The Road from Raqqa: A Story of Brotherhood, Borders, and Belonging

Ballantine. Jul. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9781984817181. $28. SOC SCI
Journalist Conn skillfully interweaves the stories of brothers Riyad and Bashar Alkasem, raised in Raqqa in eastern Syria on the Euphrates River. Riyad emigrated to the United States in the 1980s, seeking educational opportunities. He became Americanized while pursuing business opportunities in California, raised a family with his Tennessee-born wife, and in time became a successful restauranteur in Nashville. His brother Bashar remained in Raqqa, where their father was a respected leader, and built a successful professional and family life. For years, the city was distant from Bashar Assad’s control and retained provincial independence as traditional society governed the lives of the brothers’ parents and extended family. The outbreak of civil war in 2011 and rise of Daesh (Islamic State) eventually changed life for Raqqa and Bashir’s family as violence escalated. Riyad’s rare return visits to Raqqa caused him to wonder whether he made the right decision in leaving while Bashir reluctantly reconsiders the future he envisioned in his native city, now engulfed by fearful destruction.
VERDICT The parallel stories of the brothers’ lives is informative and deeply moving. The emotional narrative of their Syrian home will help readers to better understand why people choose to leave and why others stay.

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