Monday 18 October 2021

The Book Collectors

Finished October 16
The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Vergnaud

The author, Delphine Minoui, is a journalist who has covered the Middle East, and lives in Istanbul. She also directed a documentary on the same subject as this book. During her work, she heard about a group who had created a library from books they found in the rubble of their town, Daraya. Daraya is a town outside of Damascus which fell under a siege in 2012 and became cut off from the outside world for four years. 
The young men who found the first batch of books and began actively collecting them in one place, where they built shelving and provided studying, reading, and meeting space, had a collection of fifteen thousand books within a month of their start. The collection had range, from poetry to plays, history to science. 
First Minoui tracked down one of the library's founders, Ahmad Muaddamani, twenty-three, who was studying civil engineering before the war. He told her the story of the library, but also the story of this small community, its history of discourse and democracy, the effects of the siege, and the others who supported and used the library. Residents from children through seniors visited and borrowed material, and they even arranged Skype lectures from a variety of speakers. Other men that she spoke to were Omar Abu Anas, a soldier in the Free Syrian Army, who kept a small collection of books protected by sandbags at the front lines; Shadi Matar, who joined the media center of the town and documented the war through photographs; Hussam Ayash, who launched a small local magazine during the siege; Abu Malek Al-Shami, who painted graffiti and murals on the ruins to keep spirits up; Abu el-Ezz, another co-founder of the library; and Ustez, a slightly older man who served as a mentor for the others.
As Monoui tracks the ongoing siege, she also documents the types of attacks they endured, including barrel bombs, sarin gas, and napalm. 
With limited access to internet, most of the communication was through media such as Whats App, with reliance on short messages, and video. 
A book that brings this group of men to life and highlights the situation that they lived in during this difficult time. She also includes a list of the most popular books in the collection and ones mentioned in her conversations with the men. 


  1. Another blogger just reported about this and it's on my list now since I read another book about this group by Mike Thomson, Syria's Secret Library.

    I'm looking forward to this one.

  2. This sounds fascinating! I'll be sure to look for it.