Deborah Campbell header image 1

A DISAPPEARANCE IN DAMASCUS  –  Fall 2016, Knopf Canada

A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War

2016 WINNER, HILARY WESTON WRITERS’ TRUST PRIZE FOR NONFICTION

A Disappearance in DamascusDid I find her or did she find me? I wrote that question in my reporter’s notebook soon after I met Ahlam, the Iraqi woman who was to change my life. It was 2007 and we had only recently begun working together in Damascus. I was the journalist; she was my interpreter and guide—my “fixer”—connecting me to refugees from Iraq… As she led me ever deeper inside the hidden world of the war she had fled, and into the increasingly unstable country of Syria where she had sought refuge from Iraq, she showed me what survival looks like with all the scaffolding of normal life ripped away. When I wrote that question, I had no idea what it would come to mean nearly a year later, when she was taken from me by agents of the secret police.”


“In a seamless blend of storytelling and reportage, Deborah Campbell’s A Disappearance in Damascus draws us into the struggles of Iraqi refugees settled in Syria after the fall of Baghdad. The principal character, an Iraqi ‘fixer’ who is also a grieving mother and a nurturing humanitarian, is taken by secret police. Campbell’s account of the search to find her, written with compelling prose, nuanced context, and intimate narration, illuminates the dangers of life and work in a conflict zone through a riveting tale of courage, loss, love, and friendship.”—2016 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury

“Gripping, inspiring, and at times intensely sorrowful, A Disappearance in Damascus provides a portrait of tremendous courage and resourcefulness within the community of Iraqi war survivors in Syria, the devastation war wreaks upon civilians, and a remarkable friendship between two women.” —Phil Klay, winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Redeployment

“Campbell’s exploration of ‘hidden’ worlds, where past and future conflicts converge and confront the intricacies of human relationships, invests A Disappearance in Damascus with the kind of immediacy rarely found in war reporting….On the surface, it is a detective novel, a eulogy to the dying art of immersive journalism. Slightly deeper is a story of love and friendship, and the forces that can tear them apart or make them stronger. Deeper still is a political exegesis exposing the arrogance and folly of the great (and not so great) powers.…Campbell deftly unravels all of these complexities, gives them a face, makes them human, so we can finally start to make sense of the incomprehensibility of the world’s most intractable conflict.”—Adnan R. Khan, Maclean’s magazine

“Paced like a good novel…A Disappearance in Damascus is vivid, provocative and timely.” Literary Review of Canada

“[A] must-read for people wanting to further their understanding of the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis, and about the deep ramifications that the Iraq war had on the rest of the Middle East. Especially now that the worst-case scenario that many Syrians have feared has come to pass, the book is essential to understanding the circumstances that societies lived with before their countries fell into chaos.” —Vancouver Observer