Syrian Literary List

It was very pleasing to receive so many comments and messages encouraging me to post a reading list on Syria. So here we have my top 14 of the best books on Syria. I know that is quite a bold statement and one no doubt that will draw criticism, which is of course fine. The list is broad in nature and should appeal to a wide variety of tastes, they are all very readable books and even the political titles very accessible.The war in Syria has become a global issue not just another Middle East crisis, the lasting effects of migration and displaced refugees era defining. The news headlines tell us very little and our political parties just use the headlines to further their own agendas.

Click the image of the book for more information and to purchase from Amazon 

Brothers of The Gun    

Marwan Hisham & Molly Crabapple

Molly and Marwan are quite simply two of the most incredible people you are ever likely to meet. Molly is a writer, activist and artist, utterly unique and totally inspiring, her own biography makes compelling reading.

Marwan is a Syrian journalist and the book is his story of coming of age during the Syrian uprising and coming to terms with life under the ISIS occupation of Raqqa, yet this is no gore-fest of atrocities but a touching story of growing up in rural Syria, of family and relationships and the choices that have to be made when adversity arrives, written with both pathos and humor. What would you do when your town is over-run with religious zealots? Marwen opened an internet cafe.

The book is a creative collaboration written by both Molly and Marwan and illustrated with Molly’s beautiful art.

Assad or We Burn The Country 

Sam Dagher

I confess to not yet having read this book but I have followed Sams work closely over the years and its one I fully intend to read. The tittle alludes to the slogans spewed out and scrawled on walls by Syrian regime militia. With embedded sources and diligent journalism the provides an exceptional insight. His brave work between 2012 and 2014 landed him in one of Assads prisons before he was deported. 

Revolt in Syria, Eye Witness to The Uprising 

Stephen Starr 

Stephen is a friend and colleague, we worked on many stories together inside Syria and later in Turkey. His book is of crucial importance, he had already been living in Damascus a number of years when people took to the streets, he already had a good understanding of the complexities of Syrian society, something usually often missed in media accounts, more often referring to armchair academics with little or no contact with ordinary life in Syria. Its this ordinary life that forms the basis of this book; countess interviews with ordinary Syrians of all political, sectarian and economic persuasions. Much has changed and many have died since publication so its of great importance to remember where this all started. Stephen worked tirelessly on this book and after witnessing probably the earliest war crimes committed in the conflict he felt it time to leave.

The Struggle For Power in Syria  Nikolaos van Dam

Van Dam is a highly regarded academic and diplomat. The Struggle was first published in 1979 and has undergone several updates since then, I think the last was in 2014 but you may like to check that. Essential reading in understanding the political complexities of the Assad dynasty and their reign for half a century and so providing a valuable resource on modern Syrian history.

The Crossing  Samar Yazbek 

Since 2011 there are now many more books available in translation from wonderfully talented writers such as Samar Yazbek, a dissident writer forced to flee the country, in The Crossing she makes a courageous illicit journey back into the north of Syria to bring back heart wrenching accounts of ordinary Syrians plunged into a never ending nightmare.

My House in Damascus  Diana Darke

I first became aware of Diana as a guide book writer for Bradt travel guides. Bradt approached me for images for their Syria book, they have a well founded reputation for off the beaten track destinations, well written and skillfully researched and it was a pleasure to have one of my favorite Syria images on the cover.

Diana had bought and restored a 17th century Arabic house in the Old City of Damascus a few hundred meters from the house I bought, yet despite being neighbors and living in a community where almost everybody knows everybody else we didn’t meet until 2020 in London.

My House in Damascus is an incredible narrative, from the challenges of buying an Ottoman era property in a city with more history than any other, with a depth of understanding rare among foreigners, nuanced layers of the lives of her neighbors, of heritage and the undeniable charm of the Old City, to the inevitable catastrophe of war which along with the bullets and bombs also brought profiteers and thieves. In the midst of the onslaught Diana went back to Damascus to reclaim her property after thugs had mistakenly assumed would be easy pickings. This worthy book is hard to categorize other than encompassing all that is Syria.

Cleopatra’s Wedding Present -Travels Through Syria  Robert Tewdwr Moss 

This is a uniquely fascinating, flawed and beautiful book, very much the authors personal journey more than an insight into Syria. For anyone who has spent extended amounts of time in Syria there is indeed lots that is familiar despite the decent into flowery Orientalism, with lashings of angst and wit this book ranks highly as classic travel literature.

The writers back story is as intriguing as the book; Tewdwr Moss was found murdered in his London flat and his computer with the almost completed manuscript missing.

