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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. 5 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

    Krystal

    I enjoyed the story here, but I felt the journalistic approach left it feeling a little distant. The author writes about the siege of Daraya, and the bond she develops from a distance with the men who resist. They have rescued books from their destroyed city and brought them together into an underground library, where the name of the original owner can be found in the front page of every book. This book uses the library as a grounding point, but mostly it talks about the reluctant warriors these m I enjoyed the story here, but I felt the journalistic approach left it feeling a little distant. The author writes about the siege of Daraya, and the bond she develops from a distance with the men who resist. They have rescued books from their destroyed city and brought them together into an underground library, where the name of the original owner can be found in the front page of every book. This book uses the library as a grounding point, but mostly it talks about the reluctant warriors these men have become, and how their situation becomes more and more desperate as bombs continue to rain down on Daraya. One major issue I had was that there wasn't enough information for me to properly understand what exactly was happening and why. I willingly admit I am rather ignorant of the wars raging overseas (I deliberately avoid depressing news) so I couldn't quite understand who the opposing forces were here, why they were bombing the town, and what the town's inhabitants were protesting. It was hard to get a proper feel for the situation, and what was at stake, and what had caused things to become so dire for these men. I loved the personal anecdotes and getting to know these men, but I feel first hand accounts would have made the impact greater. Instead, we get their stories through the filter of a journalist who seeks to create mood and atmosphere from a story that would pack more of a punch in its raw form. Overall, I really enjoyed this glimpse into a world so foreign to my own, but I do feel the journalistic approach meant the story missed the mark in the long run. Instead of tension and high emotion, I felt very distant from these men and what they went through. Which is a real shame, because their story is incredible. It's worth a read so that you can see a little more of an insider view of a war zone, but ultimately this won't tug the heartstrings as much as it should. With thanks to Macmillan for a copy

  4. 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

  5. 4 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.

  6. 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

  7. 4 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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    As tough as the various lockdowns have been on people this is a mere inconvenience compared to what the populace of Daraya has had to put up with. It was in this town that the Syrian Civil war began. It has been under siege for years; the Assad regime trying to starve and boom the people into submission or death. Thousands of bombs have rained down on the city reducing almost everything, including the hospitals to dusty smoking ruins. They were not even allowed basic aid from neutral independent As tough as the various lockdowns have been on people this is a mere inconvenience compared to what the populace of Daraya has had to put up with. It was in this town that the Syrian Civil war began. It has been under siege for years; the Assad regime trying to starve and boom the people into submission or death. Thousands of bombs have rained down on the city reducing almost everything, including the hospitals to dusty smoking ruins. They were not even allowed basic aid from neutral independent organisations. Somehow they kept going, helping each other out and making sure that people were looked after. After one bombing run, one group of young men were looking for survivors in amongst the chaos and they discovered and cache of books that had survived the destruction of the building. They collect the books and make the decision to look for more. A week later they have collected six thousand volumes and in a month they have fifteen thousand. The addresses of where they find the books are written on the inside covers should the previous owners ever wish to claim them back again. They create a library for the people of the city based in a basement of a building, it is safe from the barrel bombs and becomes a place of learning and sanctuary for the oppressed people. I listen to these poems like you’d listen to a secret voice whispering things you’re unable to express. The way someone sings what you’re incapable of singing. I find myself in every word, in every line. A chance find on a Facebook page showing this secret library, inspired French-Iranian journalist Delphine Minoui to find out more about it. She manages to track down one of its founders, twenty-three-year-old Ahmad and started to ask him questions about it. Those questions become a wider conversation and in the end a friendship. She learns why they have done it, how they are using the books to further their educations and the hope that they get from the project. They communicate via WhatsApp and Facebook, and she sees them at their most vulnerable, hunched in the basements of shattered buildings hearing the dull thuds of yet more explosions. Sometimes there was almost no communication, a message she sent would not have a reply for days until suddenly a happy or sad-faced emoji would pop up on her phone. Then nothing again. She would worry about them even though she was incapable of doing anything to help. Minoui longed to meet them, but never tough that this was going to be possible at all. At the end of the line, he’s unable to speak. He’s lost his voice. His throat is empty. I can tell that he is beaten, depressed. From all the time I have spent talking to him over the internet, I’ve learned to read between the lines, to anticipate his responses. This isn’t a normal silence. For the first time, he’s run out of things to say about Daraya. At times this is a heart-wrenching read. I cannot even imagine what life, such as you can call it there, was like. But in amongst all the death and destruction, there is hope; the hope that they find within the pages of the books, the hope that this time will end and the hope that they can build a democracy in the country that they love. The book conveys the reality of what life was like there at the time and the fear that every message to her would be their last. Minoui’s writing is sharp and pithy. It feels like the short chapters were written as notes after each time she contacted the men as her emotions come across as raw and reactions to the situations as they happen. It is a wonderful book about the generosity of the human spirit and however bad life is there is still some solace within the pages of a book. There is a video about the Book Collectors of Daraya, here (£)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Summerfield

