Syria's Secret Library
The secret library is in the basement of a bombed building in a heavily shelled area of Darayya. Around it, shattered buildings that were once homes and offices lie in crumbling, treacherous piles. A desert of shattered grey concrete festooned with twisted metal and charred wires.
Deep beneath this scene of frightening devastation lies the secret library. No signs mark its presence. Locals fear that Syrian government planes will bomb it if they know where it is.
While the streets above echo with rifle fire and thunderous shelling the secret world below is a haven of peace and tranquillity. More than 14,000 books are stacked neatly on home-made shelves according to author and subject, and are checked in and out meticulously. Those within read quietly, drinking tea on comfortable sofas and chairs.
A small oasis of normality in a country at war with itself. The secret library was the brainchild of a group of former university students whose education was interrupted when war broke out and then was ended altogether by the siege that followed. Teams of young enthusiasts regularly dodge snipers' bullets and barrel bombs to bring the books to the library. Timber for the bookshelves is collected in a similar way. Darayya's secret library is an extraordinary place, but this book is about more than that. It is also the stories of the many people who treasure it and the central role it has in their lives.