The Book Collectors of Daraya

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What to expect

‘This is an urgent and compelling account of great bravery and passion. Delphine Minoui has crafted a book that champions books and the individuals who risk everything to preserve them.’ Susan Orlean, author of The Library Book

In 2012 the rebel suburb of Daraya in Damascus was brutally besieged by Syrian government forces. Four years of suffering ensued, punctuated by shelling, barrel bombs and chemical gas attacks. People’s homes were destroyed and their food supplies cut off; disease was rife.

Yet in this man-made hell, forty young Syrian revolutionaries embarked on an extraordinary project, rescuing all the books they could find in the bombed-out ruins of their home town. They used them to create a secret library, in a safe place, deep underground. It became their school, their university, their refuge. It was a place to learn, to exchange ideas, to dream and to hope.

Based on lengthy interviews with these young men, conducted over Skype by the award-winning French journalist Delphine Minoui, The Book Collectors of Daraya is a powerful testament to freedom, tolerance and the power of literature.

Translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud.

Critics Review

  • This is an urgent and compelling account of great bravery and passion. Delphine Minoui has crafted a book that champions books and the individuals who risk everything to preserve them.

    Susan Orlean, author of The Library Book
  • Narrator Nikki Massoud’s strong, clear voice brings listeners the determination of journalist Delphine Minoui as she pieces together the unlikely story of an underground library in Daraya, the city where the Syrian civil war began. Massoud sounds confident, firm, and consistent as Minoui describes her travels through the Middle East’s conflict-torn libraries. Eventually, Massoud retells the stories of Ahmed and his friends, young Syrian men whose shared love of books fueled their determination to scavenge a large collection of books from the ruins of their ravaged city. Speaking with an undercurrent of passion, Massoud underscores Minoui’s belief in the importance of Ahmed’s story, as well as those of his city and country.

    AudioFile
  • An extraordinary story . . . Heartbreaking, inspiring, and beautifully told

    Kirkus Reviews
  • This compassionate portrayal of an engaging group of rebels serves as a testament to both the resilience of the human spirit and to the power of story.

    Library Journal
  • I was so moved by this account of the young rebels of Daraya, Syria, who, in the midst of a four-year blockade by Assad’s forces (including having poison gas used against them), set up a library with books rescued from bombed and destroyed buildings, an underground (in both senses of the word) library that grew to more than 15,000 titles, ranging from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, and everything in between. In this testimony to the power of reading, these lines stood out: ‘Books are their best way to escape the war, if only temporarily. A melody of words against the dirge of bombs.’

    Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust and George and Lizzie
  • Absolutely essential reading. With masterful storytelling, Delphine Minoui recounts the struggle and tenacity of the youth of Daraya who, in the shadow of a merciless war, rescue books from the rubble and bring to life a library unlike any other. Each page connects us to their strength and their spirit as well as to the power of words in a crumbling world. This book is an ode to resistance, to freedom, and to life.

    Négar Djavadi, author of Disoriental

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