Read Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising by Jonathan Littell Charlotte Mandell Online


A blistering firsthand account of the conflict in Homs by the internationally acclaimed author of The Kindly Ones“We fight for our religion, for our women, for our land, and lastly to save our skin. As for them, they’re only fighting to save their skin.”In 2012, Jonathan Littell traveled to the heart of the Syrian uprising, smuggled in by the Free Syrian Army to the historA blistering firsthand account of the conflict in Homs by the internationally acclaimed author of The Kindly Ones“We fight for our religion, for our women, for our land, and lastly to save our skin. As for them, they’re only fighting to save their skin.”In 2012, Jonathan Littell traveled to the heart of the Syrian uprising, smuggled in by the Free Syrian Army to the historic city of Homs. For three weeks, he watched as neighborhoods were bombed and innocent civilians murdered. His notes on what he saw on the ground speak directly of horrors that continue today in the ongoing civil war.Amid the chaos, Littell bears witness to the lives and the hopes of freedom fighters, of families caught within the conflict, as well as of the doctors who attempt to save both innocents and combatants who come under fire. As government forces encircle the city, Littell charts the first stirrings of the fundamentalist movement that would soon hijack the revolution. Littell’s notebooks were originally the raw material for the articles he wrote upon his return for the French daily Le Monde. Published nearly immediately afterward in France, Syrian Notebooks has come to form an incomparable close-up account of a war that still grips the Middle East—a classic of war reportage....

Title : Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising
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ISBN : 9781781688243
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising Reviews

  • Declan
    2019-03-02 11:55

    Jonathan Littell makes no attempt to turn the notes he made when he lived among members of the Free Syrian Army for three weeks into a coherent, sequential narrative. Instead we are presented with a feeling of ever-changing involvement and (sometimes) confusing immediacy that fits the subject of this exasperatingly depressing book: an account of a conflict which is so easy to ignore (so much easier to get excited about FIFA or the cover of Vanity Fair) because it is so difficult to delineate the 'good' from the 'bad'; because the situation only ever gets worse; because it is all so far away. But what good is my fury and my frustration?I learned much from this book but, having finished it, I am bewildered and confused. Littell clearly has admiration for the FSA, but I find it difficult to be sympathetic to an organisation that has as one of its slogans "Freedom is a tree that is watered with blood". Is that my silly, liberal cowardice? Yet all power, and most of the death-bringing violence, centres on Bashar al-Assad and Littell posits the intriguing idea that IS (Da'esh) is tolerated by the regime because it allowed them to portray all of the opposition as fanatical, sectarian terrorists and to eliminate any outside governmental support for those who wish to topple the dictatorship without being identified as either Sunni or Shia (and Littell is at pains to stress this aspect of the FSA). Perhaps confusion and despair are the only possible emotions to feel after reading this book and looking, as Littell suggests we should do, at some youtube videos of the conflict. But what good is my fury and my frustration?

  • Diego
    2019-02-19 10:57

    Journal entries from a journalist snuck into Syria by rebels into Homs. It’s pretty raw information, but gripping. Reminds me of when I was being driven around northern Jordan near Jerash. Very similar experience with the multiple military checkpoints and checking of papers. Pickups with large machine guns in the back. They ask you to get out and wait. Luckily we did not have to pay for passage.He interviews locals that fight back and its very appalling what their normal days are like. Boys decapitated for virtually little reason, women are treated horridly; no reason to repeat it. Snipers are watching everywhere. They fight not just for religious reasons, but to save their skin; at all times. Makes you appreciate your life despite Trump. There seems to be a certain amount of stupidity and blind ignorance with the military regime; students arrested for studying French Literature, or forcing 9 year old students to take a survey asking them questions about their parents to find reasons to arrest them.Despite all this, the people hold demonstrations virtually every day with chants, songs, dancing about freedom and togetherness. The Syrian Army will fire on people, but people still demonstrate knowing they may be shot.This gets quite graphic. Many times the author is taken through makeshift medical facilities and he describes the lack of supplies and inability of the doctors to help. Many die needlessly. To the locals, it’s a part of normal life. They do everything in their power to prevent everyone turning jihad just to get international attention. What a mess. So sad. And it appears to have no end in sight.He is helped by such brave people in such dangerous situations, and to escape, just so these events can be reported to the outside. All contact with them is basically lost and can only assume they are dead. More attention must be focused on the events here by the international community.This is the peak of oppression, yet also the peak of bravery and the human spirit.

  • Muhammad Ahmad
    2019-02-21 08:49

    An outstanding work of reportage. It has immediacy, precision, insight; and it is written from a place of empathy. The best book on the Syrian conflict yet.

  • Anna Baillie-Karas
    2019-02-17 12:47

    Littell’s notes of his time in #Syria in 2012. He has edited but not expanded or polished the notes into a coherent story. This was a drawback for me, but it also gives the work an urgency and on-the-ground immediacy that is compelling. It’s brave journalism & clear, strong writing, but relentlessly violent, sad and disjointed to read (running from apartment to mosque to hospital, amid shelling & worse). Moments of humanity stand out, such as the delicious food they eat at peoples’ homes (bread, olives, labneh) and the efforts by some doctors to save lives and if that fails, film the torture they witness. Littell also shows how the West has failed Syrians. An important record. #readaroundtheworld

  • Steve
    2019-03-09 16:34

    Inevitably, you’ve been there. At the closing of the night, when it’s just you and a close friend stoking the embers and finishing the bottle, your friend bears her cut heart. Inevitably, you too have breathed deep down to your gut, sharing your pain with an unquestionably friendly ear. In either case, it’s utterly tactless for either to interrupt the other with spurious prescriptions or “silver linings,” just as you or yours is still muddling about in the midst of it. It’s an instinct which is best suppressed for the time. Within days of Jonathan Littell’s exeunt from the Syrian stage, two journalists, Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik, and countless Syrians were killed in a major siege and assault in Homs. In the epilogue, Jonathan bitterly recounts this, both as a failure of journalism in derailing the murders from their imminent context and an homage to the breathless courage of Marie, Rémi, and their surviving peers. In a spirited prologue, Littell describes his brief account in early 2013 as, “...a record of a brief fragment of the dream: a dream that was already assailed on all sides and subjected, as we will see, to unutterable violence...before the nightmare, a nightmare so dense and opaque it seems to have no beginning, there had been the dream.” Indeed, it’s these two qualities, nightmare and dream, which defines the experience of the reader: an imminent, fractal series of melding moments populated by fledgling soldiers, dissociative evenings of unsteady inactivity, punctuated by unbelievable eruptions of violence and alternately rich dinners with cigarettes. The instinct for ordering, for analyzing, was one which washed over me in reading the account. Just as I want to offer consolations to a friend in pain, so too I wanted to adjust Syria to a brighter aperture in light of the black night just barely sampled by Syrian Notebooks. But suffering precludes metaphor. It evades meaning at all costs. All Quiet on the Western Front comes to mind; the scene where the soldier returning from duty listens to an old man among his cohort, coarsely divining the meaning of the conflict, the prescriptions, the future. We all know how we felt about those old men, the same way we feel about the tactless confidant– What about the ubiquity of arguments over jihad, it’s efficacy or lack thereof? Or the startling absence or presence of women from the conservative neighborhood of Baba ‘Amr to the less stringent Al-Khalidiya? These questions, while relevant, strikes one as nonetheless beside the point. I believe Littell has stretched the imaginative reorientation to its limits within the dream and nightmare. For those who lived through the short, obscure dream, and now trudge through the vertiginous nightmare, consolation is unintelligible. Someday, it will have to come to an end. Only when the fog of war, torture, and terror has ended can some meaning be strained through the ashes. For a few hours, pick this up and simply lend an ear.This review was first published at

