with both grief and glory. The reporting and journalism is excellent. Each person that Minoui writes about she depicts as passionate, noble, and courageous. Utterly beautiful.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Martha Anne Toll

    Here's my review of this book for NPR Books. https://www.npr.org/2020/11/05/931674... Here's my review of this book for NPR Books. https://www.npr.org/2020/11/05/931674...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is the first book I have read by Ms. Minoui and maybe all of her books include a lot of autobiographical information. But I was not expecting that. I was expecting a story about a group of Syrians who went about collecting books to create a library and how the town and library flourished together while under siege. While I knew the war would be discussed, I felt like it ended up being more central to the story than the library and the books. This was disappointing. I didn't want a book abou This is the first book I have read by Ms. Minoui and maybe all of her books include a lot of autobiographical information. But I was not expecting that. I was expecting a story about a group of Syrians who went about collecting books to create a library and how the town and library flourished together while under siege. While I knew the war would be discussed, I felt like it ended up being more central to the story than the library and the books. This was disappointing. I didn't want a book about the Syrian war. I wanted a book about these people who found some solace through books. How did they find all these hidden books? How did the books help people come together? How did the books help people survive their harrowing experience? Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for a copy of the book. This review is my own opinion.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Veronika

    Within this book, the reporter Delphine Minoui tells the story about an underground library that has formed itself within the Syrian town of Daraya, despite the constant bombings and a state of terror the inhabitants were surrounded by, day in, day out. The focus is placed upon both the founders of this library, as well as its visitors/readers and their little stories and interests. This quite thin edition of the book with just about 196 pages, with a relatively big font size (feeling as if Within this book, the reporter Delphine Minoui tells the story about an underground library that has formed itself within the Syrian town of Daraya, despite the constant bombings and a state of terror the inhabitants were surrounded by, day in, day out. The focus is placed upon both the founders of this library, as well as its visitors/readers and their little stories and interests. This quite thin edition of the book with just about 196 pages, with a relatively big font size (feeling as if the entire text was printed in bold) and huge spacing between the lines felt like it could have much better been summarised within an essay. The main message that it tries to bring across is about the power of books and how valuable the experience of reading is, even when everything else in your life is literally collapsing around you. "Reading is the new foundation for the bubble of freedom they've constructed. They read to explore a concealed past, to learn, to evade insanity. Books are their best way to escape the war, if only temporarily. A melody of words against the dirge of bombs. Reading - a humble human gesture that binds them to the mad hope of a return to peace." (p. 26) What is special about this story though, is that the author only had to rely on the accounts of the people living in that area, not having been able to set foot near Daraya herself. Video calls with an unstable internet connection, whatsapp texts and voice messages were their only means of communication. This added a challenge to the storytelling which could be strongly felt in my point of view. Even though the described events were often quite heavy and tragic, I somehow didn't feel emotionally touched by them, so that by the end of the story it only left me feeling quite flat. The narrative felt as if an effort was made to mainly stay factual and avoid emotions. This might have been linked to the fact of the English version being a translation of the French original, the author's use of an interpreter in order to get the story from her protagonists in the first place or simply her particular style. "Ahmad is no longer answering my calls. All my messages sent via WhatsApp remain unanswered. They haven't even been read: there is no ✔✔ signaling the messages have been received. I look through the list of my other contacts on my phone. Hussam, away. Shadi, away. Omar, away. A silence as blank as an empty page. I'm afraid I've lost them for good. Without the internet, the world has become vast again, increasing a distance we naively thought abolished." (p. 128) I was quite confused about why it would have been needed to extend the story to the length of an entire book, whereas to me, the added value only came through in the form of the author's autobiographical details. Adding in the stories of terror attacks in Istanbul and France felt like it was designed for a European reader to be able to better connect with the war torn state of Syria and evoke more compassion. I wouldn't necessarily say that it's an absolutely horrible book, therefore not giving it a 1/5 ★ star rating. I was still disappointed in general and wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone. There is something to the story and I feel like one could have gotten more out it. It's unique due to the fact that it won't ever be possible to reproduce any photographic footage, since the entire population has been evacuated from the town. I would have been curious to see the documentary "Daraya: A library under bombs" that has been shot about this story, but I wasn't able to find it anywhere in online access. Having also stumbled across Mike Thomson's book " Syria's Secret Library " during my background research, I'm extremely curious to discover it since it was written on the exact same subject. The little positive parts that I took along from the reading experience were a couple of quotes stressing the importance of reading, literature and stories, even in times of war: "Words can't heal physical wounds, he says, but they have the power to soothe mental ones." (p. 21) " 'War is destructive. It transforms men, kills emotions and fears. When you're at war, you see the world differently. Reading is a diversion, it keeps us alive. Reading reminds us that we're human.' " (p. 48)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    5 stars for the content and information, 4 stars for the writing itself. Everyone who has been following my reading here on Goodreads knows that I love books on books. I love to read about people who have saved books from perishing for whatever reason. Saving books because of wartime strife or intentional destruction is always a compelling interest. Delphine Minoui is a French Journalist, through multiple interviews with Syrian rebels in the besieged town of Daraya (a suburb of Damascus). The re 5 stars for the content and information, 4 stars for the writing itself. Everyone who has been following my reading here on Goodreads knows that I love books on books. I love to read about people who have saved books from perishing for whatever reason. Saving books because of wartime strife or intentional destruction is always a compelling interest. Delphine Minoui is a French Journalist, through multiple interviews with Syrian rebels in the besieged town of Daraya (a suburb of Damascus). The rebels, searching for survivors in the aftermath a bombing, find a treasure-trove of books, which they decide to collect into a basement, and begin to search for more. An underground library is born, and it becomes a peaceful protest against the Assad regime. More important than the books are the rebels' stories themselves and the history of this town, and how effectively the international community failed them. I think this is a very important read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    3.5* - The title and blurb about this book are a bit misleading. The story has a weak connection to books or to the secret library. It mostly focuses on the conflict in Syria and the experience of the people living there. I think everyone who feels nervous or resentful about their country taking in refugees should read this. The conflict was absolutely horrible, violent and terrifying and it would be a nightmare to live through. As much as I appreciated this information, I didn't think it was a 3.5* - The title and blurb about this book are a bit misleading. The story has a weak connection to books or to the secret library. It mostly focuses on the conflict in Syria and the experience of the people living there. I think everyone who feels nervous or resentful about their country taking in refugees should read this. The conflict was absolutely horrible, violent and terrifying and it would be a nightmare to live through. As much as I appreciated this information, I didn't think it was a big success as a book. For me it would have worked better as a long essay. The human interest story with the library disappointed me.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Susan Tunis

