Wendy Pearlman


Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence

Selected for the Texas Library Association’s 2018 Topaz Reading List

Selected for the Austin, Texas “Mayor’s Book Club

Selected for Al-Fanar Media’s 2017: The Arab World in Books

One of Kong Tsung-gan’s Best Human Rights Books of 2017

Selected among Foreign Policy Interrupted’s Books of 2017


“Many of these voices are unforgettable … Pearlman shapes her subjects’ narratives, winnowing interviews down to stirring examples of human adaptation … essential reading.” New York Times Book Review

“A formidable contribution to the body of literature about this nearly-eight-year war.” New York Times Book Review, New in Paperback

“[Wendy Pearlman] foregrounds the extraordinary heroism of ordinary Syrians, both those who are trapped in the country and those who struggle to make new lives. Her work is an essential addition to the emerging body of literary reportage from Syria in English.” New York Times Book Review ‘Editor’s Choice, Recommended New Books’

“Everyone talks about Syrians, but very few actually talk to them … We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled bucks the trend … These best of all possible informants – the people who made the events, and who suffer the consequences – provide not only gripping eyewitness accounts but erudite analysis and sober reflection … The result is testament both to Syrian expressive powers and the translation’s high literary standard. These heart-stopping tales of torment and triumph are perfectly enchained, chronologically and thematically, to reflect the course of the crisis.” The Guardian

“The book is not a plea for pity but an invitation to empathy – to see Syrians as ordinary people, caught in a lethal vortex, forsaken by the world, but holding on to their humanity. Above all, the book is an assertion of memory against forgetting at a time when truth has become fragile.” Times Literary Supplement


“Something closer to poetry than reportage. The voices that speak to us here are all too close, only a step away from our own lives … It is in these smallest of details that the reality of life in a state of war is brought home … Lines like this threaten to haunt the reader long after Pearlman’s book is set down. Perhaps they should.” The Irish Times


About the book:

In 2011, against the backdrop of the wave of demonstrations known as the Arab Spring, millions of Syrians took to the streets demanding freedom and dignity. The government’s ferocious response, and the refusal of the demonstrators to back down, sparked a brutal war that escalated into the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our times, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, incalculable destruction, and the flight of millions of Syrians from their homeland.

Too few outside Syria understand the conflict as Syrians have experienced it. We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled changes that. Based on interviews with hundreds of Syrians conducted over four years across the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, it chronicles the war from its origins to its present horror, solely through the words of ordinary people transformed by its unfolding. Parents, children, students, teachers, web designers, artists, playwrights, bloggers, poets, doctors, engineers, lawyers, activists, government employees, rebels, refugees, military defectors, prisoners, hipsters, Christians, Muslims, shopkeepers, grandparents—these are just some of the voices that cohere into a breathtaking mosaic. Some of the gathered testimonies are eloquent narratives that could stand alone as short stories; others are only a few commanding sentences. Together, they form a testament not only to the power of storytelling but also to the resilience of those who face darkness with hope, courage, and moral conviction.

“It was the revolution that allowed me to see people for who they really are,” one woman from Aleppo tells us. “It showed me that every Syrian has a hundred stories in his heart. Every Syrian is himself a story.” We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled is an unforgettable journey into some of those stories.

See this teaching guide and reading guide to use the book as a springboard for discussion in book clubs, the classroom, and beyond.

The Japanese translation was published by Iwanami Shoten in August 2019. A Farsi translation is in preparation.

Read excerpts from the book published in Harper’s magazine (later translated into Arabic). Read an Arabic translation of a full book chapter here. Read subsequent testimonials, collected from Eastern Ghouta with Loubna Mrie, for a Time cover story in March 2018.

