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Hard to read, unbearable to write, unimaginable to live through

This is one of those books that any reader must wish had never needed to be written. ‘Samer’ is the pseudonym of a young man, living in Raqqa, who was part of a resistance group within Syria, struggling to survive under the harshness of the Assad regime, and then struggling to survive after Daesh captured the city. The small group he belonged to were endeavouring to let people in the outside world know what their terrifying existence had become.

In Raqqa controlled Daesh, communicating with the western media is punishable by beheading. And of course, Western journalists are not allowed into the city. Those who are determined that the outside world should be aware of what their lives are like are in permanent danger of discovery, permanent danger of death, and also place their families in danger. It is a vicious choice to have to make, bearing witness seems the only possibility of any kind of less bleak future. The activist group Samer belonged to had made contact with the BBC. Samer’s resistance was to keep a journal of events (something, of course, punishable by death)

The journal was published after his escape from Raqqa – his present whereabouts are in a refugee camp in northern Syria.

I received this as a digital review copy from the publisher via Netgalley. It is a book I did not want to read, but felt I must

Samer tells the bleakness of his country’s present story simply. Too much of what happens is unbearable to linger on, and, living amid horror I suspect that allowing full realisation in would make surviving impossible. There is only so much pain which can be borne. Here is the experience of one who should have been an ordinary young man, one who loves his country, his family, his friends, his religion, one with ordinary hopes for an ordinary future. Exceptional events, orchestrated by terrible people, have forced ordinary people into making heartbreaking choices – for Samer, telling this story meant a certain death, and leaving his country, his family, his friends, was the hard choice. Resistance is the act of bearing witness.

Illustration by Scott Coello

Line drawings by Scott Coello are similarly spare. Samer’s diary is translated by Nader Ibrahim. Excerpts were originally broadcast on Radio 4.

The Raqqa Diaries Amazon UK
The Raqqa Diaries Amazon USA

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