The Book Collectors by Delphine Minoui

An urgent and compelling account of great bravery and passion.” —Susan Orlean

Award-winning journalist Delphine Minoui recounts the true story of a band of young rebels, a besieged Syrian town, and an underground library built from the rubble of war.

Reading is an act of resistance.

Daraya is a town outside Damascus, the very spot where the Syrian Civil War began. Long a site of peaceful resistance to the Assad regimes, Daraya fell under siege in 2012. For four years, no one entered or left, and aid was blocked. Every single day, bombs fell on this place—a place of homes and families, schools and children, now emptied and broken into bits.

And then a group searching for survivors stumbled upon a cache of books in the rubble. In a week, they had six thousand volumes; in a month, fifteen thousand. A sanctuary was born: a library where people could escape the blockade, a paper fortress to protect their humanity.

The library offered a marvelous range of books—from Arabic poetry to American self-help, Shakespearean plays to stories of war in other times and places. The visitors shared photos and tales of their lives before the war, planned how to build a democracy, and tended the roots of their community despite shell-shocked soil.

In the midst of the siege, the journalist Delphine Minoui tracked down one of the library’s founders, twenty-three-year-old Ahmad. Over text messages, WhatsApp, and Facebook, Minoui came to know the young men who gathered in the library, exchanged ideas, learned English, and imagined how to shape the future, even as bombs kept falling from above. By telling their stories, Minoui makes a far-off, complicated war immediate and reveals these young men to be everyday heroes as inspiring as the books they read. The Book Collectors is a testament to their bravery and a celebration of the power of words. – From the Publisher

As a life-long reader and after 35 years in a library career, I know and believe in the power of books. Reading this story of how that power was recovered, nurtured, and grown in the middle of a war was one of the most powerful and affecting reading experiences I’ve ever experienced.

Minoui communicates an odd and exhilarating blend of danger and joy in this gritty story of the creation of an underground library. This should be required reading for every librarian out there – it will remind you why you chose the profession. I am also planning to recommend this to every book club leader I know.

Absolutely stunning work.

Publication Date: November 3, 2020
Published By: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy