“One night they tossed him on top of a body and when he turned his head, he saw his dead brother.”
Understanding the conflict in Syria has become increasingly difficult under the shadow of ISIS and Syria’s complicated political history. With media outlets working to report on infinite hot topics, bringing to light an eight-year-old conflict that grows evermore bleak is no longer a priority. If people wish to understand the conflict objectively, they must turn to different outlets.
In this harrowing collection of real stories from the bloodiest revolution against a brutal regime, foreign correspondent and journalist Janine Di Giovanni travels through Syria and documents stories from the people themselves. From the atmosphere of the wealthy and privileged in Damascus feeling the tremors of war, looking on from the windows of their parties, to a torture survivor whose body maps the inhumane treatment and sick pleasure Assad’s soldiers partake in, Di Giovanni documents the layers of pain and trauma that cling to the country like ash. Entering these spaces, she lets the stories speak for themselves, her voice never intrusive to theirs, emerging only to provide context or history when needed. She is careful, too, to run the stories through fact checks and investigative journaling to anecdotal sound bites, but a real narrative encapsulating true happenings in Syria.
In eight chapters and eight cities, Di Giovanni documents the social and economical complexity of this escalating war. In Damascus at the Dama Rose Hotel, the rich dance away nerves and worries about the country on the brink of war while United Nations monitors drink coffee, “morose men who were no longer allowed to operate because they had been attacked too often.” In Latakia, Di Giovanni talks to two rape victims about their imprisonment and explains how rape is used as a weapon of war in Syria. In Ma’loula, she delves into religious and social barriers, in Homs, torture. Aleppo, war factions. Each city she visits uncovers and unpacks a layer of this war that is more humanitarian crisis than political conflict, where justice comes second to annihilation.
She ends the collection of “dispatches” with a haunting line: “As I write this, the Syrian war continues and there are nearly 300,000 Syrians dead. The Book of the Dead is not yet finished.”
The Morning They Came for Us marries true stories to their social and political backgrounds, showing how class, religion, and westernization have built a system of oppression, how Syria’s conflict relates to those of other Middle Eastern countries like Iraq, and how the conflict did not simply “spring” out of the blue. The refugee crisis did not come from nowhere. That people did not flee without first fighting, without losing everything. This collection is for any soul wanting to know firsthand what the Syrian conflict is all about. Any soul wanting to invoke their own humanity.