BOOK CLUB: The Book Collectors of Daraya

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A BAND OF SYRIAN REBELS, THEIR UNDERGROUND LIBRARY, AND THE STORIES THAT CARRIED THEM THROUGH A WAR.

The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui is the true story of a group of young Syrian men living in the besieged town of Daraya, and their quest to rescue all the books they could find in the ruins of their city.

They created a secret library deep underground, and through this library, they sought to maintain hope for a democratic future.

I have been trying to write this review for days, but every time I attempt to do so my chest tightens, and I find myself overwhelmed as I try to comprehend what the inhabitants of Daraya endured. 

I have watched on with horror, disbelief and a feeling of utter helplessness, as the Bashar al-Assad regime has perpetrated unconscionable attacks on their own people, and the major powers of the world have stood by and let them. 

I have been afraid that this powerful work by Minoui and the bravery of the young men she interviewed will result in still more deaths as Assad endeavours to wipe out all resistance by perpetuating the illusion that those who resist are terrorists.

The author, Delphine Minoui, is an award winning French Journalist, who was living with her daughter in Istanbul in 2015 when she came across a photo on the Humans of Syria Facebook Page. 

The picture was captioned “The Secret Library of Daraya” and the book springs from Minoui’s fascination with the story behind the picture. Originally published in French in 2018, the English translation has been released in 2020.

Minoui manages to make contact with one of the co-founders of the library, and the photo’s photographer, Ahmad Muaddamani.  Despite an often spotty internet connection, Ahmad explains how the Assad regime moved to violently shut down the peaceful demonstrations for democracy, often imprisoning, torturing and murdering those who they saw as activist leaders.

The book explores how the library came about and the hardships endured. Assad shut off the avenues for food, and barrel bombs and chemical weapons were used against the residents of Daraya. This is about the bravery of the young men who risked their lives to create a photographic record of the atrocities.

These university students were forced to take up arms as the Free Syrian Army to attempt to protect themselves against Assad’s highly trained and armed militia. But, this group of young men still endeavoured to rescue books, read, learn, and teach others as they strove for a more tolerant Syria and freedom.

During the time of researching her book, and conducting these interviews, Minoui experienced terrorism first hand, as the French area of Istanbul was subject to bombs.  Though on a small scale compared with what those in Daraya were experiencing, Minoui describes how she endeavoured to create a sense of safety and normality for her young daughter, continuing to attend their library weekly for storytime.

The Book Collectors of Daraya is not an easy book to read, no book that so clearly addresses humans capacity for cruelty to others and a total disregard for life ever can be. 

But, it is important that these atrocities are not swept over for fear of distressing others, but are instead brought to the forefront in the hope that one day, tolerance and freedom will prevail.

I highly recommend this book be read by anyone who believes in democracy, freedom, tolerance, and the importance of preserving our literature for future generations.  The bravery and commitment of these young men to the ideals of a better place should never be forgotten. A five-star read. 

Many thanks to Pan Macmillan and Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read and review The Book Collectors of Daraya.

ISBN: 978 1529012323 / Publisher: Pan Macmillan

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

5 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Book Collectors of Daraya

  1. Many thanks to Beauty and Lace Bookclub for supplying this terrific book titled, The Book Collectors of Daraya. It details the atrocities of war torn environments and the devastating effects of such. Following a small band of revolutionaries it gives the reader an insight into how harsh and brutal war can be. Their one bright light, is the development of the library.

    It tells of the evolvement of the secret library and how it impacted lives. Personally, I would have liked to have seen one of the characters in much more detail. However, this obviously was not possible given the circumstances.
    “Now, because of the aerial strikes, our town has switched from horizontal to vertical.” What an entirely foreign concept for those of us who live safely here in Australia.
    To gain a better insight into war torn conflict, it’s a must read.

  2. Thank you to Beauty & Lace for the opportunity to read The Book Collectors Of Daraya by Delphine Minoui. It’s probably not a book I would have looked but thanks to the Beauty & Lace Book Club, I was introduced via an excerpt and found it to be intriguing and I was not wrong. This book club has given me the chance to read so many books I would not normally read and from authors I never knew…it’s been a true Godsend!
    Like most people, I’ve heard a lot about the war in Syria plus watched a few documentaries on it. Reading the words on these pages was similar to watching one of those docos. A close-up look into the daily life of a Syrian resident – absolutely heart breaking.
    Delphine happened upon a picture one day, showing a couple of Syrian lads surrounded by books, with a caption ‘The Secret Library of Daraya’. Being the true journalist that she is, her interest was piqued, and Delphine knew she wanted to find out more about this library. Through a very unreliable internet connection, Delphine speaks to 23-year-old Ahmed and his friends, asking about the secret library. This part of the book I found to be uplifting; it seems that even while surrounded by bomb blasts, hunger and deprivation, these young Syrians still found the ability to escape through the wonderful World of books – a bond I could easily forge with the Syrian book collectors.
    After discovering the facts surrounding the creation of the secret library, Delphine takes the reader into a geo-political journey. Where we learn about Bashar al-Assad and the reasoning behind the young Syrian men, the Rebels, who are fighting for freedom and against the rule of Assad. I loved this book so much. I have a deep interest in Politics and loved learning more about the Syrian War.
    The Author writes with passion and truth, leading the reader on a journey of grief, fear, heart break, loyalty, inspiration. Delphine has composed a story that will hit you right in the heart and guaranteed to stay with you. A book I would highly recommend.

  3. I have to admit I don’t know much about the war in Syria however Delphine Minoui brings the conflict and danger up close as she describes her Skype conversations with a young revolutionist whilst explosions are going on in the background.

    Inspired by a photo, the author saw on Facebook, of two young Syrian males looking over books Delphine tracks down the photographer and then over dodgy internet connections the story of the secret library of Daraya unfolds.

    This is a fascinating story of how people come together during a time of immense conflict and through books and reading they can see some sort of future. I loved that this was from the point of view of people actually involved and living through this turmoil. We get to see their real passion for books and learning, their ideals and dreams.

    The photos included throughout the book and the small background information on each of the men that provided content for the book makes it become so much more than just a history of the secret library.

  4. I was not sure about this book to begin with. Im not one to read documentary style books but this story intrigued me. I was surprised to find that while yes it was about actual events and full of facts it also read as a story, so it kept me wondering how it would end.

    It saddened me to hear of the struggle in this time and age of these young men but it also brought me to tears of joy for their attitude towards life and their fight for freedom and their home town.

    I also found that the photos included made it more real, that I could put faces to the names and can only wonder about their futures from here.

    Thank you, Delphine Minoui, for writing this story and highlighting that something so simple as book can bring so much joy and purpose in any place.

    Well worth the read.

  5. The Book Collectors are Of Daraya. A very serious read about collecting books that have survived a war and having a underground library to escape from the war.
    It was a great comfort for the fellows to help others escape the pain of war and being controlled by worthless men.
    Good read a bit sad.

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