The Merchant of Syria: A History of Survival

Diana Darke. Oxford Univ., $27.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-190874-85-8
Darke (My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Crisis) presents a richly detailed work that contextualizes Syria’s long history as a “melting pot of civilizations” while giving an intimate view of one Syrian’s extraordinary life. In chronicling the rise of Abu Chaker (1921–2013) from local textile salesman to multinational fabric magnate, Darke strikes a celebratory and even reverential tone. She paints her subject as a deeply humble man who leaned on faith, sought consumer trust above all else, and shunned debt, yet was always willing to “pay more to get something better.” Interwoven with Chaker’s biography are chapters on the social structures that shaped his world, such as how “the strict routine of prayer drummed in the importance of punctuality” for the diligent merchant. The book culminates with an account of the ghastly civil war that erupted in Syria not long before Chaker’s death, allowing Darke to contrast the oppressive al-Assad regime with the merchant’s peaceful and productive life. Darke does a magnificent job of taking what could otherwise be a dispiriting tale of national crisis, and reframing it as an inspirational story of personal survival and triumph. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/19/2018
Release date: 05/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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