    Starting in 2012, Daraya, a small town outside of Damascas, Syria was under siege. Bombs fell and families starved while basic supplies and aid were withheld. A group of young rebels patrolled, digging survivors out of rubble. But one day, what they found were books, not bodies. From this cache, a library was born. A secret underground library--literally and figuratively--and around it a community of survivors formed. This is a short but powerful work of non-fiction. It was written by a Turkish j Starting in 2012, Daraya, a small town outside of Damascas, Syria was under siege. Bombs fell and families starved while basic supplies and aid were withheld. A group of young rebels patrolled, digging survivors out of rubble. But one day, what they found were books, not bodies. From this cache, a library was born. A secret underground library--literally and figuratively--and around it a community of survivors formed. This is a short but powerful work of non-fiction. It was written by a Turkish journalist who established a very unreliable electronic connection with some of the library's founders. It is through her observations we get to know these painfully young men. There's no need to summarize the details further. This episode of contemporary history is both profoundly painful and incredibly inspiring. It's a reminder of exactly how fortunate we are in the US, with our broad freedoms and the access to education that so many take for granted. I am left eternally grateful for the ease with which I was able to borrow this book from the San Francisco Public Library. This is a great companion to The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer, which is also highly recommended.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    A war zone is the not the first place that comes to mind to experience the life-changing impact of books and reading. However, that is exactly what happens in The Book Collectors. French journalist Delphine Minoui pens this behind the scenes true story of the Syrian community of Darayya where young Syrian men engaged in an uprising collect books found in bombed houses. While they knew how to read, access to books had been severely limited prior to collecting the books. Creating a make-shift libr A war zone is the not the first place that comes to mind to experience the life-changing impact of books and reading. However, that is exactly what happens in The Book Collectors. French journalist Delphine Minoui pens this behind the scenes true story of the Syrian community of Darayya where young Syrian men engaged in an uprising collect books found in bombed houses. While they knew how to read, access to books had been severely limited prior to collecting the books. Creating a make-shift library they begin to experience the power of words and reading for the first time. This sense of normalcy encourages them and keeps them going during their long seige. Minoui uses her contacts as to connect with these individuals via video, text messages, and other resources to share their story with the world. Beyond showing the amazing impact of books, The Book Collectors helps the reader to learn more about the tragedies in Syria and see the humanity of behind the soldiers. Learning about how they were defending their homes was eye-opening. Recommended for anyone who enjoys learning about different parts of the world and anyone who loves the power of story. I received a complementary copy of The Book Collectors via NetGalley. I was not required to provide a positive review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Shana Zucker

