• The Road from Raqqa

  • A Story of Brotherhood, Borders, and Belonging
  • By: Jordan Ritter Conn
  • Narrated by: Graham Halstead
  • Length: 9 hrs and 26 mins
  • 4.9 out of 5 stars (37 ratings)

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The Road from Raqqa

By: Jordan Ritter Conn
Narrated by: Graham Halstead
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Publisher's Summary

Crossing years and continents, the harrowing story of the road to reunion for two Syrian brothers who - despite a homeland at war and an ocean between them - hold fast to the bonds of family.

Finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize

"Riveting...a resplendent love letter to an obliterated city.” (The New York Times)

"The Road from Raqqa had me gripped from the first page. I couldn't put it down." (Christy Lefteri, author of The Beekeeper of Aleppo)

The Alkasem brothers, Riyad and Bashar, spend their childhood in Raqqa, the Syrian city that would later become the capital of ISIS. As a teenager in the 1980s, Riyad witnesses the devastating aftermath of the Hama massacre - an atrocity that the Hafez al-Assad regime commits upon its people. Wanting to expand his notion of government and justice, Riyad moves to the United States to study the law, but his plans are derailed and he eventually falls in love with a Southern belle. 

They move to a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee, where they raise two sons and where Riyad opens a restaurant - Café Rakka - cooking the food his grandmother used to make. But he finds himself confronted with the darker side of American freedoms: the hardscrabble life of a newly arrived immigrant, enduring bigotry, poverty, and loneliness. Years pass, and at the height of Syria’s civil war, fearing for his family’s safety halfway across the world, he risks his own life by making a dangerous trip back to Raqqa. 

Bashar, meanwhile, stayed in Syria. After his older brother moves to America, Bashar embarks on a brilliant legal career under the same corrupt Assad government that Riyad despises. Reluctant to abandon his comfortable (albeit conflicted) life, he fails to perceive the threat of ISIS until it’s nearly too late.

The Road from Raqqa brings us into the lives of two brothers bound by their love for each other and for the war-ravaged city they call home. It’s about a family caught in the middle of the most significant global events of the new millennium, America’s fraught but hopeful relationship to its own immigrants, and the toll of dictatorship and war on everyday families. It’s a book that captures all the desperation, tenacity, and hope that come with the revelation that we can find home in one another when the lands of our forefathers fail us.

©2020 Jordan Ritter Conn (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"A poignant debut... Fluidly written and emotionally powerful, this page-turner reveals the human cost of war, terrorism, xenophobia, and anti-immigration rhetoric. Readers will find despair and hope in this moving account.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Syrian brothers take different paths of immigration, neither easy, in this thoughtful account.... [Jordan Ritter] Conn’s affecting narrative touches deeply not just on these contrasting immigration issues...but also on how the bonds of family and old community can exist even when people are uprooted.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“The Road from Raqqa had me gripped from the first page. I couldn’t put it down. It taught me a lot about a troubled political system that has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises of our times. But it is also about love and family, about tradition and new horizons and the deep complexities of our own fears and hopes.” (Christy Lefteri, author of The Beekeeper of Aleppo)

What listeners say about The Road from Raqqa

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  • Overall
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Gripping & Meaningful

Jordan Ritter Conn unfurls the story of family—lineage, bond, separation, reunion and the unknown future—as he takes the reader deep into worlds that coexist and connect while at the same time seem as if they reside in two completely different universes. Ritter Conn deftly educates the reader on history and geopolitics while introducing the Alkasem family with exquisite depth and tenderness to which every human can relate.
Gripping and powerful. Best book I’ve read this year!

1 person found this helpful

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What an incredible story!

I found out about this book by eating at Cafe Rakka, I’m so glad Chef Rakka has it there on display and so incredibly grateful to hear this story. Your family is incredible!!

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far exceeded original expectations

outstanding, memorable, human. this is one I will remember for many, many years. connects many different worlds.

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A story you should hear.

This book was very well written and tells a story we should all hear. I highly recommend this book. I listened through quickly because it really kept my attention.

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Enjoyed this very much

The narrator did an excellent job of reading this engaging and often harrowing story. A great winding path of two Syrian brothers, along which I learned about Syrian tribal culture, Raqqa, their families, and the terrors of war, ISIS, and becoming a refugee. Also, our country, as experienced by a new American.

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  • GB
  • 08-17-20

An engaging view of the refugee situation in Syria

This book provides a remarkable insight into the challenges both in Syria and for those refugees trying to escape war in the Middle East. Having read “Homes: A Refugee Story” which collected a number of awards for a similar story, I have to say that this book was quite a bit better. This did not feel like a dry biography but more like you were sitting at the table with the Alkasem family as they sipped tea and talked. The main characters, older brother, Riyad, and younger brother, Bashar, are very relatable and I truly enjoyed hearing their story. There were times I wish the author might have provided more information on the challenges Riyad faced after moving to the U.S. as he went from poverty to being a successful businessman and then back to poverty and then back to being a successful businessman but I ended up appreciating the author’s focus on the family’s experience in Syria and escaping Syria.
As someone who has spent most of their life in the United States, I found it fascinating to listen to the different views of the two brothers. Riyad was always the wanderer and rebel. His outspokenness against the al-Assad regime (the father Hafez rather than the son and current ruler, Bashar) eventually forces him to make his way to the United States. Bashar chose to stay in the remote desert community of Raqqa to care for his family and try to become a successful lawyer and judge within the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad. When the two come back together in a Syria being torn apart by rebels, I listened to the viewpoints of both brothers in amazement. Riyad, supporting the revolutionary groups, puts his family and himself in danger without even knowing it. Bashar, supporting and working within the existing government, recognizes the danger of the rebel groups but fails to acknowledge the dangers his own government is putting himself and his family in.
I recommend this book very highly to anyone interested in gaining perspective on both the war in Syria and the challenges that refugees face because of that war.

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Vivid and moving story

This book is beautifully written and very moving. It tells the story of two brothers from Raqqa, Syria, and their quest to find peace and opportunity for themselves and their family. I loved learning more about this family and the culture of Syria. I hope and pray Syria will one day be safe to live in again.