Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Disappearance in Damascus: Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War

By Deborah Campbell
Picdor, 2017. 341 pgs. Nonfiction

Deborah Campbell has won awards for her writing focusing on situations in various countries.  Traveling to Damascus, Syria, to cover the stories of Iraqi refugees who fled there, she hires an Iraqi woman named Ahlam as her “fixer,” the person who helps connect her to locals and give her on the ground help with her story. Ahlam is deeply involved with the refugees in the “Little Baghdad” area of Damascus and is passionate about helping them.  She starts a school for girls in her apartment, maintains connections with Americans she has translated for in the past and other journalists she has helped.  Then one day she is arrested and disappears.  Campbell is extremely concerned and worried that Ahlam’s work for her has compromised Ahlam’s safety. Ahlam is no longer just her “fixer” but a good friend and Campbell is determined to find out what happened to her.

Seeing Damascus and the situation there in 2007 through Campbell’s eyes is very informative and interesting.  Syria had not yet plummeted into civil war though everyone was jittery because of the influx of refugees from Iraq.  Her insight into the background of the situation there and her “immersive” view is full of insight and also intrigue and adventure.  Her relationship to Ahlam and the friendship they develop enhances the emotional pull of her reporting. SH

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