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If You Want to Understand What’s Happening in Syria

With Syria in the news, I thought it would be useful to post a blog highlighting books about the experiences of ordinary people in that country. These titles are intended for a general audience and don’t require any background knowledge. Alternatively, our consortium has three DVDs available, previously featured on PBS, that provide an accessible overview of Syria’s ongoing civil war. The titles are: Inside Assad’s Syria, Exodus, Children of Syria.

 

 

Stepping Stones: a Refugee Family’s Journey – Margriet Ruurs; artwork by Nizar Ali Badr
In her foreword to this bilingual picture book, the author describes how she first saw the Nizar Ali Badr’s work on Facebook: he’s a Syrian sculptor who works entirely in stone. The illustrations in this book could stand alone, but when added to the English and Arabic text they create a story that works for both child and adult readers. For a picture book geared towards a younger audience, try My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo.

 And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East Richard Engel

And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East – Richard Engel

If you only read one book about the Middle East, this is the title you want. Engel is NBC News’ Chief Foreign Correspondent, and has spent the last twenty years in the region. He explains a complicated reality in fewer than 250 pages. For a title exclusively focused on Syria, try Inside Syria: the Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect by Reese W. Erlich.

The Home That Was Our Country: a Memoir of SyriaAlia Malek

The Home That Was Our Country: a Memoir of Syria – Alia Malek

This title is part history and part memoir, written by an American whose parents were able to leave Syria at the beginning of the thirty-year dictatorship that preceded the current regime. Malek describes multiple generations of her own family through the prism of the Damascus apartment building in which they used to live. While Malek’s book focuses on one apartment building, The Battle for Home: the Vision of a Young Architect in Syria, Marwa Al-Sabouni describes how the architecture of Syria’s cities has either improved or worsened the current situation. The author, who presented a TED talk on the same topic, believes architecture might also hold the key to the eventual rebuilding of Syrian society.

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria -- Wendy Pearlman

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria – Wendy Pearlman

This collection of firsthand accounts covers all of Syria’s recent history, from the time before the Arab Spring protests to the (near) present. Collected over four years, it represents a cross-section of the experiences of hundreds of Syrians. The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria by Janine Di Giovanni focuses on the six months from June to December of 2012. Ordinary people describe how the escalating civil war transformed their towns.

The New Odyssey: the Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee CrisisPatrick Kingsley

The New Odyssey: the Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis – Patrick Kingsley

The author, a correspondent for The Guardian, uses the experiences of a single Syrian refugee to place the 2015 refugee crisis in context. Travelling through seventeen European countries, Kingsley describes the effect of public policies on individuals while never losing sight of the larger issues at hand. Crossing the Sea: with Syrians on the Exodus to EuropeWolfgang Bauer This title was written by a German reporter and a Czech photojournalist who went undercover as refugees attempting to reach Europe in 2014.

Although this is not an easy subject, I hope these suggestions are helpful.