I first read the book before having lived in Syria so would be very keen to see how my perspective has changed. In Aleppo I met some of the characters depicted and has lead me on occasion to to describe Aleppo Souk as the gayest in the Middle East.

The Pigeon Wars of Damascus  Marius Kociejowski 

 Marius is the kind of poet you only ever meet in the souks of the middle east. I was introduced to him after being contacted by CNN Traveler magazine who wanted some images to showcase an extract of his next book, The Pigeon Wars of Damascus, I had already read his previous book on Syria so was very happy for the opportunity, it also opened up the incredibly fascinating word of pigeon keeping in Syria, a subject I have mentioned many times.

Marius has a unique gift for story telling and his books will take you on a magical journey.

Mirror to Damascus    Colin Thubron

 

Its now a very long time since I read this, my overriding memory is one of brilliantly descriptive travel writing, a timeless classic that inspires wanderlust, the beautiful combination of history and humour, anecdote and adventure. Thubron is highly placed in the Pantheon of travel writers but he did make a bit of a tit of himself by returning to Syria on the books 50th anniversary, involving himself in issues he had no knowledge of, fortunately much of his meddling has since been retracted from the websites that published it.

From the Holy Mountain: A Journey In The Shadow of Byzantium

William Dalrymple

 

This is not strictly a Syria book but a classic non the less and considered de-rigueur for anyone heading in that direction. It is a heady mix of all the Middle East has to offer with the occasional hermit thrown in for good measure. Dalrymple follows in the sandal steps of a couple of byzantine hipster Monks a journey from mount Athos in Greece,through Turkey and Syria into Egypt and the un-Holy land.

Ballots Or Bullets? : Democracy, Islamism, and Secularism in the Levant     Carsten Weiland  

 
Carsten was my next door neighbor when I first moved to Damascus, he managed to rope me into an acting role on a Syrian TV series, something to this day amuses many and haunts me! 

It was many years later I chanced upon the book he had been writing, the war was by now well underway and I somehow felt his book would seem dated, but it was not only far from dated it was actually prophetic. Intelligent and essential reading in understanding of Syrian social political history. Its highly recommended as is the follow up book; Syria A Decade of Lost Chances 

Burning Country; Syrians in Revolution and War  Robin Yassin-Kassab & Leila Al-Shami

I first met Robin in the summer of 2013 in a refugee camp on the Turkish/Syrian border, it had only been a couple of weeks since I had managed to extract myself from Syria and here I was again, I wrote a previous bog post from that time HERE and anyone interested in reading Robins account of that Syrian interlude then I will be happy to pass it on via email-just ask.

One of the things that struck me about Robin at that time was his genuine interest in every Syrian he spoke with, patiently listening to every opinion and personal account, you may be surprised how few journalists take such time and effort.

As the Syrian conflict morphed into a Geo political cluster-fuck its important to understand the genuine Syrian resistance movement, this book gives voice to the ingenuity and creativity of grass roots activism and discusses the rise of the Islamist and sectarian violence that has become rampant. 

The Dark Side of Love    Rafik Schami 

An epic Syrian novel, this is the ultimate literary souk, you enter, you get lost and don’t care, you just keep searching and the last ting you want is to find your way out. A beautiful box set of a book. The only novel in the list, oddly, still, one that Syrian exile Schami will expose a side of Syrian culture rarely explored, a binge of a book, of poetry, politics and people. Could we compare Rafic Schami to Orhan Pamuk I wonder. 


I do hope you are all coping with these strange times we are facing, stay home, stay healthy and wash your hands.

Help support my blog via this brilliant page: Buy ME A Coffee 

JON-9130

Black Sea

Black Sea

At that (Homeric) time, the sea was not navigable and was called Axenos (inhospitable) because of its wintery storms and the tribes that lived around it, and in particularly the Sythians in that they sacrificed strangers…

But later it was called Euxeinos (friendly to strangers) when the Ionians founded cities on the seaboard.

Strabo From his Geographica

WRE_5412
Copyright John Wreford 

One-off print sale

From my Black Sea series, a project in progress

Printed on 30×40 cm Hahnemühle Photo Rag fine art paper with a wonderfully soft feel, boasts a lightly defined felt structure, lending each artwork a three-dimensional appearance and impressive pictorial depth.

A lovely fine art print signed by the artist.

