Public Affairs
Hardcover $27.99
Available Feb, 28 2017
The Home That Was Our Country
A Memoir of Syria


“By the time I left Syria in May 2013, many in my family were happy to see me go. For them, the day hadn’t come soon enough.”

So begins Alia Malek’s chronicle of life in her family home in the Tahaan building in Damascus. In narrating the stories of generation after generation of her family as they, their neighbors, and friends come and go from the building, Alia portrays the Syrians—the Christians, Jews, Muslims, Armenians, and Kurds—who lived, worked, loved, and suffered in close quarters, mirroring the political shifts in their country. During the Arab Spring, Alia returned to Syria to reclaim her grandmother’s apartment, which had been lost to them since 1970 when Hafez al Assad came to power As she restores her family’s home, she learns how to speak the language of oppression that exists in a dictatorship, while privately confronting her own fears about her country’s future.

This deeply researched, personal journey sheds more light on Syrian history, society, and politics than any war reporting ever could. Bristling with insights, the narrative weaves acute political analysis with intimate family history, ultimately delivering an unforgettable portrait of the Syria we lost.

about Alia Malek

  • Alia Malek is a senior staff writer at Al Jazeera America and a civil rights lawyer. Born in Baltimore to Syrian immigrant parents, she began her career as a trial attorney at the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. After working in the legal field in the US, Lebanon and the West Bank, Malek earned her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in New York Times, The Nation, Foreign Policy, Salon, The Christian Science Monitor, The Columbia Journalism Review, Granta, Guernica, Jadaliyya, and McSweeney’s. Her reporting from Syria for The New York Times won the Marie Colvin Award in 2013. She was the editor of the Voice of Witness book PATRIOT ACTS: NARRATIVE OF POST 9/11 INJUSTICE, which was excerpted by many publications including the Boston Review and The Guardian and was praised widely, notably by Salon and Mother Jones. Beginning in January of next year she will be a Puffin Fellow at the Nation Institute.


"Moving and insightful, Malek's memoir combines sharp-eyed observations of Syrian politics, only occasionally overdone, with elegiac commentary on home, exile, and a bygone era. Provocative, richly detailed reading." —Kirkus Reviews

“In The Home That Was Our Country, Alia Malek masterfully weaves together the personal and the political, and in so doing creates an unforgettable portrait of modern Syria in all its complexities and tragedies. Malek renders multiple generations of family, friends and neighbors vividly but unsentimentally, and what emerges is a portrait of a great people held back by tyranny. As Syria suffers through its darkest days, she reminds us of the humans behind the statistics. Completely engrossing and lucid, the book explains Syria’s devolution better than anything I’ve read." —Dave Eggers

"What Alia Malek has done in The Home That Was Our Country is nothing short of extraordinary. With deep love and clear-eyed honesty, she weaves together the story of a family and the history of a country. Malek addresses the personal and the political like no other writer I have read recently. This book is an urgent and necessary read." —Laila Lalami, author of The Moor’s Account

"Alia Malek’s beautiful, arresting portrait of a Syrian family over generations takes you straight to the heart of that country’s agony. Malek brings you inside the intimate world of a Damascus apartment building, while weaving in her own experiences as a journalist—laying bare the struggle for freedom like no other work I know. The Syrian war is perhaps the most profound moral and political crisis of our era, and this unforgettable book will forever change the way you see it and the Middle East." —Anand Gopal, author of No Good Men Among the Living

"Alia Malek has written a beautiful, nuanced account of Syria recalling its complex political and social history, its many peoples, and her own family in this vividly detailed memoir. For a deeper understanding of the past and of the present Middle East, read this book. It offers not easy answers, but the “rougher edges of truth” that allow for a more profoundly humanistic portrait of the region and the causes of the current unrest. I missed home as I read: the hospitality and customs and cuisine; the diverse inhabitants that make up the rich tapestry of the old cities and villages; the women, of all socioeconomic backgrounds, who form the backbone of family life—the way it once was." —Micheline Aharonian Marcom, author of Three Apples Fell From Heaven

"Alia Malek takes us on a journey through time as she travels from her birthplace of Baltimore to the country from which her family hails, Syria. There she rediscovers her own family history through the renovation of her grandmother’s home. She finds the meaning of what it is to be Syrian through the diverse characters that lived in her grandmother’s building in Damascus. But as Malek restores her grandmother’s home she watches her country fall apart with the Syrian conflict unfolding in the background. She tells the story of violence engulfing Syria as a brutal war shatters the mosaic of ethnicities and faiths that make up the Syria she’d always known. A beautiful, nuanced and human memoir that weaves the tale of Syria’s history through Malek's own family and leaves the reader with the vivid sense of loss, alienation and fear likely common to all Syrians trapped in this conflict.” —Leila Fadel, Middle East Correspondent, NPR

other editions

  • Hardcover | ISBN 9781568585321
    Pub date: 2017-02-28 | Price: $27.99/36.50 Canada
    Publisher: Nation Books
    6.500 x 9.600 | 352 Pages
    History / Middle East / General
    Biography & Autobiography / Cultural Heritage
  • eBook | ISBN 9781568585338
    Pub date: 2017-02-28 | Price: $18.99/18.99 Canada
    Publisher: Nation Books
    6.125 x 9.250 | 352 Pages
    History / Middle East / General
    Biography & Autobiography / Cultural Heritage