Cover Image: The Book Collectors

The Book Collectors

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The Book Collectors
A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War
by Delphine Minoui
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Biographies & Memoirs
Pub Date 03 Nov 2020   |   Archive Date 03 Nov 2020

I would recommend this book to people who may not know about Syrian history.  I try to read different types of books to keep me from getting depressed.  I enjoyed this book, but I really would have loved to see some pictures of the brave men and the libraries. Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for the ARC.

4 star
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I am finding that life lived in quarantine is not easy and whenever I need a pick-me-up I can always turn to a good book. The Book Collectors was an incredible read that further reiterates all the reasons that books are magical. Whether it be to escape our present circumstances, to feel more alive, or to find ourselves this book provided me with all of those sanctuaries and more. While I absolutely loved this book, my only complaint is that there were not any photographs of the library and the brave men and women whose stories were told. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan Publishers for gifting me this ARC for an honest review.
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The Book Collectors is one of those books that needs to be read, as it gives insight to the Syrian war that we don't get through newspapers and suchs. It's also a book about hope, books and community. It's also a powerful reminder on how important the written word can be.
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I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I thoroughly.enjoyed this read from Delphine Minoui on the role that reading and books played in the Syrian conflict. Her honest storytelling style painted a very realistic picture of the conflict, the tensions of the war and the various groups at play, and humanized those who are often seen on the news just as statistics. Her book is a well written story on the power of story, literature and common connection. Highly recommend!
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The Book Collectors
Written by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Verngnaud
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Life under a lockdown is never easy. To avoid going into depression, I've been reading a lot of books to show me that my life is still decent. This includes reading uplifting books or books that depict others' much-worse reality.

The Book Collectors is in the second category. I opted for this ARC because of the title, the author and the subject.

Written by Award-winning journalist Delphine Minoui, The Book Collectors recounts the true story from war-ravaged Syria. A group of young rebels, who haven't left their locked-down town of Daraya in 3-4 years, face unimaginable hardships on a daily basis: lack of food, no access to education or health facilities, poor net connectivity. (Imagine living your life in this lockdown without the WiFi!) The only thing almost guaranteed is hunger, a regular shower of bombs and sometimes even poison gas.

To create a haven of some positivity in such dire circumstances, the rebels create a library in a basement using books found in the rubble of war. As Minoui says, "The soups made of leaves to stave off starvation. The voracious reading to nourish the mind. The library is their hidden fortress against the bombs. Books are their weapons of mass instruction."

Forty or so volunteers— activists, students, rebels—  wait for the planes to go silent so they can salvage the books from "abandoned houses, destroyed offices and disintegrating mosques". They collect the books, repair the damages with glue, and ensure that every book is numbered and carries its owner’s name, in case of their return.

Minoui found a photo of this volunteer library on the Humans of Syria page and that simple discovery led to this amazing story being shared with the world. Her interactions with these men were primarily over WhatsApp. The book talks not just of the library but also of the heartaches and the sufferings of the young men running it. 

Minoui, being a journalist, has a great control over her writing. To take the little scraps of info she received on WhatsApp, intersperse it with her personal thoughts and create a 200 page book isn't no mean task. Minoui handles it in an adept manner. The narrative gets a little pedantic at times, but then again, the topic is such. The straightforward reporting helps cover the anguish of the rebels even better.

I just wish there were some photographs of the library and these brave men. The text is impactful but the photos could have packed an extra wallop to the book. Of course, the actual book might include these missing elements.

Let's whisper a prayer for Syria. The citizens there have suffered enough. Also, let's be thankful for life's saving graces. There's a lot to learn from others' sufferings rather than only wallowing in our own. And let's take a look at some lines from the book. The first five quotes show how reading helps provide an escape from reality and the second five show what life under a seige is truly like.

1. "Reading as refuge. A page opening to the world when every door is locked."

2. "Words can’t heal physical wounds, but they have the power to soothe mental ones."

