Saturday, January 2, 2021

Nonfiction Review: The Book Collectors by Delphine Minoui

Title: The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories that Carried Them Through a War

Author: Delphine Minoui

Year Published: 2017

Category: Adult nonfiction
Pages: 194
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map)Syria and Turkey

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Reading is an act of resistance.

Daraya is a town outside Damascus, the very spot where the Syrian Civil War began. Long a site of peaceful
resistance to the Assad regimes, Daraya fell under siege in 2012. For four years, no one entered or left, and aid was blocked. Every single day, bombs fell on this place―a place of homes and families, schools and children, now emptied and broken into bits.

And then a group searching for survivors stumbled upon a cache of books in the rubble. In a week, they had six thousand volumes; in a month, fifteen thousand. A sanctuary was born: a library where people could escape the blockade, a paper fortress to protect their humanity.

The library offered a marvelous range of books―from Arabic poetry to American self-help, Shakespearean plays to stories of war in other times and places. The visitors shared photos and tales of their lives before the war, planned how to build a democracy, and tended the roots of their community despite shell-shocked soil.

In the midst of the siege, the journalist Delphine Minoui tracked down one of the library’s founders, twenty-three-year-old Ahmad. Over text messages, WhatsApp, and Facebook, Minoui came to know the young men who gathered in the library, exchanged ideas, learned English, and imagined how to shape the future, even as bombs kept falling from above. By telling their stories, Minoui makes a far-off, complicated war immediate and reveals these young men to be everyday heroes as inspiring as the books they read. The Book Collectors is a testament to their bravery and a celebration of the power of words.

Review:  I chose this book as my First Book for 2021 and the title seemed appropriate: The Book Collectors. I feel I am a book collector of sorts. Ok, the truth is that I love to buy books, read them, then donate them to our local schools or pass them on to friends.

This slim volume really has a lot going on and for it. The surface story, that of a group of men in their 20s who collect books from bombed houses in their Syrian town and add them to a secret basement library is good. The way they talk about books, about literature, about words, and about learning is comforting and inspiring, especially since they weren't readers before the war broke out.

However, it's the other stories that really make this book. We learn about how the town of Daraya came to be a rebel hold out, how Bashar al Assad's regime treats rebels or those who speak out, the failure of the UN and the world's nations to help Syrians, and the resiliency of people in adverse conditions. The fact that these men continued to text, message, and Skype the author while they were being bombed, starved, and abandoned by the world is a testament to bravery, courage, and the human need for contact.

I love that at the end of the book, the author has included photo of each of the men and a description of what they are doing now.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • A to Z--"B"
  • Alphabet Soup--"M"
  • Diversity--Arabs in Syria
  • Literary Escapes--Syria and Turkey
  • Popsugar--covers a subject about which I am passionate (books)


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