The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui and translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud
“There is no jail that can imprison the free word, nor is there a siege tight enough that can prevent the spread of information.” MAZEN DARWISH, Syrian human rights activist, in a speech given on April 23, 2016, following his release from jail in 2015.
In 2012 the rebel suburb of Daraya in Damascus was attacked by Syrian government forces. For four years Daraya was decimated by shelling, barrel bombs and chemical gas attacks. Homes were obliterated by the bombing, there were no food supplies and the population suffered from injury, sickness and starvation.
Despite their deprivations, forty young Syrian revolutionaries started on an exceptional project, which was to rescue any books they could find in the ruins of the buildings in their home town. They discovered a safe refuge for their secret library hidden deep underground. As time passed, it became a place of quiet, an escape from the hell above. It fulfilled their need to continue learning when they no longer had access to a school or university. It was a place to meet up with friends and discuss future plans, opinions, hopes and dreams. It kept them functioning as human beings when all was lost.
Based on lengthy interviews with these young men, amongst them Ahmad Muaddamani, Omar Abu Anas, Shadi Matar, Hussam Ayash, Abu Malek al-Shami (the Banksy of Syria), Abu el-Ezz, Ustez (Professor), conducted over Skype by the award-winning French journalist, Delphine Minoui, The Book Collectors is a potent testament to liberty, tolerance and the all encompassing power of literature.
Although we all face uncertainty at the moment, the majority of us will never experience the infinite trauma and suffering of war. We can never know or imagine what our fellow humans have to bear.
Through the ability of the written word, this book’s author, and the interviewees that became her friends, we can at least begin to understand something of the nature of war. And, with this understanding, we can at the very least practice tolerance and kindness to those around us and to be grateful for what we all have. Let these brave young men be an inspiration to us all.
The written word unites us all and books have never been so important as in the precarious times ahead.
The Book Collectors of Daraya is an eye-opening must read for everyone.
The Book Collectors of Daraya is available in paperback and e-book
About Delphine Minoui
Delphine Minoui, a recipient of the Albert Londres Prize for her reporting on Iraq and Iran, is a journalist and Middle East correspondent for Le Figaro. Born in Paris in 1974 to a French mother and an Iranian father, she now lives in Istanbul. She is the author of I’m Writing You from Tehran and I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. She also directed Daraya: A Library Under Bombs, an award-winning documentary film about Daraya’s brave librarians.
About Lara Vergnaud
Lara Vergnaud is a translator of prose, creative nonfiction and scholarly works from the French. She is recipient of two PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants and a French Voices Grand Prize, and has been nominated for the National Translation Award. She lives in Washington, DC.