The book collectors A band of Syrian rebels and the stories that carried them through a war

Delphine Minoui

Book - 2020

"An extraordinary account of a band of young men in a besieged Damascan suburb who find books in the rubble and create a secret library"--

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New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2020.
First American edition
Item Description
"Originally published in French in 2018 by Éditions du Seuil, France, as 'Les passeurs de livres de Daraya.' "
Physical Description
197 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 20 cm
Main Author
Delphine Minoui (author)
Other Authors
Lara Vergnaud (translator)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Heartbreaking and heartwarming, this account tells how the pro-democracy rebels of Daraya, Syria, survived a six-year siege with the help of books. In 2015, journalist Minoui saw a picture on Facebook showing the young men of Daraya, which had been besieged by Bashar al-Assad's forces since 2011, in a windowless room surrounded by books. When Minoui connects with Ahmad Muaddamari via social media, he tells her how he and his friends have salvaged 6,000 books from a destroyed house and set up a library in the basement of a ruined building for the remaining townspeople. The library is used constantly as the people cling to books as if to life, and they discover that words have power to soothe the mental wounds of war and hardship. After the town is attacked with sarin gas and then firebombed, the residents are forced to flee, and Minoui finally meets Ahmad in person when he finds refuge in Turkey. Readers will be moved by the plight of the people of Daraya, and inspired by their faith in the power of books to give information, release, and hope. Highly recommended for all libraries and book lovers. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In the ancient Syrian city of Daraya, under siege for years and eventually subject to forced displacement, residents discovered a motherlode of books and began to collect more. Within a month, 15,000 volumes were housed in a secret library used for discussion. In 2015, award-winning French-Iranian journalist Minoui learned of the library and interviewed one of the founders over WhatsApp and Facebook. With a 50,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

During the early years of the ongoing Syrian civil war, in the town of Daraya, southwest of the capital of Damascus, civilians were subjected to a ruthless siege by government forces and affiliated militias. Despite this devastation, a few dozen people created an oasis of peace by forming an underground library, salvaging thousands of books from the ruins of their beloved community. In 2015, French Iranian journalist Minoui (I'm Writing You from Tehran) discovered the library via Facebook and interviewed the activist librarians, following their activities on social media from her headquarters in Istanbul, then traveling to Beirut, Lebanon, and close to the Syrian borders to meet some of these book collectors. The group is depicted as part of a moderate, pacifist civil disobedience opposition, whose mission is a movement toward individual freedom by keeping dreams alive through books that take them beyond the misery of their besieged town. VERDICT This compassionate portrayal of an engaging group of rebels serves as a testament to both the resilience of the human spirit and to the power of story. Highly recommended for those interested in current events, Middle East history and politics, and personal accounts of war. [See "Turn the Page," p. 18.]—Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

French-Iranian journalist Minoui (I'm Writing You From Tehran) paints a haunting portrait of the 2012–2016 siege of Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, during the Syrian civil war. After a government bombing campaign in response to pro-democracy protests set off an exodus from Daraya, remaining resistance members collected thousands of books and built a library in the basement of an abandoned building. Through video interviews and online chats with the library's founder, Ahmad Muaddamani, and frequent patrons, including a photographer, a Free Syrian Army fighter, and a veteran of previous protest movements, Minoui chronicles how these men—denounced as jihadists by president Bashar al-Assad—created a sanctuary for free thought. Her subjects describe how books as varied as the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, and Mustafa Khalifa's novel The Shell offer the library's patrons education, encouragement, and the "freedom they've been deprived of." Minoui also recounts her own responses to terrorist attacks in France to affirm how, amid the fight for survival, books can offer enlightenment and escape. Fluidly translated and emotionally powerful, this devastating account pays tribute to the "dream of a better world that never fully came true." (Oct.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"An extraordinary account of a band of young men in a besieged Damascan suburb who find books in the rubble and create a secret library"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The award-winning journalist and author of I’m Writing You from Tehran documents the achievements of Syrian Civil War survivors who built a secret library from thousands of books that survived the four-year siege that decimated their community. 50,000 first printing. Illustrations. Maps.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: NPR"An urgent and compelling account of great bravery and passion." —Susan OrleanAward-winning journalist Delphine Minoui recounts the true story of a band of young rebels, a besieged Syrian town, and an underground library built from the rubble of warReading is an act of resistance.Daraya is a town outside Damascus, the very spot where the Syrian Civil War began. Long a site of peacefulresistance to the Assad regimes, Daraya fell under siege in 2012. For four years, no one entered or left, and aid was blocked. Every single day, bombs fell on this place—a place of homes and families, schools and children, now emptied and broken into bits.And then a group searching for survivors stumbled upon a cache of books in the rubble. In a week, they had six thousand volumes; in a month, fifteen thousand. A sanctuary was born: a library where people could escape the blockade, a paper fortress to protect their humanity.The library offered a marvelous range of books—from Arabic poetry to American self-help, Shakespearean plays to stories of war in other times and places. The visitors shared photos and tales of their lives before the war, planned how to build a democracy, and tended the roots of their community despite shell-shocked soil. In the midst of the siege, the journalist Delphine Minoui tracked down one of the library’s founders, twenty-three-year-old Ahmad. Over text messages, WhatsApp, and Facebook, Minoui came to know the young men who gathered in the library, exchanged ideas, learned English, and imagined how to shape the future, even as bombs kept falling from above. By telling their stories, Minoui makes a far-off, complicated war immediate and reveals these young men to be everyday heroes as inspiring as the books they read. The Book Collectors is a testament to their bravery and a celebration of the power of words.