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

Farrar, Straus and Giroux


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Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publications have always gone to war, serving as consolation and distraction. And oftentimes, the most unpredicted publications have struck a chord in wartime.

For instance, who would’ve guessed that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith’s 1943 semi-autobiographical novel, would turn into a person of the most preferred textbooks amid servicemen in Globe War II, who acquired it as element of a huge e book distribution method?

The Syrian resistance fighters whom reporter Delphine Minoui profiles in her new ebook, The Ebook Collectors, surprisingly, favored self-assistance literature. Their counterpart to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is Stephen Covey’s greatest-offering pop-psych Bible, The 7 Patterns of Remarkably Efficient People today. “This e book signifies so a lot to us,” a single younger fighter tells Minoui. “It is our compass, in a way …”

Minoui understands that Covey’s book affirms the electricity of the specific, some thing these youthful guys, raised under the repressive regime of Bashar al Assad, are fighting for. These gentlemen are from a suburb of Damascus called Daraya, which was the site of tranquil protests in the course of the Arab Spring rebellion of 2011.

Commencing in 2012, forces of the Assad regime laid siege to the town, pummeling it with barrel bombs, and sarin gasoline attacks reducing off water, electrical power and humanitarian aid — in quick, inflicting the sort of identified whole erasure of a town referred to as “urbicide.”

Minoui, a Center East correspondent for Le Figaro who life in Istanbul, was on her personal computer just one night time in 2015, scrolling via the Fb web site, “Humans of Syria,” when she was stopped by a black-and-white image. The caption examine: “the magic formula library of Daraya.”

In the photograph, two young adult males in sweatshirts stand in a room lined with bookcases, packed restricted. Her curiosity aroused, Minoui labored her contacts by means of Skype and WhatsApp to observe down the photographer, a younger guy named Ahmad Muaddamani, one of the co-founders of the “key library.” He tells her an amazing story that Minoui, in switch, would shell out many years fleshing out.

Minoui, whose crafting has been translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud, is an unadorned stylist. From time to time, even though, she will come up with a lyrical phrase that stops a reader brief, this kind of as when she refers to the image that 1st caught her interest as depicting, “a fragile parenthesis in the midst of war.”

The story at the rear of that photograph, as Minoui learns, is even much more arresting. In late 2013, Ahmad, then in his early 20s and a dedicated resistance fighter, was termed upon by his pals to assistance excavate the ruins of a house filled with books. Ahmad wasn’t even a reader the books he’d been assigned in university ended up propaganda. But when he picked up a person of the rescued books and started off reading, Ahmad claimed he felt: “The identical sensation of freedom I felt at my 1st protest.”

Ahmad and his comrades salvaged 6,000 books in one week a month later on, bulked out by other scavenging missions, this disparate assortment of literature, theology, science and, sure, self-support, stood at 15,000. To preserve their locate, the adult men carved out a library in the basement of an abandoned building. They built wood cabinets and cataloged the publications. The library rapidly became a collecting position, a mini-college in a town where nearly all the professors experienced both been exiled, jailed or killed. In this refuge, Minoui says, people could experience the sensation of: “A webpage opening to the environment when every door is locked.”

The Ebook Collectors is by itself a billed addition to the library of literary survival tales involving, not only the preservation of textbooks, but the rescuing of the ideas they include. I am wondering of almost everything from Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, about the remote libraries of monks in the so-termed “Darkish Ages,” to Azar Nafisi’s Reading through Lolita in Tehran, to which Minoui’s story is a form of all-male companion piece.

In The Book Collectors, unlike these before accounts, the net plays a critical part in the rescue function, and not only by very first alerting Minoui to the existence of the “mystery library.” Some of the resistance fighters grow to be these avid audience that they down load nevertheless far more publications on their cell phones, hence augmenting the holdings of their library.

Any one who is aware of the background of present events in Syria will not likely be amazed to discover that the secret library will not survive, nor do all of people younger guys. The story of the magic formula library, nevertheless, is preserved in this trim, vivid account, when so substantially else in Daraya has turned to dust.