cover image The Pianist from Syria: A Memoir

The Pianist from Syria: A Memoir

Aeham Ahmad, as told to Sandra Hetzl and Ariel Hauptmeier, trans. from the German by Emanuel Bergmann. Atria, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7349-3

Pianist Ahmad shares a powerful account of his escape from Syria and the music that ultimately saved him. Ahmad became known worldwide after a photograph of him playing a piano in the rubble of Damascus in 2014 appeared in newspapers around the world. A second-generation Palestinian refugee, he was raised to love music by his blind violinist father. The 30-year-old musician grew up in a suburb of Damascus in the 1990s, and later attended the Damascus Music School. Ahmad describes the difficulty of living as a Palestinian in Syria, writing about how beginning in July 2013 the refugee camp of Yarmouk was without electricity or hot water. (“I suspect that the siege had been carefully planned. And Yarmouk’s particular geography made the task even easier.”) While delivering food to his neighbors, Ahmad was hit by a grenade, his hand irreparably damaged. Yet Ahmad retained his love for music, wrote songs, and fitted his piano with wheels in order to play on the streets. His performances were uploaded to Facebook and YouTube, which made him a target for radical groups yet also drew the attention of foreign journalists who covered his many performances. With the help of German musicians, Ahmad emigrated to Germany with his wife and children in 2015. This is a deeply moving account of one man’s struggle to survive while bringing hope to thousands through his music. (Feb.)