  • Ed
    2019-03-04 10:58

    Must read, must read, everything's a must read these days. But this is a 'must read' that it seems like nobody has read. To his credit, Littell mostly contains his righteous anger on that account, in the prologue and epilogue he added in 2012, when it was already too late. Now it's even later than too late, and Assadist propaganda has thoroughly overtaken the discourse, leaving firsthand accounts such as this and those of revolutionaries and refugees for all intents and purposes useless. Read this if you value fact over fiction. Read this and be disgusted and appalled. Read this and rage at the shitty arguments of confused comrades. Read this and weep.

  • Omer Aziz
    2019-03-06 12:01

    "It would be tempting, given this history, to see the hand of Bashar al-Assad’s Russian advisors in the shop-worn idea of allowing radicalized Islamist factions totally to discredit the popular revolt, all the more so as the wave of kidnappings and murders of foreign observers that accompanied the rise of the Islamists closely resembles the Chechnya model. But as a Syrian friend pointed out to me, the mukhabarat too are old hands at these games, and have no need of lessons from their Russian patrons. Their strategic philosophy is explicitly stated in graffiti now very common around Damascus: 'Assad or we burn the country.’"

  • Samuel Allen
    2019-03-16 08:53

    It's impossible for me to imagine that the things the FSA have been fighting for for so long haven't been realised yet? Also I think this is a super important read for everyone.

