Wendy Pearlman gathers an oral history in We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria. This focuses on the time period around Arab Spring when in 2011 the Syrian people rose up and protested. As a result, many individuals and families suffered greatly. And those in the most danger began to escape Syria, traveling into what’s now a worldwide diaspora. Listen directly to their stories here, and you’ll never see news reports quite the same way.

Pearlman interviewed hundreds of displaced Syrians for this book. This provides a wide variety of stories, with one central focus on the real-life consequences of rebelling against a regime. People tell their stories in their voices. Most are heartbreaking, and a few have hopeful endings. Pearlman documents the struggles, as well as the death and displacement. It’s a bit unrelenting as a reader. But this is minor compared to the horror these Syrians experienced.

My conclusions

It is important to capture these historical moments in time, no matter how difficult. Future generations deserve to know the truth. Pearlman mixes the straightforward events of this time with the more personal oral histories. The balance between emotion and objectivity made my reading experience less depressing.

I listened to this on audio, which is perfect for an oral history. The production uses many voices, which adds to its intensity.

In many ways, this book reminds me of Garrett Graff’s excellent oral history of September 11, 2001. While Graff’s book moved me more, they both prove the necessity for direct oral history. In a world with constant “fake news!” accusations, hearing directly from event participants is vital. And since traveling the world ourselves isn’t feasible, books like these are important records.

I recommend We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled for readers curious about Syrian political events in the recent past. Pair it with other personal stories of authoritarian regimes, like The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee.