Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.
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New York, NY 10018
Reviewed by Leonie Sherman
What does an anti-Assad activist do after she receives the coded phone call that means the police are coming for her? How does a mother determine whether her son is alive after more than 300 people are killed in a single day in their hometown? Dispatches From Syria: the Morning They Came For Us, by Janine Di Giovanni, illuminates the causes and consequences of the Syrian conflict through the stories of people who live there.
The book details Di Giovanni’s experiences traveling around the country between June and December 2012, when the civil war was barely a year old. Each chapter bears the name of a Syrian city or region. The author makes each location the gateway to a geographical, cultural and religious history that adds depth to the searing stories she collects from the individuals who call the place home.
Though Di Giovanni includes a thorough and concise chronology, dating back to the 3rd millennium BC (over three quarters of the events detailed take place between 2011-2015) the book itself is not in chronological order. This can be confusing for a reader, but also helps them empathize with the disorientation of Syrian citizens.
As an award winning foreign journalist, Di Giovanni had access to the Syrian elite. She records the voices of the wealthy and powerful, some of whom are vigorous Assad supporters, or in outright denial about the crimes perpetrated by their government. Their accounts are jarring, but ultimately help Di Giovanni provide a richer portrait of the Syrian revolution than many of her contemporaries.
The Morning They Came For Us is a compelling account of critical current events. Readers will learn about the Syrian Civil War, but more importantly they will feel some of the intimate pain that every military conflict generates. I couldn’t put this book down, but now that I’ve finished and reflected on it, I can’t wait to pick it up again.