  • Casey Dorman
    2019-02-24 09:55

    As I read my newly arrived copy of Jonathan Littell’s Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising, which I had ordered prior to its English-language release in late-April of this year, I realized that the book was originally written (in French) and published in 2012. This was before ISIS became everyone’s focus, and at a point when the Syrian revolution still seemed to be a simple good-guys vs. bad guys confrontation between the Assad government and the civilian opposition. I wondered if I had wasted my money on a story that was now irrelevant. But an accurate portrayal of a moment in time, particularly a pivotal moment, possesses its own validity. I was reminded of Littells’ earlier novel, The Kindly Ones, which dealt with World War II and the character of Germany as seen through the eyes of a middle-level Nazi officer. Despite being a novel about people long-dead and events, which occurred 75 years ago, The Kindly Ones dealt with an eternal truth, the corruption of individuals. Although it is a novel about the past, its message is relevant today.No less so, Littell’s Syrian Notebooks. Told with a terse, plain language reminiscent of Hemingway (despite it’s having been translated), Littell’s notebook is just that, an almost diary-like account of three weeks spent with the opposition, both the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and protesting civilians just prior to the brutal 2012 Homs massacre that killed over 200 people in a barrage of shelling of civilian residential neighborhoods. We are able to see not only the progression from peaceful protests to violent confrontations and brutal government countermeasures, but also the seeds of the present sectarian, jihadist movement that has turned a local skirmish into a regional war.Assad’s army, his secret police and his private militias perpetrated atrocities approaching the extremes, if not the magnitude of those of the Nazis, both as an effort to stamp out opposition and to maintain control of the citizenry in such hotspots as Homs. Most of Littell’s and his photographer’s efforts were to document such activities and their toll upon the civilian population for the French newspaper Le Monde. They rushed from one battle site to another in a frenzied effort to interview and photograph victims and witnesses of attacks on civilians. In the process they were carefully managed by their FSA “minders” who were acutely aware of the propaganda value of such material, but wary of having their own, often violent activities give the impression that what was going on was a war, not government repression of civilians.Indeed, the lines between peaceful protests and violent insurrection were constantly blurred, even in the days before the infamous massacre. Protests were routinely guarded by armed FSA “soldiers.” Although they claimed to only mount “counterattacks,” the FSA fired on the Syrian Army outposts, checkpoints and snipers nearly as often as they were fired upon. Most telling, Littell describes the civilian demonstrations, filled with singing and dancing. “The extraordinary thing about these demonstrations is the power they let loose. It’s a collective, popular jubilation, a jubilation of resistance.” But the chants are pejorative, not celebratory. “Bashar (Assad), we don’t know who you are, Muslim or Jew!” “Bashar, you have a giraffe’s neck!” “Bashar, get out, you and your dogs!” Eventually, the slogans demand retribution. “The people demand capital punishment for the butcher.” “The people demand the militarization of the revolution!”Among the civilians the FSA soldiers are treated as heroes. Boys want to emulate them, to join them. Within the FSA, Bin Laden and Abu Musad al Zarqawri, the dead leader of Al Queda in Iraq are admired. The FSA in Homs is split between those who want jihad in order to bring in militants from outside Syria to help with the fight and those who are fearful that such a move will cause the revolution to spiral out of control. Religion is deeply embedded within the daily behavior and rhetoric of the opposition. They are more fundamentalist than the Alawites who control Damascus and the government. When Littell visits an opposition family’s house, even for a meal, women are rarely seen and always hidden away. In government controlled areas, this is often not the case. Are these the seeds for the eventual progression to Islamist jihad led by ISIS? From outside the culture it is difficult to determine because we are so used to associating fundamentalist Islam with jihad and violence that is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that one necessarily breeds the other. Littell only reports. He makes no value judgments regarding Islamic practices. In his view, which he makes clear in an introduction to the 2015 English edition, the ascendance of jihadists was fostered by the Assad regime in order to marshal world opinion against the revolutionary forces in his country. But his reporting reveals military-like organization, religious fervor and perhaps most telling, sectarian animosity against Shiite Muslims within the ranks of the opposition itself, long before the fight was taken up by so-called “outside” forces, such as ISIS. The fundamentalism is taken so seriously that, more than once, Littell and his photographer are jokingly threatened with death for drinking whiskey among the FSA men.By the time Littell is ready to leave Syria, only weeks before the Homs massacre, the revolution has clearly become a war. As a former Syrian Army soldier who joined the FSA said, “I deserted in June, in Dara ‘a. I did it so as not to shoot at people, and I immediately took up arms. I saw that you can’t take down this regime without arms.” In Littell’s own words, “At first they just wanted reforms, more freedom. Then confronted with the repression, things went further."Homs is once again in the line of war. On May 13, an AP headline shouted, “ISIS Captures More Territory in Central Syria’s Homs.” For the West, ISIS has become the face of the Syrian revolution. Littell and some American politicians seem to believe that the dominance of ISIS is the result of the West’s failure to confront Assad militarily or to provide adequate support for those who originally formed the opposition within the country. Who knows? The opposition was militarized well before ISIS came upon the scene. Within it were jihadists who were also strongly sectarian in their leanings and who favored a fundamentalist version of Islam. Most importantly, the path of violence had been chosen. And in one Middle Eastern country after another, the violent overthrow of admittedly dictatorial and evil regimes has led to chaos and the rise of equally dictatorial and repressive fundamentalist elements—or, as in Egypt, military rule.In Syria, cultural forces at work within the opposition to Assad led to violent conflict that, in hindsight, reading Littell’s notebook, seems to have been inevitable. Insulting and demonizing the enemy, using weapons, at first for protection of peaceful demonstrators, then to “counterattack” enemy assaults, celebrating the character and exploits of those who take up arms—even without religious fundamentalism and the concept of jihad, is incompatible with nonviolence. But what about Assad? Didn’t his measures necessitate such a reaction on the part of the opposition? Who is to say? Assad’s regime was dictatorial, repressive, used violence against innocent civilians. But its greatest atrocities, such as the Homs massacre, were in response to pushback from an opposition that had already embraced militarism as a method of protest.Jonathan Littell reports events. The events were not random; he sought out those that emphasized the conflict between Assad and those who opposed him and he further sought out those that demonstrated the virulence of the Syrian regime and revealed the character of those who fought against it. He did so with almost no editorial commentary. What his reporting revealed was the anatomy of a particular revolution in its infancy. Many of the characteristics of what went on in Homs and in Syria are unique to that country, or that region, or to Islam, but many are not. The situation is now, in most Westerner’s minds, worse than before the revolution began, when Assad was comfortably in power. To others in the region (e.g. those who sympathize with ISIS), this may not seem to be the case. But anyone seeking to fight the repressive powers of a government which uses violence as its means of repression must keep in mind that there are definite things that lead peaceful opposition to become violent—things that may lead to consequences worse than the situation that provoked the opposition in the first place. Jonathan Littell has documented some of those things in his book.