Critical Praise:

“I almost didn’t open Wendy Pearlman’s latest book … But I was quickly hooked by Pearlman’s simple and often captivating human narratives … The momentum and unusual impact of this book are built by the wrenching candor of dozens of Syrians from all religions, ethnicities, and major cities … The book does well to explain the challenges of the future, not only in ending the war but in healing a traumatized and shell-shocked society.” Robin Wright in The New Yorker

“This book cannot be reduced to a short summary, just like the speakers in the book are not reduced to any one model or just a few models. We Crossed a Bridge is a book to be read and reread, Hopefully someday passages from it will be included among the readings in Syrian children’s schools …. The American author has succeeded in the challenge of offering a humanistic account that does not dissolve Syrians into lofty or abstract rhetoric, such a geopolitics … Their diverse voices are not lost behind some single, all-knowing voice, nor are their contradictions and multiplicity obscured. And nonetheless, they remaind clearly and unequivocally allied in their ardurous struggle.” Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Winner of the 2012 Prince Claus Award and author of The Impossible Revolution and Salvation O Boys: 16 Years in Syrian Prisons, among other books

“This profoundly important book draws on hundreds of interviews to create an oral history of the Syrian uprising and the unfolding catastrophe that has followed. Pearlman, an accomplished political scientist, has chosen to let her Syrian interlocutors speak for themselves. What emerges is a complex, engaging and difficult oral history, which deserves a wide readership.” Marc Lynch, Professor of Political Science at George Washington University

“In the Syrian conflict, where conspiracy theories and alternative facts abound, the real voices in Wendy Pearlman’s We Crossed a Bridge And It Trembled: Voices From Syria provide eye witnesses accounts, an essential component to the nearly eight-year long conflict … We Crossed is a modern-day Thousand and One Nights with stories within stories, far more strange and sinister than any one person could make up.” Malu Halasa, LSE Middle East Centre Blog Book Review

“A powerful narrative that will break your heart numerous times, then mend it, only to break it again.” Kareem Shaheen, Middle East reporter for The Guardian

“Pearlman masterfully stitches together a collective journey, stories moving seamlessly from one to the next…The disparate voices, ranging from defiant, funny, mournful, wistful, and tragic, form a complex narrative of the Syrian tragedy—my story, my family’s stories, the stories of the people and lives that we lost.” Lina Sergie Attar, cofounder and chief executive of Karam Foundation

We Crossed A Bridge is an important book for anyone who wants to understand the root causes of the Syrian tragedy, as well as the way the conflict has changed the lives of millions of Syrians since 2011. There are many different competing “realities” of the Syrian conflict and the many voices recorded in this book capture this perfectly. Only when we listen to the Syrian people can we hope to contribute to a political solution of the conflict.” Andreas Krüger, Ambassador for the Negotiations on Syria, Federal Foreign Office of Germany

“Incendiary—this heart-wrenching testament could not be more timely. Beyond headlines or breaking news or political posturing, this work of witness allows real people to expose Syria’s terrifying heart.” Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway and Into The Beautiful North

“To read these pages, to meet these men and women, is to cross a bridge ourselves, and to tremble: at the fragility of social order…but also at the love, anger, terror, trauma, compassion, endurance, awe, and determination a single human voice can convey.” Larry Siems, author of The Torture Report and editor of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantanamo Diary

“A heartbreaking, human, and necessary book. Recommended for anyone who wishes to better understand the Syrian conflict.” (Library Journal)

“Pearlman spoke with hundreds of displaced Syrians…. Common among the spare and haunting testimonies of these mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters are the loss and reappearance of hope, humanity, and dreams of new freedom. This powerfully edifying work of witness is essential reading.” (Booklist (starred review))

“It’s unsurprising to see the anger not just toward Syrian president Bashar al-Assad but also toward the international community…Nonetheless, the book is filled with hope, informed by an understanding of the unity possible in spite of the discord sowed by Assad.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A timely and useful exploration into the events leading up to and following the Syrian uprising and ongoing refugee crisis.” (VICE)

“A gut-wrenching collection of true experiences of Syrians whose lives have been transformed, often torn apart, by the ongoing conflict. A breathtaking yet haunting work of nonfiction, this necessary book could not have come at a better time.” (Bustle)

“The West has been repeatedly numbed to the human rights travesty of the authoritarian Assad regime—or worse, encouraged to think of its victims as outsiders—but these accounts fly in the face of that selfish idea.” (Elle.com)

“An important work — vivid, moving, and unforgettable.” (Omnivoracious)