    We hear about Syria often and some of us even have people in our communities/schools who have escaped the war and sought asylum in our countries but I didn't really know much about the conflict before I read this book. I often felt angry as well as sad at the regime which would bomb people up to 80 times a day, drop Sarin and then Napalm ... Yet in spite of this siege or perhaps simply because of it comes this tale of a group of people who essentially rescue books from the rubble and create a se We hear about Syria often and some of us even have people in our communities/schools who have escaped the war and sought asylum in our countries but I didn't really know much about the conflict before I read this book. I often felt angry as well as sad at the regime which would bomb people up to 80 times a day, drop Sarin and then Napalm ... Yet in spite of this siege or perhaps simply because of it comes this tale of a group of people who essentially rescue books from the rubble and create a secret underground library in a bombed out basement. This library brings solace, learning and hope to the residents who have little left to hope in. "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 a dirge of bombs. Reading - a humble human gesture that binds them to the mad hope of a return to peace". Many reviewers have complained that this book isn't enough about the library and that it gets too caught up in the Syrian conflict. I think this misses the point entirely we MUST understand the war, the hardship, the immense and unjust human suffering to fully grasp the hope that a library, that reading can bring.

  10. 4 out of 5

    CindySlowReader

    This book helped me understand the Syrian war a bit better. It seems to be a systematic wipe out of cities that are seen as rebel strongholds, not a country-wide war. I'm sure it is so much more complicated than that, I am still educating myself. Which is also what the long-suffering rebel population of Daraya did for 4 years.....they educated themselves by reading and study. They did this by rescuing books from the bombed out rubble and forming a library. You get to know these young people and w This book helped me understand the Syrian war a bit better. It seems to be a systematic wipe out of cities that are seen as rebel strongholds, not a country-wide war. I'm sure it is so much more complicated than that, I am still educating myself. Which is also what the long-suffering rebel population of Daraya did for 4 years.....they educated themselves by reading and study. They did this by rescuing books from the bombed out rubble and forming a library. You get to know these young people and what it's like to be bombed, gassed, starved. You get to know their hope, strength, love for learning. The author not only writes beautifully, she also directed a documentary about the library "Daraya: A Library Under Bombs".

  11. 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.

  12. 5 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...

  13. 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.

  14. 4 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...

