On My Bookshelf: The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui

November 02, 2020

The Book Collectors tells the story of young men building a library in the midst of conflict. Read on for my review and ideas for classroom use.
The basic plot from Amazon: Day in, day out, bombs fall on Daraya, a town outside Damascus, the very spot where the Syrian Civil War began. In the midst of chaos and bloodshed, a group searching for survivors stumbles on a cache of books. They collect the books, then look for more. In a week they have six thousand volumes. In a month, fifteen thousand. A sanctuary is born: a library where the people of Daraya can explore beyond the blockade.

Long a site of peaceful resistance to the Assad regimes, Daraya was under siege for four years. No one entered or left, and international aid was blocked.

In 2015, French-Iranian journalist Delphine Minoui saw a post on Facebook about this secret library and tracked down one of its founders, twenty-three-year-old Ahmad, an aspiring photojournalist himself. Over WhatsApp and Facebook, Minoui learned about the young men who gathered in the library, exchanged ideas, learned English, and imagined how to shape the future, even as bombs fell above. They devoured a marvelous range of books―from American self-help like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to international bestsellers like The Alchemist, from Arabic poetry by Mahmoud Darwish to Shakespearean plays to stories of war in other times and places, such as the siege of Sarajevo. They also shared photos and stories of their lives before and during the war, planned how to build a democracy, and began to sustain a community in shell-shocked soil.

As these everyday heroes struggle to hold their ground, they become as much an inspiration as the books they read. And in the course of telling their stories, Delphine Minoui makes this far-off, complicated war immediate. In the vein of classic tales of the triumph of the human spirit―like All the Beautiful Forevers, A Long Way Gone, and Reading Lolita in TehranThe Book Collectors will inspire readers and encourage them to imagine the wider world.

The Book Collectors tells the story of young men building a library in the midst of conflict. Read on for my review and ideas for classroom use.
Why I liked it: The Book Collectors is a quick read and transports the reader into a world very different from the one I comfortably live in. Despite the author’s desire to tell the stories of the young men in Syria, the text still felt centered around her and her feelings and concerns. The text also felt detached and distant from the rebels’ struggles, perhaps an effect of the author’s background as a journalist. 

I liked the list of frequently read titles and the rules of the library, one of them being that the name of the owner was inside each book. These rules show the integrity of the group and their respect for others’ property as well as their desire for order in the midst of chaos.

Classroom application: The Book Collectors, with its focus on the conflict in Syria, would be a great read for high school world history or government class. For a middle school fiction read on the same topic, check out Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai. 

The text deals with the themes of the power of knowledge, the ability of learning to liberate, and right to an education. The Book Collectors could connect with the fiction classic Fahrenheit 451 or the newer nonfiction autobiography, I Am Malala

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Book Collectors for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

The Book Collectors tells the story of young men building a library in the midst of conflict. Read on for my review and ideas for classroom use.



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