  • De Ongeletterde
    2019-03-02 09:50

    Eigenlijk zouden Theo Francken en co verplicht dit boek moeten lezen eer ze nog domme uitspraken (mogen) doen over Syrië en vluchtelingen. Dit speelt zich dan nog af begin 2012, toen het verzet tegen Assad nog ontdaan was van etnische en religieuze conflicten en het ergste nog moest komen, de mensen nog hoop hadden en het buitenland zich niet echt mengde in de strijd... Op elke pagina kan je lezen hoe erg en angstwekkend het is om te leven in een stad (Homs) waar je op elk moment in levengevaar bent...

  • Racha Gh
    2019-03-04 13:53

    I find most books written by foreign journalists about the middle east opinionated and apathetic. However, this book is brilliant, it a simple diary of events, without judgements, it leaves it to the reader to make their assumptions. Ofcourse this was from behind the FSA ranks, so it resonated with their plague. But it was honest, and to the point, which i appreciated.

  • Matti Paasio
    2019-02-20 09:57

    "... all those young guys in Homs, smiling and full of life and courage, for whom death, or an atrocious wound, or ruin, failure, and torture were nothing compared to the incredible joy of having cast off the dead weight crushing, for forty years, the shoulders of their fathers."

  • Pečivo
    2019-02-17 11:34

    Jonathan Littell je bůh. 6 let poté, co dopsal Laskavý bohyně, nejlepší knihu na světe, za kterou dostal i francouzský oceněni pro nejlepší knihu na světě všech dob roku 2006, se tento rodilý Američan rozhodl, že se podívá do Sýrie, aby odtud mohl podat objektivní zpravodajství pro francouzské noviny. Já bych třeba na jeho místě radši ležel doma a jedl těstoviny.Littell v prologu stručně popisuje historii revoluce v Sýrii a proč proti sobě jde plátkovej sýr proti mazacímu a kdo za všechno může. Ve zkratce - lid chtěl víc svobody, Asadovi (plesnivej sýr) se to nelíbilo a tak začal lidi kosit. Ne všichhni z armády, ale souhlasili s metodama rozhánění demonstrací, a vznikla tak opoziční armáda Free Syrian Army. Tu označuje Asad za teroristickou (stejně jako všechny, kdo nesouhlasí s režimem a jsou tak součástí opozice) a snaží se jí zničit. Na tomto místě zajímavý fakt, kdy údajně propouštel jihadisty z vězení, pod podmínkou boje proti opoizici, čímž vlastně pomáhal vytvářet ty magory z islámskýho státu.Roku 2012 se tak vydává Littell na 18 dní do Homsu, což bylo město, kde opozice měla tehdá ještě velkej vliv. Jelikož je jeho snaha objektivní zpravodajství, tak se do Homsu vydává na tajňáka přes Tripolis a ilegálně přes hranici s pomocí opozičních bojovníků. Uprchlík.Littell popisuje každodenní život v obležení armády a všudypřítomných odstřelovačů, který kosí civilisty, když se jim zachce. I tak se lidi snaží v opozicí držených částech města poklidně demonstrovat a neoplácet stejnou mincí vraždy - což se jim samořejmě ne vždy daří, protože dyž vám střelí dítě, tak vám prostě občas bouchnou saze a sám jdete sundat pár lidí. Což naopak legitimuje násilí armády a tak dál a tak dál. To je jako když vám někdo na diskotéce vyleje pivo a čeká, že se nic nestane. Vy mu ho ale vylejete taky, protože to byla dvanáctka a von vám na oplátku vojede holku a zavolá vaší mámě, že fetujete. No a mezi tim všim běhá Littell se svým zápisníkem jak vocásek a zapisuje okolní dění.Krom toho se samozřejmě setkává s různejma lidma z opozice a řeší stuaci, proč vznikla, jak z ní ven a co by rádi. Situace nejspíš nebude tak černobílá, jak to Littell popisuje, nicméně i tak si z toho člověk utvoří lepší obrázek, toho co se tam děje a jakej to má dopad na nynější situaci v Evropě, než z diskuze na jakýmkoli českým zpravodajským serveru.Co z knihy dělá 10/10 jsou jeho subjektivní postřehy, kdy jde například z pohřbu malýho dítěte a stěžuje si, že má děsnej hlad a objedná si kebab, kterej pak vychvaluje. Nebo když okolo něj lítaj kulky a on prostě sedí a čte si knihu, protože stejně nic nemůže ovlivnit. To knihu odlišuje od obyčejný novinový reportáže a dělá z Littella Bena Frosta literatury.

