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The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  659 ratings  ·  121 reviews
At the Arab Spring's hopeful start, Alia Malek returned to Damascus to reclaim her grandmother's apartment, which had been lost to her family since Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970. Its loss was central to her parent's decision to make their lives in America. In chronicling the people who lived in the Tahaan building, past and present, Alia portrays the Syrians-the Mus ...more
Hardcover, 334 pages
Published February 28th 2017 by Bold Type Books
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4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  659 ratings  ·  121 reviews

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Bob Finch
Mar 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, politics
I struggle to rate this book with a simple system of stars. This memoir of an extended Syrian family, and of many peripherally connected lives, weaves a fascinating and tragic tale of a country's descent into chaos. The subject is timely and germane to understanding the greater human condition (not an entirely uplifting assessment). On these merits, I would select 4 or 5 stars.

Unfortunately, I found the writing painfully prosaic, plodding and flat. Especially in the first half of the book, wher
I heard about this book on NPR and knew immediately that I had to read it. I like to think that I'm a very open-minded person, and I wanted to get a handle on what life was like for Syrians, aside from what we see on the news regarding refugees. After finishing this memoir, my heart hurts even more for this vibrant people, and I wish this were required reading for all Americans, especially those who insist that accepting Syrian refugees will make our country less safe.

Malek begins her story by s
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Every ounce of this book reminded me of home. I couldn’t help but reminisce about my trips to Palestine. The authors writing made me think about the school my father attended while growing up, the house he was born in, the well he used to drink from; every inch of Palestine held my mind hostage. I longed to return back to the streets I used to walk at night and the trees I used to pick grape leaves from.  I so wanted to relive my parent’s childhood. Every night as I put the book down, I’d lay an ...more
Apr 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub-read
April 2017
Just heard a great interview with the author of this book on the podcast Politically Reactive (which I also highly recommend).

April 2018 Update
I just finished this book in the nick of time for my book club tonight, and it was my pick. As another reviewer stated, I would give this book 4/5 stars on the importance of the subject matter but 2 on the writing, especially in the first half of the book.

I usually speed through memoirs, but the first half of this book dragged for me. It read m
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book took a month for me to read because it was hard work. Malek clearly spent a long time thinking about and researching this book -- her whole life it seems -- but she needed a better editor, someone who would have asked her to do a rewrite, who would have slashed the long, dull, chapters on the ancient history of Syria and helped her build more robust connections between what was going on in Syria and how that linked to the apartment. It reads like a dozen different interviews and trips ...more
Aug 27, 2018 rated it liked it
I have tried casually for the last few years to understand the underlying principles of what's happening politically in Syria, with not much success. This book ended up on my list as a sort of project toward better understanding (probably due to hearing Malek speak on a podcast, or reading an article of hers, not sure).

The basic framing is: her family's been in Syria for generations, and for at least 4 generations has been affected by the political happenings there. She uses the family tree as
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
Here's how much I didn't like this book: I quit reading it with twenty pages left. Malek is a journalist and while this book was called a memoir, it felt more like a political history of Syria interspersed with some of her family stories thrown in (journalism disguised as memoir).

I found Malek's writing scattered, her characters poorly developed and her plot nonexistent. I was worried before I started reading that this book would be too emotional given the setting. Instead, it held no emotion.

May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Solid read.

This book is somewhat of a transformation. Malek starts off by introducing us to her family, starting with her great-grandparents. She takes us on the journey of her grandmother and her mother - she focuses on an apartment that her grandparents owned and intertwines that with history and society. Much of the book focuses on her grandmother and the changing atmosphere of Syria. She transforms her family history into the present and draws on how things have changed in just a handful of
May 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading A Hope More Powerful than the Sea by Doaa Al Zamel which is her story of getting out of Syria - heart wrenching. The Home That Was Our Country gives a history of Syria through the lens of one family's history.

This is an excellent book to introduce one to the current political and historical situation as the history has a personal context. The writing is accessible (author is a journalist), but, also for non-fiction the descriptions of time and place are vivid and the rea
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Malek deftly weaves together family lore, political history, and current events in this beautiful, sad, and illuminating memoir of Syria. She also devotes some nuanced and informed attention to the Armenians of Syria, including a chapter set in Yerevan where Armenians from Aleppo have found refuge from the civil war.
Dec 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Alia Malek, the daughter of Syrians, intended to write a history of her family, Christians with a great-grandfather who was a power in the region. And the first part is the story of the family in Syria, alternating with descriptions of French bumbling in the wake of the Ottoman defeat. The family story continues through the emigration of Malek's parents to the United States with the intention of returning, and her own journalistic career that leads her to Israel, Lebanon, Egypt and, of course, S ...more
Jeff Crosby
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Her name is Hana Abdullah, and at the age of 13 she has lived more than one-quarter of her life in a debilitating state of suspension as a Syrian refugee in Lebanon. I encountered her visage peering from the pages of The New York Times Magazine of 8 November 2015, and I've never been able to forget her.

Her face, her story, her life.