  15. 5 out of 5

    safiyareads

    “Our revolution was meant to build, not destroy.” - Ahmad Muaddamani Delphine Minoui tells the true story of a group of young men who saved books from the wreckage of their city, Daraya. I’m always a bit wary when journalists tell someone else’s story but my doubts were truly set aside with the manner in which Minoui consistently centres the voices of the men she was in correspondence with. I really appreciated the way Minoui not only relayed the story of the book collectors and the other people “Our revolution was meant to build, not destroy.” - Ahmad Muaddamani Delphine Minoui tells the true story of a group of young men who saved books from the wreckage of their city, Daraya. I’m always a bit wary when journalists tell someone else’s story but my doubts were truly set aside with the manner in which Minoui consistently centres the voices of the men she was in correspondence with. I really appreciated the way Minoui not only relayed the story of the book collectors and the other people of Daraya, but also the way she provided valuable context. She spotlighted the revolutionary history of Daraya, its role in the uprising that began in 2011 as well as earlier protests in the 90s. This highlighted the unique modern history of Daraya and why it was significant. The book collectors created a library that became a space for reading and discovering books, for debates, for seeking knowledge in every way. It became a place to try and uphold some kind of normalcy in the library underground, while above ground, the already destroyed town was continually bombed. Most of all, it became a place of hope. Four years under siege, blockaded and constantly bombed by the regime, portrayed as extremists, a life lived underground; a brutal reality for the people of Daraya. Minoui conveyed how this translated into every aspect of their daily lived experiences. Making soup with hot water and spices to try and convince their bodies that they’ve had a meal. The ever expanding cemetery with cardboard gravestones making do. The malnourished children who had stopped growing. “Women hold back their tears as they hum nursery rhymes.” Fellow book lovers will appreciate the power of books and relate to the way they were so important to this community. The brutality inflicted by the regime was hard to read about, but the least we can do is bear witness. This book was beautifully written and I could feel the admiration, respect and love for the people of Daraya, of Syria, in the author’s words. “Do books hold, if not the key to happiness, at least the power to make us believe in it?” Thank you to Picador for the proof copy

  16. 4 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

    Tripfiction

    Story set in DARAYA, DAMASCUS Delphine Minoui, a prizewinning reporter on Iraq and Iran, working for Le Figaro, browsing through Facebook images on her computer one evening comes across one that stops her in her tracks. The caption reads, The Secret Library of Daraya and shows two young men standing in a makeshift underground library in the midst of bomb wrecked Daraya. Intrigued, she sets about tracking down the photographer, Ahmad Muaddamani, one of the co-founders of the library, and it is his Story set in DARAYA, DAMASCUS Delphine Minoui, a prizewinning reporter on Iraq and Iran, working for Le Figaro, browsing through Facebook images on her computer one evening comes across one that stops her in her tracks. The caption reads, The Secret Library of Daraya and shows two young men standing in a makeshift underground library in the midst of bomb wrecked Daraya. Intrigued, she sets about tracking down the photographer, Ahmad Muaddamani, one of the co-founders of the library, and it is his story that forms the basis for this account. In 2012 the rebel suburb of Daraya in Damascus, determined to hold firm against Assad’s brutality, is besieged by Syrian government forces and four years of immense suffering follows with the remaining residents being bombarded by shells, barrel bombs and even chemical attacks. In late 2013, Muddamani, who is already committed in the fight to resist Assad, is asked to help his friends clear out the ruins of a house that is full of books. Books hold little fascination for the fighter; his experience of books had been confined to the ones he had been given at school – full of propaganda. But something grips him when he starts to read one of those rescued books and he, like the others, is hooked on the mission to reclaim as many as possible from the bomb-ravaged buildings in the city. Before long, the small group of men have got over fifteen thousand volumes for their library. They take immense risks to rescue books and then set about repairing and cataloguing them, taking particular care to write inside the front cover of each volume the name of the original owner, just in case they might be able to be reunited in the future. The men dig out an underground space for their library, they decorate, furnish and build shelves and almost instantly the library is in business, offering the trapped residents access to uncensored reading. The library quickly becomes a meeting place and offers an opportunity for education in a city where almost all the educators had been exiled, jailed or murdered. Set exclusively in besieged Daraya, this account offers us a unique insight into the experience of these rebels and the other civilians trapped there; it highlights the sacrifices made and the deprivations endured. In addition to the direct assaults on their safety, the people are cut off from food supplies, from water and electricity. At one point in the story, Minoui receives a letter signed by the usually unseen and unheard women of Daraya. They tell her of their struggles to keep children fed and to ward off disease and infection. “Behind the courage of men can be found the suffering of women,” comments Minoui. The Book Collectors of Daraya is a straightforward tale, told simply. Minoui’s style is definitely more journalese than literary but, in many ways, this is an advantage as the understated prose makes the narration more powerful and poignant. One of the most arresting aspects of this very slim volume is in its structure. There is the main and very gripping story of the library and the struggles of the young men who founded it, but alongside this, and, almost more fascinating, is the account of Minoui’s growing relationship with them. She worries constantly about their safety and the reader, with her, suffers the frustration of an unreliable internet connection and the inevitable lengthy, frightening silences. Her conversations with the men and their discussions about the favourite book choices and the reasons for them is, at times, amusing and, at others well-nigh heart-breaking. Despite the inevitable ending, ultimately, The Book Collectors of Daraya offers us some hope and a belief that the power of words has some impact against incomprehensible violence and cruelty.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    “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.” If there is one book I could get every librarian in my life to read right now, it would be this one. The story of the little - but mighty - library of Daraya is everything a community library can be: a place of learning, of relaxation, of humanity and of respite. Daraya's story is a terrible one, and i “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.” If there is one book I could get every librarian in my life to read right now, it would be this one. The story of the little - but mighty - library of Daraya is everything a community library can be: a place of learning, of relaxation, of humanity and of respite. Daraya's story is a terrible one, and it is clear that Minoui wanted to be writing a different book. But it doesn't change the significance of the library for the time it is needed. The style intersperses Minoui's world - living in relative safety, deeply invested in these men she cannot visit IRL - with the story of the library and the democracy fighters who center their efforts on it. Minoui never pushes too far into the narrative, instead allowing her own journey to bring the reader along. The book is scant on covering the background of the Syrian conflict, and may be confusing to those with little background, but nothing a quick Google wouldn't fix. It isn't an intellectual deconstruction of the war by any means, but it is a book about people who fight, and how libraries support liberation - of cities and of souls. “These are the images of Daraya that I don’t want to forget,” he insisted. “Images of a united, bonded group. Of a common desire to build the future. To defend new ideas in development. We were one and the same. The same feeling of solidarity, of camaraderie. A unique experience that could have served as a model for other towns. Daraya isn’t just a place, it’s a philosophy of life.”

  19. 4 out of 5

    Henrique

    The story being told in this book is one of the most powerful and inspiring ones that I've come across. Young men roam the ruins of Daraya trying to salvage whatever books they can, to put them in a rogue library that they started. This library is a safe haven amidst all the bombing, killing and destruction that goes on in the outside world and provides not only hope but also education to people that were suddenly left without one. Whilst the story is incredible, I felt that the book could have g The story being told in this book is one of the most powerful and inspiring ones that I've come across. Young men roam the ruins of Daraya trying to salvage whatever books they can, to put them in a rogue library that they started. This library is a safe haven amidst all the bombing, killing and destruction that goes on in the outside world and provides not only hope but also education to people that were suddenly left without one. Whilst the story is incredible, I felt that the book could have gone a bit further. The chapters/passages are very short and are basically a description of the video chats or message exchanges that go on between the author and the young Syrians. The impression I left with was that this was originally written as an article piece and then got stretched into a book, possibly because the author wanted to have the story of the Book Collectors being featured in their own library? Either way, this is an important story to share with the world and it has certainly enlightened me on the horrors that are going on in Syria, and that alone should be enough of a reason to get this book onto as many libraries and bookshelves as possible! Coincidentely, I also read this book on the celebration of democracy in my own country (Portugal; 25th of April), which made me realise (even more) how privileged I am to come from a place where people have already fought that battle for me many years ago and I just get to enjoy a free life with all of its potentials. The young rebels featured in this book were/are fighting that battle now and it's far from over, so the world should definitely tune in to try and help! If you're on the fence about reading this book, give it a go, it's a quick read but one that will stick with you for a while.

