Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple

What choices does one have as a young person: the subjects we study in school, the friends we hang out with, the morals we adopt or the religions we practice, and the wars we fight. Some are choices, and some we have thrust upon us. Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple’s Brothers of the Gun is a remarkably self-aware memoir chronicling Hisham’s youth in Syria. From being stuck running an internet cafe frequented by ISIS soldiers to taking illegal photographs to send to the Western press, Hisham frequently takes a step back and evaluates the choices he has made or was forced to make, and the consequences of those actions. It makes for an brutally honest and authentic account of the Syrian war. There is no black and white in this book. There is only grey. The grey of every decision Marwan makes and the hope and sometime regrets he feels. The power of this narrative is in his open and introspective conscious.

‘Children are fearless in finding their joy’

Growing up in Raqqa, Marwan and his friends  share the universal experiences of youth: they steal cigarettes, they complain about their parents, they share their dreams for careers, their dreams for their country, and ultimately they try to define and create their own identities. They create petty rivalries that they soon regret, and lurking in the background is not a stable future, but a war for a people and a country. When one regime falls, another one jumps to take control in that vacuum.

‘Whatever was desired was banned.’

Marwan continues his tutoring of English, a language that he has developed a great love for at university. But he needs to create some income after the infighting of between factions who have taken over the country has created too much instability for him to continue. He operates an internet cafe supplying broadband to the occupying regime, all while using Twitter to send and receive intelligence about the war. He is stuck in some pretty hairy situations and uses his wits and a lot of luck to get out safely.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, it was forbidden to chase a stray beam of light.’

I was struck by the value that social media played in the war. It was a conduit for hope and a lifeline to people all over the world, many whom would not fully understand his plight. Also of note are the arresting drawings done by Crabapple of the many memories Marwan has of this time. They enhance the narrative significantly and make for a much more vivd telling.

Brothers of the Gun is a book about the pull of one’s native land, Mosul and Aleppo, but most importantly, Raqqa, where Marwan studies, works, grows up, and reports to the world. This is the pull that we all feel, irregardless of the forces that conflict with our goals. Many of us want the places we grow up in to be the places our children can grow up in, and we fight for that.

5 out of 5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley, Random House Publishing, Marwan Hisham, and Molly Crabapple for the advanced copy for review.

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