When a group of young revolutionaries in Daraya, the southern suburb of Syria’s capital, find themselves deliberately cut off from all outside contact and life-sustaining provisions, they inadvertently discover a gateway to a world they had never known in a collection of books salvaged from the destroyed homes of their besieged city.
In The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories that Carried Them Through a War, author Delphine Minoui stitches together the heart-breaking yet inspirational story of a passionate group of rebels who refused to abandon their city, or their commitment to remaining peaceful, in spite of the Assad regime’s increasingly brutal efforts to destroy them.
After learning about the book collectors and the secret library they had built through the Humans of Syria Facebook page, Minoui, an award-winning French journalist living in Istanbul, manages to contact one of the library’s founders through WhatsApp and becomes their connection to the outside world.
She marvels at their thirst for knowledge after four years of living under siege and how the thousands of books they have managed to save from the rubble of private homes open their eyes to great literary treasures that had been censored by the previous regime of Hafez Assad.
As Bashar Assad’s efforts to destroy the Daraya holdouts intensify, Minoui shares her own thoughts and feelings about the people trapped in Daraya as she records every conversation and saves every photo until the day they all disappear and she finds herself struggling with what she will do with it now.
The Book Collectors gives us an insider’s view of the war being waged on Syrian civilians by its own government, and the bravery and passionate resolve of those who refuse to be broken. It is also a testimony to the power of words to sustain life vs the words of those who use their power to destroy it.
A total of 210 pages including photos and short bios, the book was originally published in French in 2017. The English version was translated by Lara Vergnaud and published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 2020.
The book is a must-read for anyone wanting to know more about what has actually been going on in Syria as well as those who have been intimately involved in supporting the revolution since it began. There is nothing that exposes the false narrative of a ruthless dictator who will go to any lengths to hold onto his daddy’s chair like the truth.