3. "Reading helps me think positively, chase away negative ideas. And that’s what we need most right now."

4. "From the ruins, a fortress of paper would arise."

5. "Novels have an advantage over nonfiction: they venture onto the paths of imagination, bypassing the highway of reality."

6. "We’ve learned to live with the idea that death is at the street corner..."

7. "Behind the courage of men can be found the suffering of women."

8. "The children born under the siege don’t even know what an apple looks like."

9. "Hunger is a weapon of war. A particularly effective weapon. It can’t be seen. But it slowly eats away at bodies. A destructive strategy perfectly calculated to control men through their stomachs."

10. "To tell ourselves that others, before us, lived through the same thing. In another country. Another context. But thanks to their accounts, I feel less vulnerable. I find an inner strength that pushes me forward..."

My rating: 4.5/5 

ARC courtesy #NetGalley.
Book expected publication date: 20th October 2020
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I would recommend this book to anyone who might not be familiar with Syria or Syrian politics. There was quite a bit of flowery language in this, to the point where it became a bit like filler. But it was a fast read that highlight (sometimes harp on) the magic of books and libraries. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of who our narrator was and how he got involved in the Middle East in the first place...An introduction, a paragraph...I couldn't tell who the person writing this was, or what qualified him to talk to me about this region. All in all, an okay read.
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What a beautiful book with such an inspirational storyline. Very well written and you almost forget that it’s a book. 

Source: I received an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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One day in late 2015 Delphine Minoui stumbled upon a picture on a Facebook page maintained by “Humans of Syria” that would ultimately change her life. It was a picture of two young men in what appeared to be a windowless library of some sort. One of the men was leaning over an open book, and the other was browsing one of the library’s  crammed shelves. The photo was captioned simply, “The Secret Library of Daraya.” The French-Iranian author/reporter was well aware that Daraya was a Damascus suburb that had been under siege by Bashar al-Assad’s army since 2012. She knew that the city was completely surrounded, and that thousands of people were trapped there as everything was slowly being destroyed around them. 

And yet these two men were making use of a “secret” library somewhere in the city. How could that even be possible? She had to know their story, and after several calls on WhatsApp and Skype, she finally found the man who could answer all of her questions, photographer and library co-founder, Ahmad Muaddamani. 

The library, as it turns out, was filled by books that Ahmad and others found in the rubble of Daraya’s bombed out buildings. Their underground library relatively quickly became home to some 6,000 volumes, and would eventually grow to 15,000, each of them lovingly marked inside with the original owner’s name. That would be amazing enough, considering that all of this happened during the time an army was trying very hard to wipe out the city and every one of its inhabitants. 

But what is even more amazing is how the salvaged books helped make life bearable for so many of Daraya’s people. For some the books were an escape, a window into the outside world; for others they were a source of inspiration, a glimmer of hope that a better life for them was still possible; and for others, the books offered a whiff of the freedom that Bashar al-Assad was trying to steal from them. They could read and study whatever they wanted to, and the dictator could do nothing to stop them. 
	“The conflict causing bloodshed in Syria has paradoxically brought them closer to books. Reading is the new foundation for the bubble of freedom they’ve constructed. They read to explore a concealed past, to learn, to evade insanity. Books are their best way to escape the war, if only temporarily. A melody of words against the dirge of bombs. Reading – a humble gesture that binds them to the mad hope of a return to peace.”

Bottom Line: The Book Collectors is a reminder of just how powerful the written word can be, and why dictators around the world consider the “wrong” books to be such a threat to their hold on power. They are right about that. Without Daraya’s secret library for inspiration and comfort, it is unlikely that the city’s fighters and civilians could have resisted their powerful enemy as long as they did. Inspirational as The Book Collectors is, its overall style is more reminiscent of a long newspaper article than a standalone nonfiction book. Considering that Minoui is a reporter and Middle East correspondent for France’s Le Figaro, this is understandable, if a bit regrettable.
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In a country ravaged by war and a dictator determined on killing them, a handful of people are determined to live and keep history and their minds alive by finding and protecting books. The resilience of these people is beyond most anything seen or heard about when it comes to Syria. They prove that when you think you have lost everything, you still have the ability to read and learn. Risking their lives by finding the books, and then again when hiding them, and a third time by letting strangers in to read them, didn't allow them to live a normal life but gave them power over a brutal dictator, and proof of what can be done when it appears nothing can be done.
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I don’t remember the last time it hurt so much to read, to turn the pages, to start a new chapter. Coming from a Syrian family, this is a book I had to ask for. It hurt me like never before, because I hold this country I have never visited close to my heart. It describes both the horrors of war, misery, and cynicism as well as the healing that reading can offer, how one book, or many, become lights at the end of the tunnel, anchors that keep hope alive when everything seems lost . Thank you so much to the publisher to send me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
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"War is destructive. It transforms men, kills emotions and fears. When you're at war, you see the world differently. Reading is a diversion, it keeps us alive. Reading reminds us that we're human."

A powerful and unforgettable story about a group of young rebels doing what it takes to survive - physically and emotionally - during war. Delphine Minoui has structured the books around her conversations with the young men from the library, and as a result, as you read the book, you feel as if you are getting to know them personally. An important read that shines a light on events that are not given enough airtime in the Western media.
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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.
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Wow this was such an important and powerful book. The story will definitely stay with me for awhile. The heart breaking truths of war and how reading helped many get through it was just inspiring. I may purchase this when it comes out. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher!
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trigger warning
 gun violence, torture, incarceration, mention of miscarriages and abortion, starvation, trauma 

Author Delphine Minoui, who lives in Istanbul, heard about a group of people holding out in the Syrian city Daraya, collecting books and building a library. This is their story.

This book was created due to technology: Since Daraya was under lockdown and off-limits, besieged, the communication was through Skype and What'sApp, disrupted by power outages, lack of wi-fi, and the sounds of war. Their conversations were literally put on pause every time a bomb fell and it was impossible to make yourself heard.

So, the story goes like this: In the rubble, the activists found books and safed them. They started to look specificly for books as they realised that the contents could be a possible way to freedom - at least freedom of the mind, and while besieged, they founded the first library Daraya ever had.
On the first page of a book, they inscribed the name of the previous owner, in case a peace would be reached and life could resume as normal, so the books could be returned. Then they sorted the books by topic and alphabet, put up some sitting furniture - all this in a basement, so it wouldn't be as risky to go there. 
Most people Delphine Minoui spoke to said that before the war, they never were into books. But now they offered a new escape, a means of distraction.

And yes, the author spoke to more than one person. She tells in this book of the people she befriended, and their stories. 
So, okay, I live in Germany. I know some basic facts about the war in Syria, but all of this filtered through censorship and international media. This is the closest I came to prime source material, and I learned a lot. Also, I just finished this book and still feel tears in my eyes.

I don't know what to say. This story is important. It needs to be shared. 
This is not an easy read and it will stay with me for quite a while.

I recieved an uncorrected edition of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I was given the opportunity to read an advance copy through Net Galley. Thank you!

This nonfiction book was beautifully written and  lyrical in nature. It shared the story of dissidents in Syria and their dedication to the creation and maintenance of a library amidst a multi year siege. It read more like a collection of essays than a book, but had such an earnest and honest quality throughout. I found myself thinking about the people in the story long after I finished reading.
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This is an engrossing book, which I read in a single day.  It has been translated wonderfully, and I loved the writing style.
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This is a powerful look at the lives of a group of Syrians in the town of Daraya.. The town was consistently veing bomb, suffers napalm and siran attacks and has no access to outside foods. And yet, they find faith and hope through books and each other. I knew little to nothing about this particular town and was moved by the stories as told by the author. Powerful.
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