We’ve all felt the shock and heartbreak that immediately follows seeing images of Aleppo — the motherless children, the childless mothers, the babies covered in blood and debris, the homes and communities reduced to rubble upon rubble upon rubble. Maybe you’ve attended a vigil for Aleppo, donated to an NGO or nonprofit, or tried to better educate yourself about the Syrian revolution and the politics that rage behind all the violence. And now you might be asking yourself: beyond the media-disseminated images, what is life really like in Syria?
There are tons of books about Syria to choose from — especially recently, as a result of the wave of increased media coverage, and overall outrage about the violence. But few books get to the heart of what life is really like on the ground in Syria, a country that has been wracked by a relentless civil war for years. Even fewer describe what life is like for women in Syria, for whom the war has dis-proportionally affected, via the political and social marginalization that was already common for women in Syria, and now through house arrest, kidnapping, sexual assault, displacement, and death. The books below, however, do all of the above, and more.
Here are 9 books that will teach you about Syria and Aleppo, taking you behind the headlines and into the daily lives of those who are still struggling to survive there.
1‘The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria’ by Samar Yazbek
Samar Yazbek was born in Jableh, Syria, in 1970, and spent her early career working as a journalist, writing short stories, and writing for film and television. But in 2011, as the Assad regime was targeting journalists, Yazbek was forced to flee the country. Determined to continue telling Syria’s story, she has continued to sneak back into her homeland for periodic visits, bearing witness to the violence and suffering. In The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria, Yazbek traces the story of modern Syria: from first demonstrations for democracy, to the beginning of the Free Syrian Army, to the arrival of ISIS, offering readers an on-the-ground perspective on daily life in Syria amidst incomparable social and political upheaval, and near-constant violence.
2‘The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria’ by Janine Di Giovanni
The “before” and “after” images of Aleppo are jaw-dropping, staggering, and nearly unbelievable — a 7,000-year-old global city reduced to dust and rubble. European journalist and UNHCR researcher Janine Di Giovanni traveled to Syria for the first time in 2012, and witnessed firsthand the systemic destruction of Aleppo. In The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria she chronicles the surreal experience of watching one of the oldest cities in the world fall, interweaving her own experiences with those of victims she interviewed, who suffered beneath Assad’s campaigns of violence, mass torture and rape.
3‘My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution’ by Diana Darke
Writer Diana Darke moved to Damascus in 2004, after a decades-long love affair with Syria’s culture and people. Written from the perspective of an outsider, but one who considers Syria home, My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution reads like a crash course in current Syrian politics, explaining the history and culture of the region, and what led to the civilian uprising. Darke also, amazingly, finds hope in what has long seemed like a hopeless situation, sharing stories of endurance, survival, and love — despite the fact that families and communities have been utterly dismantled and torn apart by the violence.
4‘A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution’ by Samar Yazbek
An earlier title by the aforementioned Syrian journalist Samar Yazbek, A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution takes a look at the earliest days of the Syrian Revolution from the perspective of a female journalist who witnessed the uprising, but also participated in a number of demonstrations and social movements as an unarmed Syrian citizen. This book documents the experiences of Yazbek and many of her fellow activists during the first 100 days of the Syrian Revolution, and details the events that led to the Syrian people to rise up against their government.
5‘Syrian Dust: Reporting from the Heart of the War’ by Francesca Borri
Francesca Borri was in Damascus on August 21, 2013, the day a chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of the city turned the attention of the entire world to Syria and the civil war that has rocked the country for years. Considered by the UN to be the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, the attack killed nearly 200,000 people and left 22 million displaced in nearby countries. But as a journalist, Borri chose to stay in Syria, covering the violence and the battle of Aleppo. Syrian Dust: Reporting from the Heart of the War tells a story that will break your heart and infuriate you, asking how the world could possibly allow this violence to continue.
6‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War’ by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami
Taking an analytical look at the current political and humanitarian disaster in Syria, Robin Yassin-Kassab’s and Leila Al-Shami’s book, Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War attempts to make sense of the complicated situation of daily life in Syria, starting with the Syrian people’s demand for the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad and his government in 2011, and detailing the interplay between ISIS and Islamism, regional geopolitics, protest movements, grassroots activist organizations, the worst refugee crisis since World War II, and an international community that has largely stood by silent.
7‘The Wisdom of Syria's Waiting Game: Foreign Policy Under the Assads’ by Bente Scheller
To deepen your understanding of the Syrian Revolution, it’s essential to understand what came before it: an Assadist pre-revolution foreign policy in which Bashar Assad rejected his father, Hafez Assad’s, political strategies, largely ignoring the changes and challenges occurring in his own country, repressing Syrian citizens with violence, and isolating the region from the international community. Bente Scheller’s The Wisdom of Syria's Waiting Game: Foreign Policy Under the Assads begins in the years after 1989 and analyzes the politics and policies that led to the Revolution.
8‘The Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria’ by Marwa al-Sabouni
Published in May, Marwa al-Sabouni’s The Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria offers readers an eyewitness perspective of life in some of Syria’s most destroyed landscapes. Written by a Syrian architect, al-Sabouni’s book looks at the conflict and destruction through the lens of architecture, describing how the fall of Syria’s buildings and infrastructure mirrors the fall of the country’s communities. In a country where churches and mosques — and those who attend them — once existed peacefully side-by-side, al-Sabouni’s account tells a disheartening, but necessary, story of life in modern Syria.
9‘Syria: Revolution from Above’ by Raymond A. Hinnebusch
Published in 2002 and offering readers an academic study of the Hafez Assad-era state, Raymond A. Hinnebusch’s book, Syria: Revolution from Above, examines the development of the Syrian state under thirty-five years of military-Ba'thist leadership and the rule of Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez Assad. This book details the social and political transformations that Syria has undergone in the last several decades, and presents a comprehensive history of post-independence Syria and the years before the current revolution.