Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Road From Raqqa by Jordan Ritter Conn

The Road from Raqqa by Jordan Ritter Conn is a compelling book on Riyad and Bashar Al-Kasem, brothers born in Raqqa, Syria and who remained close as their paths diverged. Riyad moved to the United States, eventually opening a restaurant outside Nashville, and Bashar stayed behind and later fled his war-torn Raqqa.

As Riyad became an adult, he felt the need to leave Syria and its despot leader, President Hafez al-Assad. He got the opportunity to come to the United States and landed in Los Angeles in 1990. It was interesting reading of how kind many strangers were to him and he married several years later, then became a U.S. citizen in 1996. After September 11, 2001, he encountered more racism then when he first arrived in the U.S., and eventually he and his family moved to her hometown of Hendersonville just outside Nashville. Riyad opened a restaurant, Cafe Rakka, that was featured on an October 2010 episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and remains open today.

Bashar visited Riyad in America, coming to California just prior to 9/11, and then was effectively forced out of the country and back to Raqqa after being arrested for a minor immigration violation. Trouble came to Syria starting with the Arab Spring in 2011, with people protesting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, son of Hafez al-Assad. The protests moved beyond people wanting freedom from al-Assad to a situation with various factions coming into the country and fighting for power. Raqqa in 2013 fell to rebels, with eventually ISIS, known as Daesh in Raqqa, taking control of the city. Bashar and his family lived in fear of Daesh in the daytime, and in fear of the bombs dropped on the city by U.S.-backed coalition forces at nighttime. In 2015, he and his family fled Syria, first to Turkey, then took the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, eventually settling in Germany. Daesh was forced out of Raqqa by coalition troops in 2017, and the United Nations estimated 80% of the city uninhabitable. 

The book is a really good tale well-told, with it a sort of survival story about Riyad and Bashar, and also about immigration, war, refugees, and people's attitudes towards their fellow man, both in the U.S. and abroad.