Book review: Weaving a cloth merchant’s story into the history of Syria

Book review: Weaving a cloth merchant’s story into the history of Syria
The author details his life using in-depth interviews with his children, friends and colleagues. (Shutterstock)
Updated 07 July 2018

Book review: Weaving a cloth merchant’s story into the history of Syria

Book review: Weaving a cloth merchant’s story into the history of Syria

BEIRUT: “The Merchant of Syria” is more than a history of survival, it interweaves the story of cloth merchant Mohammad Chaker Chamsi-Pasha with the development of Syria in an insightful look at the life of a successful businessman who expanded his trade from the Levant to the shores of the UK.
Author Diana Darke was introduced to the merchant, known as Abu Chaker, by his youngest son in 2005. During his lifetime, Abu Chaker refused to have a book published about himself, but after his death in 2013, his sons asked Darke to write the story of their father’s life.
The book alternates between the macro and the micro, with even-numbered chapters recounting the life of the illustrious merchant and odd-numbered chapters setting that story against the socio-economic history of Syria, from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the present day.
Abu Chaker faced a series of tragedies that reinforced his determination to succeed against all odds. His father died when he was ten-years-old, leaving him with a mother and seven unmarried sisters to support. He left school to earn a living in his uncle’s textile shop where he learned the ropes and eventually became a textile merchant.
After losing everything in Syria, then in Beirut, he left for London. He soon took over a Bradford-based textile plant and went on to build a multi-national empire. He had an innate sense of entrepreneurship, instinctively knew the right approach for each buyer and, above all, he had a knack for turning disasters into opportunities.
The author details his life using in-depth interviews with his children, friends and colleagues. It is, of course, difficult to gain a solid understanding of the man through the words of his acquaintances, but Darke does an admirable job of piecing together his journey.
If I had to recommend a single book for someone wanting to understand Syria, it would be this. The “Merchant of Syria” is a fascinating read that sews together the life of one man into a wider look at the history of a country that many seek to understand.