Monday, May 11, 2020

64. The Book Collectors

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories that Carried Them Through a War. Delphine Minoui. Translated by Lara Vergnaud. 2020. [October] 208 pages. [Source: Review copy] [nonfiction; books about books; war stories]

First sentence: It’s a remarkable image. A mysterious photo that somehow escaped the hell that is Syria without a trace of blood or bullets. Two men in profile, surrounded by walls of books. The first one leans over a text, open to the middle. The second scans a shelf. They’re young, in their twenties, one sporting a hooded sweatshirt, the other with a baseball hat secured firmly on his head.

Premise/plot: Delphine Minoui shares her personal interactions with "a band of Syrian Rebels" who started an underground library in the midst of war. Their city under near-constant (daily) bombardment, these guys started collecting books from bombed out buildings, mending, and organizing along the way. The strangest thing may just be that before the war, these two founders weren't particularly readers. But the ideas within books, the words and stories uplifted, encouraged, gave hope. A community of readers formed--mostly men (though the men could take home books for their mothers, wives, sisters, etc.) and reading became an obsession. The author communicated with these men--the founders, the readers, via text, email, video chat, etc...for several years. This book tells their story.

It started with her seeing one photograph...but that was just the beginning:

If we look at this city only as it appears on a computer screen, we risk getting the story wrong. But looking away would condemn it to silence. Bashar al-Assad wanted to put Daraya in parentheses, to make it a footnote. I intend to make it the headline. To find other images, to fit them together with that first snapshot, the way you assemble the pieces of a puzzle.

I repeat my request: “I’d like to write a book about the library in Daraya.” A metallic clamor chokes the line. Another night full of this constant terror and danger—how ridiculous this project must seem to him. When the rain of bombs ends, his voice breaks through. “Ahlan wa sahlan!” Be my guest. Hearing his enthusiasm, I smile at my screen. Ahmad will be my guide. I will be his willing scribe. I make him a promise: one day, this book—their book—will join the other volumes in the library. It will be the living diary of Daraya

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who has ever loved the printed word on a page, to anyone who has ever found a home in the library. It is well-written, beautifully narrated. It is a personal story with so many feels. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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