“Campbell’s text races along—catching readers’ hearts as it goes… A powerful book. In the stormwater’s swirl, Campbell has found a bright and tender leaf to follow, and the effect on readers will be transformative.”
– Kirkus (starred review)
“Deborah Campbell…sees it as her goal to ‘bridge the gap between the readers of magazines I write for… and people in troubled places who such readers would never otherwise meet.’ … A Disappearance in Damascus is an absorbing testament to how successful that approach can be when undertaken by a sympathetic, informed, and committed investigator. It offers a detailed, personal look at the consequences of disruptive global events on the individuals most affected by them.”
– Quill & Quire
“Gripping, inspiring, and at times intensely sorrowful, A Disappearance in Damascus provides a portrait of tremendous courage and resourcefulness within the community of Iraqi war survivors in Syria, the devastation war wreaks upon civilians, and a remarkable friendship between two women.”
– Phil Klay, winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Redeployment
“A Disappearance in Damascus is vivid, provocative and timely.”
– Literary Review of Canada
We rarely hear the stories of women’s courage in the face of danger. This riveting true story of a remarkable relationship between 2 women— the award-winning Canadian journalist Deborah Campbell and Ahlam, an Iraqi woman working as a “fixer” for Western media in Syria as it plunges into war — reveals as much about the universal power of friendship as about the courage of those who bring us our daily news.
In 2007, Deborah Campbell, known for her “lion-hearted” reporting on international conflicts, travels undercover to Damascus on assignment to Harper’s to report on the exodus of Iraqi refugees into Syria following the fall of Baghdad. There she meets and hires Ahlam, a refugee working in Damascus as a “fixer” —providing Western media with information and trustworthy contacts to get the news out. Ahlam, a charismatic woman who fled to Syria after being kidnapped for her work running a humanitarian centre in Iraq, uses the income to support her husband and 2 children and to run a “one-woman NGO”, helping orphans and widows and starting a school for teenage girls. Using skills she honed in Iraq, Ahlam has become a leader of a rag-tag group of war survivors. Campbell comes to love Ahlam’s selflessness, resourcefulness and optimism. But the Syrian Secret Police are watching. The morning they seize Ahlam, Campbell is forced to watch, unable to stop them. Fearing that her work with Ahlam has led to her friend’s kidnapping, Campbell spends the months that follow desperately trying to find Ahlam — all the while fearing she could be next.
The story of the eventual reunion and the continuing friendship between 2 brave women from very different cultures is a rare one. And Campbell, a brilliant journalist, simultaneously provides invaluable behind-the-scenes insights into the roots of the wars enveloping Syria and Iraq, the ways fear begets violence, and in a world run this way, how easy it is to lose yourself.
“Campbell’s exploration of ‘hidden’ worlds, where past and future conflicts converge and confront the intricacies of human relationships, invests A Disappearance in Damascus with the kind of immediacy rarely found in war reporting….On the surface, it is a detective novel, a eulogy to the dying art of immersive journalism. Slightly deeper is a story of love and friendship, and the forces that can tear them apart or make them stronger. Deeper still is a political exegesis exposing the arrogance and folly of the great (and not so great) powers.…Campbell deftly unravels all of these complexities, gives them a face, makes them human, so we can finally start to make sense of the incomprehensibility of the world’s most intractable conflict.”
– Maclean’s Magazine
“The book is a must-read for people wanting a deeper understanding of the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis, and about the deep ramifications that the Iraq war had on the rest of the Middle East. Especially now that the worst-case scenario that many Syrians have wanted to avoid has now come to pass, the book is essential to understanding the circumstances that Syrians and Iraqis lived with before their country fell into chaos.”
– Vancouver Observer
“An extraordinary story of a journalist and her translator as they report on the exodus of Iraqis into Syria following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. They both unwillingly become part of the drama which exposes the legacy of the US invasion of Iraq, the perils of reporting, the bonds of friendship and the undoing of Syria. I could not put this book down.”
– Anne Garrels, author of Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia and Naked in Baghdad
“A Disappearance in Damascus is not just a thriller looking for a missing person but an urgent moral tale about a journalist’s responsibility to their sources and fixers. To her credit, Campbell goes back and does not let go.”
– Ben Rawlence, author of City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp
Knopf Canada, Fall 2016
Winner of the 2017 Freedom to Read Award (TWUC)
Winner of the Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust prize for non-fiction
Winner of the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize (2017 BC Book Prize)
Longlisted for The British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction