A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: NPRAn urgent and compelling account of great bravery and passion. --Susan Orlean Award-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 war Reading is an act of resistance. Daraya is a town outside Damascus, the very spot where the Syrian Civil War began. Long a site of peaceful
resistance 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.
- ISBN-13: 9780374115166
- ISBN-10: 0374115168
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publish Date: November 2020
- Dimensions: 7.6 x 5 x 0.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.7 pounds
- Page Count: 208
“Books bring us closer together. They’re a bridge between us,” Hussan Ayash tells journalist Delphine Minoui over Skype. Ayash belongs to a group of rebels in Syria who spent four years, from 2012 to 2016, under siege in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus. In 2013, they discovered a cache of books in the ruins of a bombed house and decided to rescue them. They dug through the wreckage of other buildings as well, salvaging 6,000 books in one week, and created a secret library in the basement of an abandoned building. In precise yet passionate prose, Minoui tells this remarkable story in The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War.
With a French mother, an Iranian father and a home base in Istanbul, Minoui understands the region well and has won awards for her reporting on the Middle East. When she saw a photo of the library bunker, her first instinct was to travel to Daraya and start interviewing these unusual librarians. That journey would be impossible, however, so she began communicating with several of the young men online and formed an unusual relationship with them, worrying constantly about their safety. This personal connection forms the heart of the book, deepening the story while laying bare the sacrifice and deprivation of the rebels. For those four years, Daraya was besieged by bombs and poison gas, food was scarce, and there was no running water or electricity. As she communicated via video chat, Minoui remained careful to keep her coffee and snacks out of the camera’s view.
“The library is their hidden fortress against the bombs,” Minoui writes. “Books are their weapons of mass instruction.” Although a good many of the library’s founders hadn’t grown up as readers, they became book lovers during the long siege. The library’s most popular titles form an eclectic mix: Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, The Little Prince, Mustafa Khalifa’s The Shell, Les Misérables and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The Book Collectors is a phenomenal story of hope in the midst of complete devastation. As 23-year-old Abu el-Ezz told Minoui in 2015, “Reading helps me think positively, chase away negative ideas. And that’s what we need most right now.”