  20. 5 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    Completely heartbreaking. I remember asking my parents how the world let the atrocities of the holocaust happen and thinking that something like that could never possibly happen again. But it has. And it does. Because we continue to turn away and do nothing. I couldn't help but think about what I would read if I found myself trapped like these rebels were. What would I be drawn to? What pages would bring me comfort? Completely heartbreaking. I remember asking my parents how the world let the atrocities of the holocaust happen and thinking that something like that could never possibly happen again. But it has. And it does. Because we continue to turn away and do nothing. I couldn't help but think about what I would read if I found myself trapped like these rebels were. What would I be drawn to? What pages would bring me comfort?

  23. 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 You can find more book reviews on my blog - KHV Books.com

  24. 5 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 5 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.

  27. 4 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.

  28. 4 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.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    The book chronicles the siege laid upon the Syrian city of Daraya and the secret underground library established by resilient rebels who refused to submit for a handful of years to the oppressive al-Assad regime or the the terrorist troop known as ISIS/ ISIL or natively known to the Syrians as Daesh. There’s been a third side fo the Syrian Civil War that much of the world doesn’t generally see, and that is the side of the anti-Assad people who are against any terrorist ways, rebels who advocate The book chronicles the siege laid upon the Syrian city of Daraya and the secret underground library established by resilient rebels who refused to submit for a handful of years to the oppressive al-Assad regime or the the terrorist troop known as ISIS/ ISIL or natively known to the Syrians as Daesh. There’s been a third side fo the Syrian Civil War that much of the world doesn’t generally see, and that is the side of the anti-Assad people who are against any terrorist ways, rebels who advocate for more peaceful approaches to revitalizing the country under freedom Americans take for granted. Those Syrians who stayed in Daraya endured more hardships in those years than most of us will in our lifetimes, but hope lives on for them. They found solace in books of various origins that the founders of foragers of the library kept safe underground with even some access to education and the outside world via services like Skype. The rebels Minoui conversed with for this book claimed literature saved their souls while they starved, a powerful sentiment. To better comprehend why these rebels fought back instead of leaving, an understanding of the Arab Spring, its events, and the current state of those countries’ affairs is ideal. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about any of this, so I watched a few YouTube videos from reliable news sources to gain basic knowledge of it all. From the brief videos I watched and this book that gives detailed accounts of travesties felt by the book collecting rebels, I see how limited the news coverage about the Syrian Civil War and migrant crisis was during its beginning and height. Personal stories found here bring it all into a new light. Parts of the tales brought tears to my eyes. Students could be reading books like this one to better understand the world they are inheriting.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David

    Even though it is a really sad story in some ways, this book chronicles a moment that gives me hope. Highly recommended: It won't take long to read, and if it doesn't move you, I'm worried about you. I'm giving the book 5 stars because I believe the story is really important, and that's all that really matters with a book like this. The writing would normally rate fewer stars from me, but in this case I only care that the story is recorded and published, and it didn't need to be great art. I won Even though it is a really sad story in some ways, this book chronicles a moment that gives me hope. Highly recommended: It won't take long to read, and if it doesn't move you, I'm worried about you. I'm giving the book 5 stars because I believe the story is really important, and that's all that really matters with a book like this. The writing would normally rate fewer stars from me, but in this case I only care that the story is recorded and published, and it didn't need to be great art. I won't share the details, which is what makes the book worth reading, but I will just say a bit about the story (even if the subtitle already makes it clear what the book is about). There was a city near Damascus that rose up in non-violent protest against the Assad regime in Syria, and when the regime started shooting at them, they decided to defend themselves. They maintained a democratic, civilian government and managed to keep from being taken over by the Islamic fundamentalist rebel factions, but the Assad regime still called them terrorists, so they were bombed unmercifully. During this time, some of the people there started rescuing books from bombed out buildings, taking them to a library underground where they wrote the owners' names in each book, so they could return them after the war. The author heard about this, and reached out through whatever means of communication she could to keep in touch with these book-loving rebels during their ordeal. And it was a terrible ordeal. Of course, I am angry about our utter failure to help, but the spirit of these people is so uplifting, I am still very glad I read the book. I think you would be, too. This was on the sale table at Prologue Books last week, so I grabbed it. Hooray for serendipity!

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