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By Deborah Campbell

“Deborah Campbell has written a searing and extraordinarily affecting account of her experiences in Syria in the mid-2000s, one that reads in equal parts as memoir, history and mystery story… [Campbell] has produced one of the more harrowing accounts of life inside a police state in recent memory…. The raw power of Campbell’s narrative…haunting, odd, profoundly human—[is] likely to stay with [readers] for a long time to come.”
Scott Anderson for The New York Times Book Review

“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)

“Campbell’s captivating writing allows readers to see inside the life of a foreign
correspondent, and the bonds forged and broken through investigative reporting.”
– Booklist (stared review)

“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


campbellWe 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.


“[In] A Disappearance, [Deborah Campbell] relates an unsettling true story with journalistic adroitness and novelistic flair.”
The Washington Post

“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

Disappearance is a great read. It’s a taut detective story, and an intimate account of friendship in the paranoia of a coming war.”
NPR

A Disappearance in Damascus is the story of Campbell trying to find her friend in the shadowy city, the depths of female friendship, and the courage it takes to tell stories that the powers-that-be would prefer to remain buried.”
– Refinery29

“Journalist Campbell spotlights the life of an exceptional Iraqi woman, Ahlam, who was her guide and companion as she reported for Harper’s magazine in 2006 about the years following the fall of Saddam Hussein…. The author’s devotion to her friend will open hearts as Campbell and Ahlam’s family try every option to gain her freedom. Campbell’s work is an informed, fascinating account of one courageous source.
Publishers Weekly review

“Captivating and emotional, this book centers more on the story of Ahlam than that of the author, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the refugee experience and feel their uncertainty amid the chaos.
Library Journal

“[A Disappearance in Damascus] is a compelling story, a page-turner, and one that sheds light on the fraught political situation in the Mideast, the lives of ordinary citizens and the West’s culpability in the giant mess… One of Campbell’s great skills as a writer — besides her formidable reporting chops — is her ability to clearly explain complicated politics without oversimplifying… Campbell gives us a remarkably intimate look at the everyday life of people whose lives have been upended.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune

“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

“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

“This is an important, chilling book that explores the ongoing plight of Syria’s citizens and refugees, as well as the perilous struggles of the journalists who deliver their stories to the rest of the world.
BookPage review

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

“In this compelling, moving book, Deborah Campbell unearths so much of what could have disappeared in Damascus—the outcome of the misguided and illegal war on Iraq, a fractured refugee community, reporters risking their lives to get the news out—but mainly the story of Ahlam: a brave, ironic, brilliant Iraqi fixer who bridges worlds and is mother to a community. This is a book about the power of friendship between women, about raw courage and the political and deeply personal devastations of war.
Eve Ensler, author of In the Body of the World and The Vagina Monologues

“Vivid, captivating… Campbell’s award-winning memoir-and-more offers a unique window into the life and work of foreign correspondents and the relationships they forge with those they rely on to help them do their jobs.
Truthdig feature


Publisher:

Knopf Canada, Fall 2016


Media:

The Current
Quill & Quire review
Vancouver Observer review
Publishers Weekly review
Star Tribune review
The New York Times review
The Washington Post review
NPR review
Refinery29 feature
The Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Vanity Fair feature
Truthdig feature


Awards/Recognition

The New York Times‘s 11 New Books We Recommend This Week selection

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

The New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice selection

Ottawa Public Library’s One Book, One Community selection

The Hill Times‘ List of The Best Books in 2016

The National Post‘s The Complete NP99: The Best Books of 2016 (#15)

CBC Books’ The Best Books of 2016

CBC Books’ The 15 Best Canadian Nonfiction Books of 2016

Chatelaine‘s The 12 Best Books of 2016 (#3)

The Walrus‘ The Best Books of 2016

Refinery29 Best Reads of September selection

Newsday‘s Best Fall Books selection

New York Post‘s Weekly Must-Read Books selection

Kirkus Review‘s Can’t-Miss, Most Noteworthy Memoirs selection

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