"A well-written, well-researched, and engaging introduction to contemporary Syria."—Library Journal (starred review)
"A nuanced appreciation of the sights, sounds, and historical densities that make Syria one of the most rewarding countries on Earth. Like the great cities of Damascus and Aleppo, The Other Side of the Mirror is a thing of layered beauty and a source of endless surprise and stimulation."—Ben Downing
Listen to Brooke Allen's interview on The Leonard Lopate Show [link].
Brooke Allen first traveled to Syria in 2009, expecting it to be much as American news media routinely depicted it—an ultra-conservative Muslim society, a rogue nation committed to an anti-American stance. She found, instead, a welcoming and captivating country where she and her family were treated with courtesy and gentleness.
She soon returned for a more leisurely trip through Syria's rich historical and archaeological treasures: the ancient cities of Aleppo and Damascus, the great Crusader castles, the Bronze Age ruins of Ebla and Mari, the Greco-Roman cities of Palmyra and Apamea. With her keen and appreciative eye (and ear) Allen introduces us to Syria's people, culture, and history. The Other Side of the Mirror illustrates one traveler's enlightenment, while reflecting on our American ways. For, as she writes, "To visit Syria is to confront the unhappy truth about our media, which is that much of the international news we read or see… serves not as a window looking out at the world but as a mirror: a mirror that reflects our own fears and obsessions and shines them right back at us."
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"The Other Side of the Mirror is a hugely welcome piece of travel literature…Anyone with a curiosity about this fascinating nation will be well served." —Tom Bissell
"In The Other Side of the Mirror, Brooke Allen brings her intelligence to bear on a new and challenging kind of text—a foreign country that remains a blank to most of us. Her encounter with Syria is an example of American travel writing at its most generous and intrepid." —Adam Kirsch
Library Journal, starred review: "In this lovely book, Allen (Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers) sharply challenges the image of Syria as a hostile and extremist enemy. Two visits to Syria in 2009 allowed her to explore the small country and connect with its history and warm and welcoming people. She depicts a long progression of invaders and settlers and the establishment of sophisticated cities by the third millennium B.C.E. The diverse historic sites reflect the impact of Phoenicians and Hittites, Egyptians and Persians, Alexander the Great and Byzantines, early Christians and powerful Umayyad Islamic conquerors, Crusaders and Turks, and, finally, the 20th-century French mandate authority. For every site, Allen juxtaposes visions of the past with contemporary Syrians and their concerns. Politics is not her focus; while she acknowledges the authoritarian rule and brutality of the Assad family, she finds Syrians satisfied with their stability and gradual development and more interested in discussing poetry than politics.
"Verdict: A well-written, well-researched, and engaging introduction to contemporary Syria, essential for anyone planning a visit and recommended for any American looking for a more balanced and nuanced view of a country often demonized in the media."
Brooke Allen's critical writings appear frequently in the New York Times Book Review, the Atlantic, and the Nation. Her Twentieth-Century Attitudes was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her most recent book is Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers (2006).