The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War, by Delphine Minoui

Farrar, Straus und Giroux

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Farrar, Straus und Giroux

Farrar, Straus und Giroux

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War, by Delphine Minoui

Farrar, Straus und Giroux

Books have at all times gone to conflict, serving as consolation and distraction. And oftentimes, probably the most sudden books have struck a chord in wartime.

For occasion, who would’ve guessed that Ein Baum wächst in Brooklyn, Betty Smith’s 1943 semi-autobiographical novel, would turn into some of the fashionable books amongst servicemen in World War II, who acquired it as a part of an enormous guide distribution program?

The Syrian resistance fighters whom reporter Delphine Minoui profiles in her new guide, The Book Collectors, surprisingly, favored self-help literature. Their counterpart to Ein Baum wächst in Brooklyn is Stephen Covey’s best-selling pop-psych Bible, Die 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. “This book means so much to us,” one younger fighter tells Minoui. “It’s our compass, in a way …”

Minoui understands that Covey’s guide affirms the ability of the person, one thing these younger males, raised beneath the repressive regime of Bashar al Assad, are preventing for. These males are from a suburb of Damascus referred to as Daraya, which was the positioning of peaceable protests through the Arabischer Frühling rebellion of 2011.

Beginning in 2012, forces of the Assad regime laid siege to the city, pummeling it with barrel bombs, and sarin gasoline assaults; chopping off water, electrical energy and humanitarian assist — in brief, inflicting the type of decided complete erasure of a metropolis referred to as “urbicide.”

Minoui, a Middle East correspondent for Le Figaro who lives in Istanbul, was on her pc one night time in 2015, scrolling by way of the Facebook web site, “Humans of Syria,” when she was stopped by a black-and-white picture. The caption learn: “the secret library of Daraya.”

In the picture, two younger males in sweatshirts stand in a room lined with bookcases, packed tight. Her curiosity aroused, Minoui labored her contacts by way of Skype and WhatsApp to trace down the photographer, a younger man named Ahmad Muaddamani, one of many co-founders of the “secret library.” He tells her an unimaginable story that Minoui, in flip, would spend years fleshing out.

Minoui, whose writing has been translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud, is an unadorned stylist. Occasionally, although, she comes up with a lyrical phrase that stops a reader brief, corresponding to when she refers back to the picture that first caught her consideration as depicting, “a fragile parenthesis in the midst of war.”

The story behind that picture, as Minoui learns, is much more arresting. In late 2013, Ahmad, then in his early 20s and a dedicated resistance fighter, was referred to as upon by his buddies to assist excavate the ruins of a home full of books. Ahmad wasn’t even a reader; the books he’d been assigned in class had been propaganda. But when he picked up one of many rescued books and began studying, Ahmad mentioned he felt: “The same sensation of freedom I felt at my first protest.”

Ahmad and his comrades salvaged 6,000 books in a single week; a month later, bulked out by different scavenging missions, this disparate assortment of literature, theology, science and, sure, self-help, stood at 15,000. To protect their discover, the boys carved out a library within the basement of an deserted constructing. They constructed wood cabinets and cataloged the books. The library rapidly turned a gathering place, a mini-university in a metropolis the place virtually all of the professors had both been exiled, jailed or killed. In this refuge, Minoui says, individuals might expertise the feeling of: “A page opening to the world when every door is locked.”

The Book Collectors is itself a charged addition to the library of literary survival tales involving, not solely the preservation of books, however the rescuing of the concepts they include. I’m considering of every thing from Thomas Cahill's Wie die Iren die Zivilisation retteten, concerning the distant libraries of monks within the so-called “Dark Ages,” to Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, to which Minoui’s story is a type of all-male companion piece.

In The Book Collectors, in contrast to these earlier accounts, the web performs a key position within the rescue work, and never solely by first alerting Minoui to the existence of the “secret library.” Some of the resistance fighters turn into such avid readers that they obtain nonetheless extra books on their cell telephones, thus augmenting the holdings of their library.

Anyone who is aware of the historical past of present occasions in Syria will not be shocked to study that the key library does not survive, nor do all of these younger males. The story of the key library, nonetheless, is preserved on this slim, vivid account, when a lot else in Daraya has turned to mud.