Guest Post by Marc Martorell Junyent
The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui offers a particular glimpse into the drama of the Syrian Civil War. The author, a correspondent for the French newspaper Le Figaro in Istanbul, happened to find on Facebook a picture of two men in a library in 2015. The caption of the picture informed her that the library was located in Daraya, a suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus besieged by Bashar al-Assad’s troops since 2012.
Throughout numerous interviews conducted over Skype, which stretched for almost a year, Minoui got to know first-hand about the bombing and lack of food and medicines the inhabitants of Daraya had to endure. At the same time, however, Minoui learned more about the project a group of revolutionaries had managed to build in the midst of general destruction: a secret library with books rescued from the bombed ruins of Daraya. Minoui describes the secret library as “a hopeful page in the dark novel that is Syria.”
When interviewed by the author, Ahmad Muaddamani, one of the co-founders of the library in 2013, explained that creating a site of culture and sharing information about it on Facebook was a way to send a powerful message to the world. As he explains, “What better way to defy Syria’s leader than to contradict his narrative of a terrorist opposition? Another of the organizers of the library, Shadi Matar, tells Minoui how the group organized English lessons in the library and describes these moments as “a feeling of normalcy.”
The Book Collectors of Daraya is the result of Minoui’s conviction that, despite her inability to travel to Syria and cover what was happening on the ground, the story of the Daraya library deserved to be told. And the French author does so in a most convincing way.
The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui. Picador, March 2020.
Reviewer bio: Marc Martorell Junyent graduated in International Relations and currently studies holds a joint Master in Comparative Middle East Politics and Society at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen and the American University in Cairo. His main interests are the politics and history of the Middle East (particularly Iran, Turkey and Yemen). He has studied and worked in Ankara, Istanbul and Tunis. He tweets at @MarcMartorell3.