A Disappearance in Damascus: Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War

When Canadian journalist Deborah Campbell landed in Damascus in 2007, she was on assignment for Harper's magazine: charged with telling the story of the Iraqi refugees who had fled to Syria after Saddam Hussein's government was overthrown. Campbell soon met and hired Ahlam, an Iraqi refugee and "fixer" who worked with journalists and humanitarian groups to provide reliable contacts and information. The two women became friends, and Campbell began spending much of her time at Ahlam's apartment, which functioned as an informal neighborhood center. But when Ahlam was taken from her home and imprisoned, Campbell became determined to find her, worrying that her presence had put her friend in jeopardy.

In her memoir, A Disappearance in Damascus, Campbell paints a vivid portrait of Ahlam: a strong, competent woman who found herself in limbo when her country collapsed, waiting in Syria for the chance to build a new life elsewhere. Campbell traces the complicated politics of the conflict and the heartrending, frustrating plight of refugees, while acknowledging her own privilege and freedom of movement as a Westerner and observer. As she investigates Ahlam's arrest, Campbell uncovers more evidence of her friend's bravery and the shadowy tactics of the state. Ahlam offered Campbell, and now Campbell offers her readers, "a way to understand the foreign country that was the war, and how anyone could survive and yet remain human." Harrowing, well told and deeply compassionate, Campbell's narrative illuminates the hidden consequences of war and the tensile strength of an unlikely friendship. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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