Secret library that made Syrians feel alive again: author reveals how the besieged city of Daraya found refuge in books
- President Bashar al-Assad invaded the Syrian town of Daraya and fled the most
- But the remaining Darayans went around abandoned houses and rescued books
- They then created a secret library & # 39; retreat & # 39; in the basement of a destroyed building
THE SECRET LIBRARY OF SYRIA
by Mike Thomson (Weidenfeld £ 18.99, 320 pp)
The civil war in Syria is one of the undoubted horrors of our time. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and billions of dollars in damage have been done, mainly to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power.
I always thought his face betrayed him. It is the face of a weak man, promoted far beyond his abilities, forced to become a bloodthirsty tyrant purely for fear of the alternative. Does he sleep at night? I hope not.
Mike Thomson is a frequent BBC correspondent who seems to be filmed in more war zones than I have had hot dinners. His book is about the Syrian city of Daraya, which Bashar decided to harbor dangerous revolutionaries and attacked with all the weapons he had.
Mike Thomson reveals how the besieged Syrian city of Daraya built a secret library in an abandoned building
Most of the population left, but a few thousand put it out. The siege took several years before Bashar's superior firepower prevailed.
Amazingly, Thomson never actually went there. He could not have done it – it was locked as tightly as a drum. But war in the 21st century is not like previous wars.
It has internet and cell phones. Daraya had almost no food or medical supplies, electricity was intermittent and fresh water had long been shut off. But the remaining Darayans raised improvised antennas and maintained rudimentary contact with the outside world.
Thomson has made several friends through this method and what these people did was extraordinary in every way. They walked around abandoned houses and saved as many books as they could, and then created a secret library in the basement of a destroyed building. This was incredibly dangerous.
Snipers were everywhere and nobody with a huge pile of books with them would move very quickly. Amazingly, nobody was killed. Even more astonishing, the Bashar soldiers were never what they intended.
Syria & # 39; s Secret Library by Mike Thomson (Weidenfeld £ 18.99, 320 pp)
The Secret Library became a haven for the peaceful inclined to come and read books and feel alive again. It was chaired by a 14-year-old who called himself Chief Librarian and rarely left the building.
There are several photos of people sitting on a couch reading quietly about worlds far beyond theirs.
Thomson writes cruelly about terrible things, although many of the details are fascinating.
A woman whose family lived far away did not dare to contact them directly, but showed them that she was still alive by changing her Facebook photo every day.
While the food supply declined, a man received a small amount of sheep liver. He invited some friends to share it and they slowly cooked it to enjoy the wonderful scent.
Unfortunately, they all left the room at the same time, and when they returned, they discovered that the sheep's liver had disappeared and the cat was happily licking its lips.
If this book has a weakness, the Secret Library actually doesn't contain that much and some readers can finish it with a sense of strange deception.
The story of Daraya, however, is enormously moving: of people who refuse to give in to impossible opportunities and the terrible consequences of the palpable weakness of a man.
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