Winner of the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize, The Freedom to Read Award, and The Hubert Evans Prize

New York Times Editors’ Choice

Vanity Fair Must-Read

Christian Science Monitor Monitor’s Pick

Newsday Best Fall Book

Kirkus Reviews This Fall’s Can’t-Miss Memoirs

New York Post Must-Read Book

Paste Magazine Best Book of the Year

Refinery29 Best Book of the Year

A Best Book of the Year
National Post • Chatelaine • CBC Books • The Walrus • The Hill Times


US Cover of A Disappearance in DamascusThe story begins in 2007 when Deborah Campbell travels undercover to Damascus to report on the exodus of Iraqis into Syria following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. There she meets and hires Ahlam, a refugee working as a “fixer”—providing Western media with trustworthy information and contacts to help get the news out. Ahlam, who fled her home in Iraq after being kidnapped while running a humanitarian centre, not only supports her husband and two children through her work with foreign journalists but is setting up a makeshift school for displaced girls. She has become a charismatic, unofficial leader of the refugee community in Damascus, and Campbell is inspired by her determination to create something good amid so much suffering. Ahlam soon becomes her friend as well as her guide. But one morning Ahlam is seized from her home in front of Campbell’s eyes. Haunted by the prospect that their work together has led to her friend’s arrest, Campbell spends the months that follow desperately trying to find her—all the while fearing she could be next.

Through its compelling story of two women caught up in the shadowy politics behind today’s conflict, A Disappearance in Damascus reminds us of the courage of those who risk their lives to bring us the world’s news.

Canadian cover of A Disappearance in Damascus by Deborah Campbell

Praise for A Disappearance in Damascus

“I imagine that most everyone who reads A Disappearance in Damascus will come to a moment when an image suddenly clutches at his or her heart…. Deborah Campbell has written a searing and extraordinarily affecting account of her experiences in Syria in the mid-2000s, one that reads in equal parts as memoir, history and mystery story…. Riveting and devastating…. [Campbell] has produced one of the more harrowing accounts of life inside a police state in recent memory.”―Scott Anderson, The New York Times Book Review

“A powerful book….the effect on readers will be transformative.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Captivating.”—Booklist (starred review)

A Disappearance relates an unsettling true story with journalistic adroitness and novelistic flair.”―Rayyan Al-Shawaf, Washington Post

“[A Disappearance in Damascus] is a compelling story, a page-turner, and one that sheds light on the fraught political situation in the Mideast, the lives of ordinary citizens and the West’s culpability in the giant mess… One of Campbell’s great skills as a writer — besides her formidable reporting chops — is her ability to clearly explain complicated politics without oversimplifying … The book is steeped in atmosphere and sensual details, bringing Damascus to vibrant life, a reminder that the war-torn neighborhoods we see in the news are only one part of a sophisticated ancient world … This important book opens our eyes to the lives of the people who are trying to find peace in a world of chaos.”―Laurie Hertzel, Minneapolis StarTribune

“Powerful and gripping….inspiring.”—Christian Science Monitor (Editor’s Pick)

“[A] riveting detective story… Campbell reveals the intimate relationship between journalist and fixer ― and, more tellingly, unravels a darker truth about how a paranoid security service can terrorize those on both sides of a prison wall…. Even for those who don’t have a personal connection to the Syrian story, Disappearance is a great read. It’s a taut detective story, and an intimate account of friendship in the paranoia of a coming war.”―Deborah Amos, NPR

“Vivid, captivating… Campbell’s award-winning memoir-and-more offers a unique window into the life and work of foreign correspondents and the relationships they forge with those they rely on to help them do their jobs…. A Disappearance in Damascus…brings to mind some of the same themes of friendship and responsibility, raises some of the same questions about duty and loyalty, and evokes some of the same emotions [as The Killing Fields].”
—Nick Turse, The Nation

“The book is stellar for many reasons—the minute characterization, the narrative tension, the deft summary connecting the Iraq and Syrian wars….To write a story from a world apart is one thing; to have a reader feel that story is another.”—Ophelia John, Harvard Review

“Deborah Campbell’s clear, compassionate voice pierces war’s fog and woe…The thriller, mystery novel quality kept me turning pages.”
Ari Pinkus, Christian Science Monitor

A Disappearance in Damascus succeeds in delivering both a gripping tale and a sobering commentary on the devastating fallout of America’s war in Iraq.” —Frannie Jackson, Paste Magazine

