BOOK CLUB: The Book Collectors of Daraya

A BAND OF SYRIAN REBELS, THEIR UNDERGROUND LIBRARY, AND THE STORIES THAT CARRIED THEM THROUGH A WAR.

The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui is the true story of a group of young Syrian men living in the besieged town of Daraya, and their quest to rescue all the books they could find in the ruins of their city.

They created a secret library deep underground, and through this library, they sought to maintain hope for a democratic future.

I have been trying to write this review for days, but every time I attempt to do so my chest tightens, and I find myself overwhelmed as I try to comprehend what the inhabitants of Daraya endured. 

I have watched on with horror, disbelief and a feeling of utter helplessness, as the Bashar al-Assad regime has perpetrated unconscionable attacks on their own people, and the major powers of the world have stood by and let them. 

I have been afraid that this powerful work by Minoui and the bravery of the young men she interviewed will result in still more deaths as Assad endeavours to wipe out all resistance by perpetuating the illusion that those who resist are terrorists.

The author, Delphine Minoui, is an award winning French Journalist, who was living with her daughter in Istanbul in 2015 when she came across a photo on the Humans of Syria Facebook Page. 

The picture was captioned “The Secret Library of Daraya” and the book springs from Minoui’s fascination with the story behind the picture. Originally published in French in 2018, the English translation has been released in 2020.

Minoui manages to make contact with one of the co-founders of the library, and the photo’s photographer, Ahmad Muaddamani.  Despite an often spotty internet connection, Ahmad explains how the Assad regime moved to violently shut down the peaceful demonstrations for democracy, often imprisoning, torturing and murdering those who they saw as activist leaders.

The book explores how the library came about and the hardships endured. Assad shut off the avenues for food, and barrel bombs and chemical weapons were used against the residents of Daraya. This is about the bravery of the young men who risked their lives to create a photographic record of the atrocities.

These university students were forced to take up arms as the Free Syrian Army to attempt to protect themselves against Assad’s highly trained and armed militia. But, this group of young men still endeavoured to rescue books, read, learn, and teach others as they strove for a more tolerant Syria and freedom.

During the time of researching her book, and conducting these interviews, Minoui experienced terrorism first hand, as the French area of Istanbul was subject to bombs.  Though on a small scale compared with what those in Daraya were experiencing, Minoui describes how she endeavoured to create a sense of safety and normality for her young daughter, continuing to attend their library weekly for storytime.

The Book Collectors of Daraya is not an easy book to read, no book that so clearly addresses humans capacity for cruelty to others and a total disregard for life ever can be. 

But, it is important that these atrocities are not swept over for fear of distressing others, but are instead brought to the forefront in the hope that one day, tolerance and freedom will prevail.

I highly recommend this book be read by anyone who believes in democracy, freedom, tolerance, and the importance of preserving our literature for future generations.  The bravery and commitment of these young men to the ideals of a better place should never be forgotten. A five-star read. 

Many thanks to Pan Macmillan and Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read and review The Book Collectors of Daraya.

ISBN: 978 1529012323 / Publisher: Pan Macmillan

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

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