They are present realities for me - a privileged, middle-aged man in the Midwestern United States - in ways that books, investigative journalism and works of literat
Scott Martin
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Decided to read/listen to this book based on a recommendation from my wife. Glad I did. This memoir follows the fortunes of a Syrian family as told through the eyes of a woman who is both a citizen of Syria and the United States. As she recounts her family and how they came to gain, lose and regain ownership of their apartment in Syria. Throughout the family drama, the story of the Syrian nation, especially suffering the various upheavals of the 20th century, from Ottoman to French to a constant ...more
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the book you should be reading if you want to know more about Syria. In her eloquent style, the writer tells a humane story of Syria through her family's saga. Syria is rediscovered not as just a country somewhere in the world where a too-complicated war is taking place, but rather as a home for people who loves enjoying life and whose destiny is affected by every historical turn of events. As a Syrian myself, I could identify with many of the anecdotes told by the writer, I was able to ...more
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Book starts off slow with very detailed, but richly so, account of author's extended family and their lives in Syria up through the 1970s. But, book midway through slowly simmers and boils over as it transitions to contemporary coverage of Arab Spring and onset of Syrian civil war, and it reaches such heartbreaking and gutting levels. (This sentence, for example, made me briefly have to set the book down: "The regime had survived for years on an intricate architecture that made children out of a ...more
Jason Park
Apr 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I began reading this book because I wanted a much better understanding of what was happening and had happened in Syria, as well as an idea of what it would be like to live through such a series of tragedies. I got that and so much more. I didn't expect over a hundred years of Syrian history, all tied to Malek's family. The history is deep, interesting, and important in tying together all the threads of the Syrian conflict. The family story is engaging, warm, and small in the best way possible. I ...more
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
An excellent memoir for anyone who would like to get a better understanding of Syria, the history of Syria, and the current conflict in Syria. This book made Syria "real" for me. The author is a Syrian American who traveled to, and lived in, Syria for years. The memoir is the story of her and her extended family, many still in Syria, many having moved to other countries for safety, told starting at her great grandfather. Much of the story focuses on her grandmother, and her grandmother's house, ...more
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book just never fully morphed into either the memoir about her grandmother, which the author kept referring to, nor a true memoir that captured anything really meaningful about Syria. The family members the author did spend a lot of time on were still never conveyed in a way that really got me invested in them. I was really disappointed!
Zora O'Neill
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really loved how Malek tells Syria's 20th-century history via Malek's colorful family. And she's very good at conveying how the dictatorship seeps into everyone's lives, and how (dis)information is routinely used. There were a few parts that fell tangential to the main story, but even those were very informative.
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book really brings to life the lifestyle and culture of Syria and how it has fallen apart. Recounting her family life story starting with her great grand father and her beloved grand-mother, she shows how life in Syria has evolved in the context of the recent history of the Middle East. It gives an intimate face to the headline we hear on the news...
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
An author’s sentimental and painful journey to recapture the geist and trauma of life in war torn Syria. The author is faithful to her parents birth country, even though she would not acknowledge it.
A family oriented story mostly impacted by its history, and the recent Syrian turmoil and bloodshed.
Jacquelyn Fusco
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
❤ Syria
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I put off reading this book because I thought it would be dry and difficult to understand. I was wrong. Ms. Malek weaves the story of her family and the story of Syria along so intricately. It was beautifully written and hard to put down. One of my favorite books this year.
Dan'l Danehy-oakes
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an intellectually and emotionally exhausting read.

Alia Malek is the child of Syrian Christians who emigrated to America while the mother was pregnant with their first child - her. She set out to write a biography of her grandmother Salma, and this book is the result.

Much of the book's first third is, indeed, a biography of Salma. She was a strong woman in a place and times where strong women had limits put on them (not to say that there are no other such places and times...), and expres
Yuko Shimizu
I wanted to learn what was happening in Syria, but I had no idea where to start. I also was a bit scared of reading something really depressing, sad or violent.
Looked up some trusted recommendations online, and picked this up. I made a right decision.
It's a gripping page turning memoir about three generation of women in Damascus. Through getting to know author's family's life and experiences and how it is like to be women in Syria, I also learned so much about modern history of the country, co
Tarek Cattan
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Since the conflict in Syria began, I have been hunting for a book that explains the culture and history of the Syrian people while also remaining accessible and compelling. I think Alia Malek has written that book. “The Home That Was Our Country” is an outstanding memoir of her own life as a Syrian-American, but also chronicles the lives of her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and other assorted relatives.

The first part of the book is written as a multi-generational story about the au
Eva Mansell
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Trying to make some sense of the horrible, on-going war in Syria, I read Alia Malek's most powerful book, "The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria". Being a human rights lawyer and journalist, Ms. Malek was well able to help me understand so many of the layers of political complexity that led to the present tragedy. Being a vivid creative writer, able to paint detailed pictures of her Syrian family, the food, clothes, countryside, and daily life, she also revealed the layers of human co ...more
Mesa Library
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This thoughtfully crafted memoir, written by a Syrian-American journalist, depicts Syria's demise through the true story of one ordinary family.
-Laurel Q.
This book really makes me want to go to her country and see all the sights, especially the historical ones. I’m so accustomed to thinking of that region as a wasteland, I forget that it isn’t really like. It’s unfortunate, but she does also mention how much has been destroyed in recent years. I loved the way the history of Malek’s family personalized and helped to tell the story of the country. It amazes me when people have that much in depth knowledge about their family let alone politics and g ...more
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ALIA MALEK is an award-winning journalist and civil rights lawyer. She is the author of A Country Called Amreeka and editor of Patriot Acts and EUROPA. Her reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Policy, Nation, and Christian Science Monitor, among others.