Book Review: Brothers of the Gun


Loor Elbedour

Brothers of the Gun is a coming-of-age memoir written by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple that graphically and textually details Hisham’s experience as a man living in Raqqa during the Syrian War. Crabapple offered Hisham a partnership and the book was written while Hisham was still in Raqqa. The book accurately details events leading up to the Syrian revolution and how Islamic State Extremists from Iraq, later forming the group ISIS, corrupted the revolution. Hisham authentically shares his experiences growing up under Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, participating in protests against the regime at the start of the revolution and living under the rule of the ISIS in Raqqa. 

The imagery used transports you into the narrator’s body, and you feel as if you are living his life and seeing Syria through his eyes. Hisham mentions stories of how the war caused the loss of his two childhood best friends: brothers Nael and Tareq. Nael died fighting for Ahrar al Sham, a Salafist Islamist milita that took over Raqqa in 2014, and his brother Tareq followed in his footsteps. This book accurately represents all the different views of the revolution and the Syrian war. Regardless of whether or not you support the regime, this book directly explains how Syria and its people were affected by the Assad family rule. The events after the protests against the regime caused mass chaos and extreme destruction in Syria–all because of the power gripping dictator Bashar al Assad. Hisham distinguishes between the revolution and the rebel groups. He explains how ISIS recruited people by leading them on with the ideas of a revolution against the current oppressive government. However, this was a false promise because that was never ISIS’ real goals which were in reality, a pure Sunni state. This was a key strategy in warping the original Syrian revolution because the revolution went from being about freedom vs. an oppressive government to being associated with an extremist Islamist nation vs an oppressive government. When being presented with the latter choice, many people stopped supporting the revolution because–to them–an oppressive government was better than an extremists state led by ISIS, throwing off the fight for freedom. This morphosis of the Syrian Revolution only led to more violence and created an even greater divide within the country and the Syrian people; families were being torn apart because of political ideals and questioning of each other’s morality. 

The illustrations in the book provide you with depth that wouldn’t be achieved with just a mental image. This tragedy is too deep for a reader to fully comprehend the severity of what’s happening in Syria. The book had to visually provide illustrations to show the reader how bad it is.  

Picture of Syrian child holding a machine gun. (Molly Crabapple)



For example, this illustration from the book portrays the real victims of this war: the many Syrian kids whose childhoods were stolen from them by the war. These include the kids who couldn’t go to school and get an education or play in the field with their peers. Also, multitudes of children were forced into a conflict in which they didn’t fully understand, and yet they were forced to fight for a side (ISIS or Regime) that only wants more destruction and more chaos. The book draws a straight line between supporting the regime and the loss of innocence that leads these children to become war criminals or worse. Although, some of these kids become passionate activists like Marwan Hisham who wrote a book giving a voice to those who are unable to speak out about this tragedy.  




Brothers of the Gun has a 4.6/5 rating on Goodreads. One particular instance that caught my attention regarding the media around this book was an interview that Hisham and Crabapple did with Alia Malek for Bomb Magazine. When asked if he ever considered writing Brothers of the Gun in Arabic, Hisham said that the idea never crossed his mind. He said this was because it wouldn’t be “easy to get [the book]  published in the Arab world in Arabic because it’s more conservative and you cannot actually write what you really want to write without interference from editors.” However, Alia Malek comments how she believes the book would have had a bigger impact if it was aimed at the Arab audience.