A richly detailed, sometimes horrifying account of the Syrian civil war.
Here’s one thing to note about getting tear-gassed: Writes Hisham, soda pop in the eyes is a good remedy, and “along with the tear gas, the Coca-Cola washes away any lingering traces of shame,” even if it leaves an awful mess. But this is a book of awful messes, of city blocks and families torn apart and friendships broken by events. The brothers of the title are Hisham’s friends Nael and Tareq, citizens of the ancient city of Raqqa, “a superstitious, conservative community, where many people insisted that before one undertook any important task or made a difficult choice, one needed to go to the tomb of some pious wali and ask for his blessings.” The choices each of the boys made led to government school for one, death for another, and a life on the run as an Islamist revolutionary for the third. As he recounts the events leading to the increasing repression on the part of the Assad regime and the eventual descent of Syria into civil conflict, Hisham writes with a wryly observant eye for telling remarks. If the customary cry of faithful warriors was that God is great, then the quietly subversive retort of a Raqqawi graffiti artist makes for a fine rejoinder: “Tomorrow is better.” Tomorrow is a rare commodity in Hisham’s fast-moving account, which is enhanced by Crabapple’s powerful ink drawings. Having abandoned the religiosity of his youth—what Syria needs is science, reason, and economists instead of mullahs—Hisham comes to a hard conclusion: Too many Syrians will pick up the gun in the name of Islam even though, “when you are a programmed machine with a gun, all that is left in you that is human is the feeling that you are invincible; when you are not, you know exactly how weak you are.”
A sharp, searing view of war from the front lines and an important contribution to understanding how a nation can disintegrate before one’s eyes.