  • Tammam Aloudat
    2019-03-05 16:59

    I like the book, it is a brave story from someone who has lived some of the events in Syria in an early stage of the revolution and ensuing civil war. It gave me, as a Syrian, more detailed and human glimpses of what was happening with people and how did things change from a rebellion to a full on war that now eats the whole region.It also gives us a perspective on the Free Syrian Army when it was being formed, the men who were mostly deserters from the regime army and how they saw their duty to protect their communities and formed into the FSA.It gives views of the lives of civilians in a stage where there was destruction but there was plenty of hope.Two little issues one should consider though.First, as Jonathan Littell says himself, this is almost an exact transcript of his notebooks, it doesn't feel extensively rewritten, and that makes it a little harder to read than a perfectly flowing text by design.The second, and more important, part is that unless you knew the context of the events and how the Syrian revolution started and evolved and how Homs was the epicentre of the revolution at one stage, you might find it hard to know the significance of the stories in the book. All in all, I think this is a great effort and certainly worth reading for anyone interested in Syria.

  • Paweł Sobiegraj
    2019-02-24 13:59

    Ten reportaż jest całkiem solidny. Reporter stara się potwierdzać wszystkie urban legend, które słyszy od mieszkańców miasta. Cała sytuacja społeczna w mieście była mocno skomplikowana, bo poza konfliktem WAS(Wolnej Armii Syrii) z Assadem i całą machiną państwa policyjnego, mamy do czynienia z konfliktami na tle religijnym między sunnitami, szyitami i alawitami. Do tego zaczynają się pojawiać prywatne wendetty(szczególnie ze strony Beduinów). Myślę, że jak ktoś ma ochotę dowiedzieć się o konflikcie w Syrii to warto sięgnąć po tę pozycję.P.S.Nie wiem czy Francuzi(bo książka jest napisana w oryginale po francusku) mają taką manierę, czy jest to błąd tłumaczenia, ale denerwujące jest pisanie godzin z zegara 24-godzinnego przy notatkach popołudniowych, gdy wieczorna notatka jest opatrywana godziną 10.30.

  • edofrance
    2019-03-11 08:46

    Storia di un pre attacco di un'utopia. Il libro scorre veloce, tra i molti nomi di persone e luoghi, in mezzo ad una montagna di morti, feriti, supprusi, torture e bugie. Nulla è reale fino a che non incontri direttamente il dolore attraverso una pallottola. Ed è questa la frase che mi rimane in testa alla fine del libro.Un libro per chi vuole capire cosa sta succedendo in Siria e per capire, forse, cosa è successo in altre guerre di liberazioni.

  • Jakub Szestowicki
    2019-02-19 11:52