The Book Collectors, by Delphine Minoui, translated from French by Lara Vergnaud, depicts the savagery of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime contrasted with that life-saving symbol of civilization: a library ... The Book Collectors is about hope and connection against unspeakable violence, deprivation, and tragedy. It is a meaningful addition to the literary subgenre that covers books and libraries.
In precise yet passionate prose, Minoui tells this remarkable story [of a Syrian rebel group who created a secret library in the basement of an abandoned building during the war]. The Book Collectors is a phenomenal story of hope in the midst of complete devastation. As 23-year-old Abu el-Ezz told Minoui in 2015, 'Reading helps me think positively, chase away negative ideas. And that’s what we need most right now.'
Minoui, whose writing has been translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud, is an unadorned stylist. Occasionally, though, she comes up with a lyrical phrase that stops a reader short, such as when she refers to the photo that first caught her attention as depicting, 'a fragile parenthesis in the midst of war.' ... The Book Collectors is itself a charged addition to the library of literary survival tales involving, not only the preservation of books, but the rescuing of the ideas they contain. I'm thinking of everything from Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization , about the remote libraries of monks in the so-called 'Dark Ages,' to Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran , to which Minoui's story is a kind of all-male companion piece.