50 Euros Inc. postage Payment via Paypal wrefordimage@gmail.com

My website is being updated so do feel free to pop by and browse:

John Wreford Photographer

Another Nasty Couple of Weeks Damascus Syria

Another Nasty Couple of Weeks Damascus Syria

4 March 2012
Another nasty couple of weeks have passed, carnage and killing in Homs and beyond, two brave journalists died for trying to tell the truth, they chose to risk their lives believing that showing the world what is happening in Syria would make a difference, they like thousands of Syrians were killed for what they believed in.
Getting to the truth these days despite the digital age is just as difficult as it has always been, I am spending less time watching and reading the news regarding Syria, FB and Twitter equally tiresome, in all cases we have to draw from whom we trust for accuracy but it involves wading through a mountain of shit to do so.
A few nights ago while making my way to Mocha and More in the civilized surroundings of the Four Seasons my musing was interrupted by an explosion, not huge but not fireworks either, as I rounded the corner seconds later I watched the Four Seasons security guards extinguishing a few flames under a parked car, it was nothing, a small car parked on the corner opposite the now closed Taj Mahal restaurant, after the smoke had cleared there was no sign anything had happened, it took an hour until Twitter had the answers, the Four Seasons had been attacked, a sound bomb in Abu Ramanah, Molotov Cocktail thrown at high ranking officer, several people saying in fact there was no explosion, like everything else in Syria I really only base my opinions on what I see and what I hear.
One thing that did stick in my mind was a conversation with a friend who had been at the funeral in Mezzeh that drew such a huge crowd, it was not the tale of snipers shooting at peaceful mourners, not the gangs of Shabiha that flooded into the area to break things up, not the local residents opening their doors to the fleeing protestors, not the bit about bullet dropping out of the side of the stomach of the wounded man while trying to compress the wound, what really struck me was him telling me how much he had shouted and screamed at the regime, going home hoarse, a quiet mild mannered educated young man seizing the opportunity to vent so much built up anger, like so many others around the country.
People are of course still cautious, its amusing to see how suddenly conversation will stop when you happen upon people in the street, eyes glancing from side to side, talk resuming as you pass out of earshot, though not always the case, as I walked past the court building the other morning the area swarming with security as usual, I overheard a man openly cursing the “Shabiha cunts” to his friend as he correctly identified a bus load heading out to the suburbs.
The regime clearly has support but I like many others can feel a palpable change in Damascus.

Revolt in Syria Eye-Witness To The Uprising By Stephen Starr

Revolt in Syria Eye-Witness To The Uprising By Stephen Starr

Syria is once again the focus of the worlds media, a bloody conflict that has raged for two and a half years, the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime has been splashed over the front pages of every newspaper from Abu Dhabi to Aberdeen, expert analysis on every channel.
So now we all know Syria, we all know the awful atrocities committed by both side, the evil dictator and bearded Jihadi nutters, neither side gaining much in the way of sympathy.
I don’t see the Syria I lived in for ten years and I hear little understanding of the roots of the crisis.
So perhaps its time to recommend some enlightened reading on the subject.
Stephen Starr is a good friend and has written probably one of the most important books on Syria, he lived and worked in Damascus for the best part of five years and the book reflects his understanding of Syrian society during the beginning of the revolution, not written from a squeaky leather chair in academia but from the streets of Damascus.
Am in good company when I recommend it:

Noam Chomsky: “This searching inquiry is painful reading, but urgent for those who hope to understand what lies behind the shocking events in Syria, what the prospects might be, and what outsiders can and cannot do to mitigate the immense suffering as a country so rich in history and promise careens towards disaster”

Syria expert Patrick Seale: “Stephen Starr’s four year stay in Syria as a sharp-eyed freelance journalist has given him unusual assets an uncommon knowledge of daily life in Damascus”

“Revolt in Syria is a must read for anyone interested in the causes and course of the Syrian uprising. Stephen Starr plums the religious and class divisions of Syria with a keen eye for personal anecdote and broad truths. What is more, he entertains as he instructs; his prose is lively and his conversations are filled with insight and startling revelations” – Joshua Landis.

Fergal Keane, BBC: “Stephen Starr had a unique vantage point as Syria’s revolution unfolded. Written with insight and verve his book is essential reading for anybody interested in Syria”

Robin Yassin-Kassab: “Starr’s analysis is precise and well-informed – he offers useful summaries and contextualisations of Syria’s class cleavages, the fears and hopes of its ethnic and sectarian minorities, and the urban rural divide – but the book’s foremost strengths are its eyewitness reporting and the space given to ordinary Syrians, in all their variety, to speak. This account, therefore, has the texture and the drama of a genuine inside view.”

JONss0336
Stephen Starr now covering the region from Istanbul