Review: The Raqqa Diaries – Escape from Islamic State by Samer

9781786330536“I walk around the city with a broken soul, looking at all the other broken souls passing by. Each pair of eyes that passes tells a different story, a different struggle.”

Raqqa is one of the most isolated and fear ridden cities on earth. The ongoing situation in the Syrian city is both a tragedy and a travesty, and I can barely comprehend the horrors its innocent inhabitants experience every single day.  Books like this one — The Raqqa Diaries by a young man writing under the pseudonym Samar — are so important because they humanize the conflict and devastation. One anecdote, about lost love, is particular heartbreaking, and really struck a chord: “I know that if I am to keep going and stay alive, I must not dwell on the sadness in my heart… How I miss that love of mine. The woman I shared all my troubles with. Now I must deal with everything myself.” We have all suffered heartache, but nothing like this.

This heart-wrenching account of Samar’s life in Raqqa before and after it was taken over by Daesh is raw and powerful. I was left emboldened by Samar’s bravery to speak out and put his own life on the line to expose the truth, and heartbroken by the overwhelming hopelessness of his — and the whole of Raqqa’s   — situation. He reveals Syrians’ continued hopes for change, but also the fear and growing despair that whatever change eventuates might not improve their situation at all. They exist in a perpetual state of uncertainty.

Samar risked his life to break ISIS’s communication siege. His resistance group, al-Sharqiya 24, made contact with the BBC, and a version of The Raqqa Diaries was read on Radio 4’s Today program a year years ago. There is a coldness and starkness to his prose as he lays out the bleak reality faced by his people. There is no need to mask the hideousness of their situation with pretty prose. The bluntness works, and is juxtaposed with illustrations of an almost childlike quality by Scott Coello. The disparity between text and imagery is incredibly effective.

The Raqqa Diaires is in credibly eye-opening and poignant. It should be mandatory reading. It offers rare and remarkable insight, and should not be missed. It will certainly be remembered as one of the most affecting books of the year.

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