August 21, 2013: a chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus reminds the world of the existence of the Syrian war. Hundreds of journalists from every corner of the world rush to the frontier only to leave disappointed when Obama decides not to bomb. They leave behind 200,000 estimated victims, and more than half of a population of 22 million people dispersed or refugeed in nearby countries: the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII according to the UN.
Francesca Borri is one of them. But she does not leave. She is thirty years old. For months she covers the battle of Aleppo as a freelance reporter. And she quickly realizes that to report a war is to hide with dozens of women and children, even a baby, born there, in a grave, 'a piece of soil under the ground that is as expensive as three houses' or to scavenge for anything to burn for some warmth, 'a broken slipper, the plastic hand of a toy' or to mistake bloody figments of skull for rubble. To report a war is also to meet with officials more worried about the stain of snow on their Clarks than the people they are supposed to help. It is to explain what is happening in Aleppo to journalists who have only been there once, on vacation, and bought a carpet. It is risking one's life because of the jealousy of a fellow reporter. And it is also about dreaming of driving at night with the windows open, about remembering impossible little things, the particular light on that day in that café at the beach when you were a kid, the eyes of people you love, all the minuscule simple joys that can be lost in a moment.
Syrian Dust is a raw and powerful account of the Syrian war that throws the reader right in the middle of it, without any shelter.
In this harrowing account of the Syrian Civil War, Italian journalist Borri describes the grim year she spent in Aleppo, having arrived a year after the 2011 uprising began. The book is less a narrative of Bashar al-Assad's vicious war than Borri's personal odyssey. The battlefront divided Aleppo, a city of over two million, and remains despite repeated offensives. Assad's forces possess overwhelming heavy artillery and aircraft, but they are too inaccurate to target the front, so they concentrate on the historic now largely ruined city. Borri was embedded with the Free Syrian Army, dodging bullets and mortar attacks, interviewing soldiers before their deaths, and describing the unspeakable suffering of civilians. She writes of distrusting and despising other Western journalists, themselves well-fed and yearning for human-interest stories to entertain their privileged and distant audiences. Yet Borri cannot avoid indulging in the same, for instance with her tale of a female rebel sniper. There is good journalism here, which falls under the heading of an intrepid reporter going to war: a vivid, but often impressionistic even stream-of-consciousness account of death-defying adventures on Syrian battlefields during which Borri shares the miseries of her subjects and the terrible destruction and loss.