BOOK REVIEW : Syria's Secret Library : Reading and Redemption in a town under siege, by Mike Thomson.

IN a region that sways ''on the palm of genie,'' as the Arabic saying goes, where bullets and explosions are more familiar than bread, you would not expect people to read, let alone to risk their lives for the sake of books.

YET in 2013, a group of enthusiastic readers in Daraya, five miles southwest of the Syrian capital, Damascus salvaged thousands of books from ruined homes, wrapping them in blankets, just as they would of the war raging around them.

They brought the books into the basement of a building whose upper floors had been wrecked by bombs and set up a library.

As Mike Thomson recounts this unlikely story in ''Syria's Secret Library'' , this collection surrounded by sandbags functioned, as one user put it, as an ''oasis of normality in this sea of destruction.''

There, the self-appointed chief librarian, a 14-year-old-named Amjad, would write down in a large file the names of people who borrowed the books, and then return to his seat to continue reading.

He had all the books he could ever want, apart from ones on high shelves that he couldn't reach.

He told his friends : ''You don't have TV now anyway, so why not come here and educate yourself? It's fun.''

The library hosted a weekly book club, as well as classes on English, math and world history, and debates over literature and religion.

Advertising the library's activities without compromising its security was a dilemma; patrons relied on a word of mouth for fear that their refuge would be targeted by the Syrian Army.

By the time the library was founded, Daraya, a site of anti-government uprising and calls for reforms, had been under siege by the army for more than a year, Its 8,000 remaining residents - from a prewar population of about 80,000 - faced near constant bombardment and shortages of food, water and power.

The situation worsened in 2014 when the Islamic State made Raqqa defacto capital and went on to invade vast areas of Syria and Iraq.

The jihadists were paying people to join them, and many parents had no idea what jobs their sons were taking until it was too late'

The honor and serving of the latest global operational research on : Reading and Redemption continues. The World Students Society thanks review author Dunya Mikhail.


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