“Fascinating and thrilling…Campbell’s book is a powerful account of determination and the strength of refugees….[The] friendship between two women from different worlds evolves and flourishes.” —Manal Shakir, Arab News

“This powerful story chronicles the bond between a Canadian foreign correspondent (Campbell) covering the plight of Iraqis fleeing to Syria, and her brave and fearless Iraqi refugee fixer, Ahlam. The suspenseful tale highlights the strong friendship and resilience of women amidst the complicated politics of the Middle East.” —Tria Raimundo, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

“Harrowing, well told and deeply compassionate, Campbell’s narrative illuminates the hidden consequences of war and the tensile strength of an unlikely friendship….A vivid, compelling memoir.”Shelf Awareness (starred review)

A Disappearance in Damascus is the story of Campbell trying to find her friend in the shadowy city, the depths of female friendship, and the courage it takes to tell stories that the powers-that-be would prefer to remain buried.”—Elizabeth Kiefer, Refinery29

“Extraordinary… Riveting… Takes you deep into the eerie police state that was Damascus before the bombs began to fall in Syria.”—Ann Jones,

“Captivating and emotional.”—Library Journal

“Gripping… Campbell deftly deploys memoir and reporting to numerous ends: not only to describe her search for Ahlam but also to capture the damage wrought by the American-led invasion of Iraq and to put in context the devastating civil war that would soon have Syria sending refugees out to the world rather than taking them in. Along the way, Campbell… provides a fascinating look at how journalists work, an inside perspective that feels particularly useful at a time when the profession is under fire.”—Barbara Spindel, Barnes &Noble Review

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

“In this compelling, moving book, Deborah Campbell unearths so much of what could have disappeared in Damascus―the outcome of the misguided and illegal war on Iraq, a fractured refugee community, reporters risking their lives to get the news out―but mainly the story of Ahlam: a brave, ironic, brilliant Iraqi fixer who bridges worlds and is mother to a community. This is a book about the power of friendship between women, about raw courage, and the political and deeply personal devastations of war.”―Eve Ensler, author of In the Body of the World and The Vagina Monologues

“An extraordinary story of a journalist and her translator as they report on the exodus of Iraqis into Syria following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. They both unwillingly become part of the drama which exposes the legacy of the US invasion of Iraq, the perils of reporting, the bonds of friendship and the undoing of Syria. I could not put this book down.”―Anne Garrels, author of Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia and Naked in Baghdad

A Disappearance in Damascus is not just a thriller looking for a missing person but an urgent moral tale about a journalist’s responsibility to their sources and fixers. To her credit, Campbell goes back and does not let go.”―Ben Rawlence, author of City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp

“[A] riveting tale of courage, loss, love, and friendship.”—2016 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury

“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

“This is an important, chilling book that explores the ongoing plight of Syria’s citizens and refugees, as well as the perilous struggles of the journalists who deliver their stories to the rest of the world.”

“This is a book I’ve kept thinking about since finishing it over a year ago….It reads like a thriller but it’s more compelling because it’s true….For lovers of international affairs, it is an incredibly compelling read.”—Robyn Bresnahan, host of CBC’s Ottawa Morning, CBC Great Canadian Reading List, “150 Books to Read for Canada 150”

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

“A compelling first-person story that takes us into the heart of Syria. . . . Illuminating.” —Toronto Star

“An exceptional read….utterly compelling and consuming.” —Ottawa Review of Books

“Riveting. . . . Campbell’s book weaves the global into the utmost personal. . . . Laced with reflections on friendship, duty, imperialism and love strained by ambition. ”—The Tyee

“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

“Deborah Campbell…sees it as her goal to ‘bridge the gap between the readers of magazines I write for… and people in troubled places who such readers would never otherwise meet.’ … A Disappearance in Damascus is an absorbing testament to how successful that approach can be when undertaken by a sympathetic, informed, and committed investigator. It offers a detailed, personal look at the consequences of disruptive global events on the individuals most affected by them.” —Quill & Quire

“Thoroughly reported and deeply felt. . . . an exploration of friendship, obsession and belonging. It also provides essential context for Syria’s civil war.” —Chatelaine

“A Disappearance in Damascus is at once an engrossing mystery and a portal into the Syrian civil war.” —National Post 

Read an excerpt from A Disappearance in Damascus

Other Books By Deborah Campbell

This Heated Place