Syria's Secret Library
By Mike Thomson
The extraordinary story of how the besieged and half-starved Syrian town of Darayya is drawing hope and inspiration from its secret underground library.
The secret library is in the basement of a bombed building in a heavily shelled area of Darayya. Around it, shattered buildings that were once homes and offices lie in crumbling, treacherous piles. A desert of shattered grey concrete festooned with twisted metal and charred wires. Deep beneath this scene of frightening devastation lies the secret library. No signs mark its presence. Locals fear that Syrian government planes will bomb it if they know where it is.
While the streets above echo with rifle fire and thunderous shelling the secret world below is a haven of peace and tranquillity. More than 14,000 books are stacked neatly on home-made shelves according to author and subject, and are checked in and out meticulously. Those within read quietly, drinking tea on comfortable sofas and chairs. A small oasis of normality in a country at war with itself.
The secret library was the brainchild of a group of former university students whose education was interrupted when war broke out and then was ended altogether by the siege that followed. Teams of young enthusiasts regularly dodge snipers' bullets and barrel bombs to bring the books to the library. Timber for the bookshelves is collected in a similar way.
Darayya's secret library is an extraordinary place, but this book is about more than that. It is also the stories of the many people who treasure it and the central role it has in their lives.
(p) Orion Publishing Group 2018
Mike is a multi-award winning World Affairs correspondent for the BBC. Over the last decade, his work has taken him to many of the world's most troubled places. These have included Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, North Korea, Darfur, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, North Sinai and the Central African Republic. He has reported undercover in places like Libya, Zimbabwe and Myanmar and covered some of the world's biggest news events including the war in Syria, the election of several US presidents, the devastating Haiti earthquake, the fall of Gaddafi and the death of Nelson Mandela.
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- Publication date:
11 Jul 2019
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