The Book Collectors of Daraya

Delphine Minoui

Translated by Lara Vergnaud
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18 March 2021
208 pages

‘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.

There is something seductive about the idea of knowledge as a bulwark against brutal force, and it’s an idea that immediately resonates with Minoui . . . She makes up for the lack of on-the-ground access with an abundance of attention and empathy.

Mythili Rao, Guardian

The Book Collectors of Daraya celebrates the political and therapeutic power of the written word . . . defiant and cautiously optimistic

Houman Barekat, Financial Times

[An] incredible chronicle . . . The book tells the kind of story that often gets buried beneath images of violence.

Corinne Segal, LitHub