    2.5 stars. I was so excited by the premise of this book, but disappointed by the execution. The author was inserted as a major character in this story, and not only did it not seem necessary, it also felt very “western savior”-y. I really wanted to hear more about the book collection and what it meant for the community, not the history of the Syrian conflict. Additionally, I found that the author relied on some frustrating cliches about the “transformative magic of books.”

  17. 4 out of 5

    Eule Luftschloss

    trigger warning (view spoiler)[ gun violence, torture, incarceration, mention of miscarriages and abortion, starvation, trauma (hide spoiler)] Author Delphine Minoui, who lives in Istanbul, heard about a group of people holding out in the Syrian city Daraya, collecting books and building a library. This is their story. This book was created due to technology: Since Daraya was under lockdown and off-limits, besieged, the communication was through Skype and What'sApp, disrupted by power outages, lac trigger warning (view spoiler)[ gun violence, torture, incarceration, mention of miscarriages and abortion, starvation, trauma (hide spoiler)] Author Delphine Minoui, who lives in Istanbul, heard about a group of people holding out in the Syrian city Daraya, collecting books and building a library. This is their story. This book was created due to technology: Since Daraya was under lockdown and off-limits, besieged, the communication was through Skype and What'sApp, disrupted by power outages, lack of wi-fi, and the sounds of war. Their conversations were literally put on pause every time a bomb fell and it was impossible to make yourself heard. So, the story goes like this: In the rubble, the activists found books and safed them. They started to look specificly for books as they realised that the contents could be a possible way to freedom - at least freedom of the mind, and while besieged, they founded the first library Daraya ever had. On the first page of a book, they inscribed the name of the previous owner, in case a peace would be reached and life could resume as normal, so the books could be returned. Then they sorted the books by topic and alphabet, put up some sitting furniture - all this in a basement, so it wouldn't be as risky to go there. Most people Delphine Minoui spoke to said that before the war, they never were into books. But now they offered a new escape, a means of distraction. And yes, the author spoke to more than one person. She tells in this book of the people she befriended, and their stories. So, okay, I live in Germany. I know some basic facts about the war in Syria, but all of this filtered through censorship and international media. This is the closest I came to prime source material, and I learned a lot. Also, I just finished this book and still feel tears in my eyes. I don't know what to say. This story is important. It needs to be shared. This is not an easy read and it will stay with me for quite a while. I recieved an uncorrected edition of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carin

    I went into this just expecting a great book about books (which of us book nuts doesn't love those) but I was surprised, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak (I read this in late March) to find so many parallels to what we were all going through. This book takes place in Syria, in a rebel town that has been completely cut off from the outside world. A group of young men went house to house and collected books, expecting hundreds but finding thousands, and created a library. Even though their or I went into this just expecting a great book about books (which of us book nuts doesn't love those) but I was surprised, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak (I read this in late March) to find so many parallels to what we were all going through. This book takes place in Syria, in a rebel town that has been completely cut off from the outside world. A group of young men went house to house and collected books, expecting hundreds but finding thousands, and created a library. Even though their original owners were gone, they meticulously noted who the owner was in the front of every book in the hopes that one day they could be reunited. So in a desolate world where no one ventured out except in search of food, and people were isolated, fearing the news, hating their president, and afraid for their lives every day, books provided comfort and solace. The main leader of this library didn't read at all before the war. But books found him when he needed them. Ms. Minoui is also in the story because how she found these men and how she communicated with them is part of the story as well. In a feat of super-modern journalism, she mostly talked to them over Whatsapp and occasionally text and Facebook Messenger. She never met them until the very end, and most of her communication and research was, by necessity, very remote. That's another parallel with the virus outbreak--she wasn't able to meet with them and had to do everything from a great distance. So while this book might not seem pertinent, I promise it really is. It's a brief, compelling, important story about the power of books in tumultuous times.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dina

    I wasn't quite sure what the aim of this book was. Ostensibly, this was supposed to focus on an underground library in Daraya, Syria. There book assumed that the reader knows nothing about the Syrian war (though, to be fair, I don't think that many people know the minute details), but goes fairly briefly over the library, focusing more on how the war in Syria escalated, geopolitics, and Middle Eastern world events from 2011 to 2016. The author doesn't really give us their background either, so I I wasn't quite sure what the aim of this book was. Ostensibly, this was supposed to focus on an underground library in Daraya, Syria. There book assumed that the reader knows nothing about the Syrian war (though, to be fair, I don't think that many people know the minute details), but goes fairly briefly over the library, focusing more on how the war in Syria escalated, geopolitics, and Middle Eastern world events from 2011 to 2016. The author doesn't really give us their background either, so I wasn't sure what their relationship or interest in the Middle East was. Their character interviews were also kind of flat (or maybe because this was an ARC, so maybe it's still in the editing stage). The library was often described in the flowerly language of how much people love books and libraries: "every book is a magical gateway," or "libraries are sanctuaries for the human soul," etc...This wasn't my favorite, even though the book description intrigued me. This needs a bit of editing and re-writing. I received this as a digital ARC through NetGalley.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mainlinebooker

    A slim novel that packs a punch with piercing observations. A band of Syrian activists outside of Damascus in a town called Daraya try to fend off a siege against their own during the Syrian Civil War. Roads were blocked depriving them of aid, food, and other essentials.During the daily bombings as they scrambled through the destruction they found over 15,000 books which they gathered to form a library. The library served as an educational institution and as a refuge for normality when the world A slim novel that packs a punch with piercing observations. A band of Syrian activists outside of Damascus in a town called Daraya try to fend off a siege against their own during the Syrian Civil War. Roads were blocked depriving them of aid, food, and other essentials.During the daily bombings as they scrambled through the destruction they found over 15,000 books which they gathered to form a library. The library served as an educational institution and as a refuge for normality when the world outside was unhinged. Much of the book talks about the volumes contained in the library, the daily bombings but also highlights the black humor that these men shared that they found central to their survival . When the world was threatening to overwhelm them, they engaged in gossip and superficial communication so they wouldn't despair of their own and town's plight and to simply feel normal. The story continues with more invasion and the eventual capitulation with an acerbic accord. What happens with the books that remain ? Read to find out.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michael Kerr

    Syria's Arab Spring moment a decade ago was met with vigorous resprisals from the Assad dictatorship. In Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, pro-democracy demonstrations prompted the regime to lay seige to the neighbourhood and much of the population fled, becoming refugees. Of those who remained, some took up arms against the attacks. In this messy situation, a cache of books was discovered in a building damaged by government bombs. The rebels put together a secret basement library as an oasis of nor Syria's Arab Spring moment a decade ago was met with vigorous resprisals from the Assad dictatorship. In Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, pro-democracy demonstrations prompted the regime to lay seige to the neighbourhood and much of the population fled, becoming refugees. Of those who remained, some took up arms against the attacks. In this messy situation, a cache of books was discovered in a building damaged by government bombs. The rebels put together a secret basement library as an oasis of normalcy--and as a way to exert their right to freely access ideas, to argue about the best way forward, and to promote civic-mindedness and civility, even as barrel bombs and napalm descend from goverment helicopters. The author, a French-Iranian journalist, presents the text as a kind of ongoing reportage, with much of her information coming from spotty internet conversations and social media posts. When one her contacts is injured by a bomb, she asks if he'll be returning to work in the library. His positive response prompts her to observe: "For him, the library is not only a place of healing but also somewhere he can breathe--a hopeful page in the dark novel that is Syria."

  22. 4 out of 5

    Laura Hoffman Brauman

    In Daraya, a group of Syrian rebels collected books that were found abandoned in homes throughout the city and formed their own library. Much of this book focuses on what reading and the freedom of ideas meant to a city under siege and a people fighting for their own freedom. Many of the most avid users of the library were people that hadn't read much prior to the war, but with the hardships and daily struggles they were facing, reading became a lifeline. There is some beautiful writing in here In Daraya, a group of Syrian rebels collected books that were found abandoned in homes throughout the city and formed their own library. Much of this book focuses on what reading and the freedom of ideas meant to a city under siege and a people fighting for their own freedom. Many of the most avid users of the library were people that hadn't read much prior to the war, but with the hardships and daily struggles they were facing, reading became a lifeline. There is some beautiful writing in here about the power of literature. The book also covers a great deal about the effects of the siege and the daily bombings on the men who were closely involved with the library. We live such a sheltered life in the west - it's hard to imagine this level of destruction and what it would be like to live for years in these conditions.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    This book, the story of young men who rescued books from ruble while trying to save their city from total destruction by the Assad forces, will be unforgettable. I am not sure I will ever look at my collection of books quite the same. The Book Collectors is disturbing, tragic, and to think that this "story" has been repeated throughout history. Books have and always will be an escape, but let's hope that it is an escape for pleasure and adventure, to be exposed to new and worthwhile ideas, and t This book, the story of young men who rescued books from ruble while trying to save their city from total destruction by the Assad forces, will be unforgettable. I am not sure I will ever look at my collection of books quite the same. The Book Collectors is disturbing, tragic, and to think that this "story" has been repeated throughout history. Books have and always will be an escape, but let's hope that it is an escape for pleasure and adventure, to be exposed to new and worthwhile ideas, and to always learn and grow from the reading experience.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Saralyn

    So many thoughts swirled during my reading of this book. But my main takeaways are that reading is important, different books speak to us in different circumstances, and I am very grateful for my easy access to just about any book I want. (This book is less about the library than the title would suggest.)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Denise Notz

    This was an inspiring story of a band of freedom fighters in the beseiged city of Daraya, Syria. Through a four year long siege they worked together and formed a library that became a light in their darkness. A testament to the power of books to provide solace and motivation.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ying

    A lovely novel which was inspired by a picture of Syrian youths sitting among an underground library. It's a fairly short listen and follows a brave group of young men who build a hidden library. It's kind of a series of interviews with the men over WhatsApp, and I wonder if this would've been better as a limited podcast series. The audio narration by Nikki Massoud was impeccable. A lovely novel which was inspired by a picture of Syrian youths sitting among an underground library. It's a fairly short listen and follows a brave group of young men who build a hidden library. It's kind of a series of interviews with the men over WhatsApp, and I wonder if this would've been better as a limited podcast series. The audio narration by Nikki Massoud was impeccable.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lmitrano

    By far the best non-fiction book I read this year. This story puts into perspective how the Syrian city, DARAYA was shut off from the world; no food or supplies coming in and no one could get out. The city was continuously bombed every day. Rebels found books in the ruins and set up an underground library for the remaining residents, rebels and soldiers fighting for democracy. During the daily bombings and strife; connected to the outside world only through WHATSAP and Skype - these individuals s By far the best non-fiction book I read this year. This story puts into perspective how the Syrian city, DARAYA was shut off from the world; no food or supplies coming in and no one could get out. The city was continuously bombed every day. Rebels found books in the ruins and set up an underground library for the remaining residents, rebels and soldiers fighting for democracy. During the daily bombings and strife; connected to the outside world only through WHATSAP and Skype - these individuals speak to the author and discuss their favorite books and how the library has a positive impact in their stressful lives.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Later.

  29. 5 out of 5

    RoshReviews

    The Book Collectors Written by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Verngnaud Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Life under a lockdown is never easy. To avoid going into depression, I've been reading a lot of books to show me that my life is still decent. This includes reading uplifting books or books that depict others' much-worse reality. The Book Collectors is in the second category. I opted for this ARC because of the title, the author and the subject. Written by Award-winning journalist Delph The Book Collectors Written by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Verngnaud Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Life under a lockdown is never easy. To avoid going into depression, I've been reading a lot of books to show me that my life is still decent. This includes reading uplifting books or books that depict others' much-worse reality. The Book Collectors is in the second category. I opted for this ARC because of the title, the author and the subject. Written by Award-winning journalist Delphine Minoui, The Book Collectors recounts the true story from war-ravaged Syria. A group of young rebels, who haven't left their locked-down town of Daraya in 3-4 years, face unimaginable hardships on a daily basis: lack of food, no access to education or health facilities, poor net connectivity. (Imagine living your life in this lockdown without the WiFi!) The only thing almost guaranteed is hunger, a regular shower of bombs and sometimes even poison gas. To create a haven of some positivity in such dire circumstances, the rebels create a library in a basement using books found in the rubble of war. As Minoui says, "The soups made of leaves to stave off starvation. The voracious reading to nourish the mind. The library is their hidden fortress against the bombs. Books are their weapons of mass instruction." Forty or so volunteers— activists, students, rebels— wait for the planes to go silent so they can salvage the books from "abandoned houses, destroyed offices and disintegrating mosques". They collect the books, repair the damages with glue, and ensure that every book is numbered and carries its owner’s name, in case of their return. Minoui found a photo of this volunteer library on the Humans of Syria page and that simple discovery led to this amazing story being shared with the world. Her interactions with these men were primarily over WhatsApp. The book talks not just of the library but also of the heartaches and the sufferings of the young men running it. Minoui, being a journalist, has a great control over her writing. To take the little scraps of info she received on WhatsApp, intersperse it with her personal thoughts and create a 200 page book isn't no mean task. Minoui handles it in an adept manner. The narrative gets a little pedantic at times, but then again, the topic is such. The straightforward reporting helps cover the anguish of the rebels even better. I just wish there were some photographs of the library and these brave men. The text is impactful but the photos could have packed an extra wallop to the book. Of course, the actual book might include these missing elements. Let's whisper a prayer for Syria. The citizens there have suffered enough. Also, let's be thankful for life's saving graces. There's a lot to learn from others' sufferings rather than only wallowing in our own. And let's take a look at some lines from the book. The first five quotes show how reading helps provide an escape from reality and the second five show what life under a seige is truly like. 1. "Reading as refuge. A page opening to the world when every door is locked." 2. "Words can’t heal physical wounds, but they have the power to soothe mental ones." 3. "Reading helps me think positively, chase away negative ideas. And that’s what we need most right now." 4. "From the ruins, a fortress of paper would arise." 5. "Novels have an advantage over nonfiction: they venture onto the paths of imagination, bypassing the highway of reality." 6. "We’ve learned to live with the idea that death is at the street corner..." 7. "Behind the courage of men can be found the suffering of women." 8. "The children born under the siege don’t even know what an apple looks like." 9. "Hunger is a weapon of war. A particularly effective weapon. It can’t be seen. But it slowly eats away at bodies. A destructive strategy perfectly calculated to control men through their stomachs." 10. "To tell ourselves that others, before us, lived through the same thing. In another country. Another context. But thanks to their accounts, I feel less vulnerable. I find an inner strength that pushes me forward..." My rating: 4.5/5 ******************************* ARC courtesy #NetGalley. Book expected publication date: 20th October 2020 ******************************************** Join me on the Facebook group, " Readers Forever! ", for more reviews and other book-related discussions and fun.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mayar El Mahdy

    I hate Arabic Spring-related topics. It's the most depressing thing one has to deal with to date. I guess some countries are a little better off than others, but it's awful everywhere. There is still simmering tension and a lot of anger, but no good change. I thought this was gonna be a story about how reading is an escape, like a The Book Theify story. Instead, I got a book about a town under siege with no happy ending. I know it's the facts and it is what it and all that, but I was hoping for a I hate Arabic Spring-related topics. It's the most depressing thing one has to deal with to date. I guess some countries are a little better off than others, but it's awful everywhere. There is still simmering tension and a lot of anger, but no good change. I thought this was gonna be a story about how reading is an escape, like a The Book Theify story. Instead, I got a book about a town under siege with no happy ending. I know it's the facts and it is what it and all that, but I was hoping for an ending on an optimistic note. On a literary level, I thought this wasn't as concise as I would have liked it to be, it spiraled and had so many side stories without a tangible big picture feeling to it.

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