May 2020, We’ll read: No Turning Back

Stories of war are often told through the eyes of the soldier, the outsider (the journalist coming in to document), or the winner. Rania Abouzeid, author of No Turning Back, built this account of wartime Syria through the eyes of four young Syrians. She brings us closer to the many different people, ideologies, and collaborations which combined to create the long years of conflict, and the innumerable deaths.

Beginning with what Western journalists call the “Arab Spring,” Abouzeid takes us back to the first demonstrations, the grassroots movement toward democracy, justice, and possibility. She sets the scene for the reader in just one chapter.

The bulk of this book delves into the lives of four Syrians from 2011 through 2016. Suleiman is a demonstrator, an activist, a young man from a privileged background. Mohammad has been radicalized, his vision for the future of Syria is quite different. Abu Azzam goes from poet to commander in the Free Syrian Army militia. Nine-year-old Ruha faces a childhood disrupted by fighting, bombing; her family torn apart.

Abouzeid spent more than five years reporting from the front lines, she shares the lives of these four people with a similar goal: to live freely and safely in their homes, within the country shattered by forces they both move and are moved by.

“Today there is, as Abouzeid’s title tells us, no turning back, and one reads the book’s final pages with no hope of a happy ending. But one also reads them with the conviction that Abouzeid’s remarkable journalistic and literary work has given us, at last, a book worthy of the enormous tragedy that is Syria,” wrote for The New York Times.

Today, in the United States, we are facing incomprehensible numbers of dying neighbors as well as economic depression. What can we learn from these young people about living with hope even amidst great tragedy?

Below, we’ve shared an interview Terry Gross conducted with the author for NPR’s Fresh Air. When she was barred from entering Syria, Abouzeid refused to capitulate. Why?

Please read along with us, and share your thoughts or questions tthrough social media or email (links at the top of this page).

Our discussion of the book will go live on The Bedrosian Bookclub Podcast on May 26th.