Book review: Witnesses to War – The Children of Syria

Book review: Witnesses to War – The Children of Syria July 21, 2023

I’ve never cried with a book. Maybe movies, TV shows, definitely with music and music videos, but books? Never. Ever. In my life. That changed recently, however, when I read a book the war in Syria, and saw exactly what has been happening for years in the country I’ve wanted to visit since I was a kid, the one I saw in pictures and videos when my family went there, I couldn’t help it. This is: Witnesses to War: The Children of Syria, with photographs and stories by Bassam Khabieh, and introduction and interview by Alia Malek.

  • Format: 200 pages, Hardcover
  • Published: June 10, 2021

Award-winning photojournalist Bassam Khabieh has created a uniquely impactful study of the lives of children during conflict in his forthcoming book, Witnesses to War: The Children of Syria. The book’s power is deepened with the addition of an introductory essay and interview by acclaimed writer Alia Malek (The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria), Bassam’s personal vignettes, and a timeline of the major elements of the long conflict.

A student who became a war photographer out of necessity, Khabieh’s images reflect eight years of life within rebel-held Eastern Ghouta. While enduring endless waves of bombs and chemical attacks, he picked up a camera in order to document the war crimes being perpetuated against the families with whom he lived. In the photos, children and their families hold onto fragments of normalcy through bombed-out schools conducted in basements, street games played in the temporary lull of battle, and events and holidays celebrated with joy and love under tenuous conditions.

Each page of the book illustrates the incredible resilience of Syria’s youth in the face of violence. 100% of the net proceeds of book sales support Syrian refugee youth and communities through Karam Foundation , a nonprofit organization building 10,000 leaders for the future of Syria.

I don’t know where to begin to explain it with words. The stories are heartbreaking, the honesty is raw, unfiltered, and there details that shock you. But the images destroy you. They shatter your heart one after the other, some of they making you smile, and the others making you cry with no control.

However, it’s not a depressing book, but one that makes you want to be part of a change for the better, do something to help with all the horror, the trauma, and the devastation left by the Syrian regime. It made me feel more privileged than before because of how different my life has been as the descendant of Syrian immigrants, and an immigrant myself.

There is also a lot of historical information regarding the war, how it started, what detonated it, how it escalated, the destruction it caused, and how the people survived one day at the time. And how many, so many of them, did not. There are stories of hope, of loss, of grief, of happiness, and how children adapted to this reality.

Among the ruins and the bombs, the torture and the biological weapons, there’s a sense of hope in the book that threads all the stories together, hope for a better Syria, hope for justice, and hope for a new life. Again, it’s a hard book, it’s difficult to go through it, and made me cry several times. It presents you the cruel reality of Syria, the pain the was has created, while also letting you dream about a the sun rising again. Needless to say I recommended with my eyes close. It’s one of my favorites in life.

About the Authors

Photo from Reuters

Bassam Khabieh

Bassam Khabieh, formerly an information technology specialist, is an internationally recognized Syrian photographer who for eight years documented war crimes and other ongoing human rights violations in the Syrian war while working for Reuters.  His images have been published in the Guardian, the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time magazine. Bassam has also consulted for UNICEF and the World Health Organization. He was awarded the Robert Capa Gold Medal in 2015 and in 2018 was named a fellow at the Oak Institute for Human Rights at Colby College, where he taught photography and human rights. Bassam returned to Turkey after finishing his fellowship, where he continues to cover Syrian news and works with journalists and researchers reporting on Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Photo by Tamara Abdul Hadi

Alia Malek

Alia Malek  is an author and civil rights lawyer. Born in Baltimore to Syrian immigrant parents, she began her legal career as a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. After practicing law in the States, Lebanon, and the West Bank, Malek, who has degrees from Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities, earned her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. Her reportage has appeared in SalonThe Columbia Journalism Review, and The New York Times.
About Bader Saab
I’m an Arab witch and journalist, also with a master’s degree in digital research. I have worked as a book reviewer and written about pre-Islamic folklore. You can connect with me by Private Message on Instagram: @saab.bader. You can read more about the author here.

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