Syria’s Secret Library: Reading and Redemption in a Town Under Siege

PublicAffairs. Aug. 2019. 336p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9781541767621. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781541767614. POL SCI
BBC News journalist Thomson was intrigued by rumors of a secret library in the besieged Syrian rebel city of Daraya. He contacts residents there who were involved in building the library and learns about their motivations for collecting books when bombs are falling and food is scarce. The story expands into an account of life under siege, as people cope with increased attacks; lack of food, fuel, and medical supplies; and a constant fear of death. The library becomes a place where they can experience a sense of community and escape as well as obtain a small degree of normalcy. Even with the tragedy unfolding around them, Syrians are surprisingly hopeful about their situation and the role the library plays in their lives. Thomson helpfully provides background on Daraya and events of the civil war to give context to the narrative. One small drawback is that the author tends to insert unnecessarily his own experiences and reactions into the story, although the Syrians’ harrowing accounts speak for themselves.
VERDICT A compelling window into the lives of Syrians’ living in a war zone. Recommended for readers interested in the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis.

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