“Pearlman ends her book by thanking all the people she met for trusting her and sharing their stories. In turn, I would like to thank her for her generosity in giving her entire book to the Syrians themselves. Readers can learn about their ideas, dreams, heartbreaks, and mistakes. I would recommend reading this book to anyone interested in knowing what was and is going on in my country, as the truth appears in the voices of those who have lived through the history.” (Al-Fanar Media)

“A moving collection of personal accounts from Syrians covering the time before the conflict with Bashar Al-Assad to now.” (Rebellious Magazine)

“Pearlman’s book is not only important because it puts names to suffering, but also because it reminds readers—especially in the final segment, “Reflections”—that in the Syrian conflict, “there is no right or wrong,” only problematic “shades of gray.” A poignant and humane collection.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A powerful must read book for anyone wanting to understand what’s happening in Syria and why it matters.” (Chicago Review of Books)

“A stunning mosaic of narratives told in vignettes of varying lengths. It’s hard to fathom the humanitarian disaster of the Syrian war. These testimonies—wrenching but also deeply hopeful—help us wrap our minds around it.” (Splinter News)

“There are few other places where so many personal accounts can be found, and this book is something of a treasure trove, bustling with insight. In addition to giving Syrians a voice, it should be a companion to anything watched or read on Syria. It puts the very real, humanising voices of Syrians back into the spotlight, which is precisely where they belong.” (The New Arab)

“As a vital and powerful document of suppressed perspectives, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled should be required reading for not just all Americans, but everyone.” (The Riveter)

“In this poignant collection, Pearlman … creates a compelling narrative of displacement and resilience.” (National Book Review – 5 Hot Books)

“After more than six years of war, it can be hard to cut through the noise about high-level negotiations ,ceasefires, rebel splits, and to what they all mean for ordinary Syrians. Northwestern University professor Wendy Pearlman has managed just that.” (IRIN News)

“Pearlman’s collection is a chance to remind ourselves of the humanity behind the UNHRC’s ticking number of displaced people and what’s reported in the daily news.” (WBUR)

“The Syrian conflict has been documented with an overwhelming flow of information, videos, and photos … Despite this coverage, the conflict remains complex and hard to follow. Pearlman’s book presents succinct accounts of the conflict allowing readers to follow the impacts of the conflict on daily life without the overwhelming stream of information … Through her book, Pearlman allows readers to directly hear from refugees on the Syrian crisis rather than through the lens of a security problem or a talking point in an election. (Diplomatic Courier)

“The personal stories of ordinary Syrians have all too often been ignored or distorted by the media to exploit their suffering and serve an agenda. In a heart-wrenching and enlightening new book, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled, Syrian voices speak for themselves, sharing their memories of war and displacement with Wendy Pearlman and thus with reader” (Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week)

“Almost entirely comprised of interviews with Syrian refugees, conducted in Arabic then painstakingly translated and organized to tell the story of the Syrian Civil War. Pearlman covers the period before the Civil War, the revolution itself and the tragic aftermath. Heartbreaking, inspiring, and informative all at once, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled is hopefully the first of many such compilations to tell the multifaceted Syrian story.” (New Books Network)

“In Washington, where Syria is often talked about in terms of geopolitical strategy rather than human cost, the crisis can seem distant; even insignificant. But in We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled … the author seeks to bring human voices to the forefront of the conversation … The end result is a compelling collection of oral histories from Syrians across a number of generations.” (The Washingtonian)

“The speakers always sound authentic, and because of this fact the stories are compelling, striking, and display the actual struggle of this nation … Capturing the genuine voice of these people from this period will surely be valuable in the ensuing years.” (San Francisco Book Review)

“If you’d like a more rounded understanding of what these refugees have gone through – and fight the desensitization that’s common with a long-lasting news topic – then this beautiful and tearing book will provide that.” (Livingly.com)

“Westerners are hit over the head with sensationalist (and all-too-often demonizing) news stories, but we have little in the way of personal testimonials. In Wendy Pearlman’s poignant collection We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled, the culmination of four years spent interviewing hundreds of displaced Syrians across the Middle East and Europe, we gain intimate insight into the lives of those who faced the brutality first-hand.” (Jetsetter.com)

“Wendy Pearlman’s carefully crafted book We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled allows displaced Syrians to speak for themselves … Unencumbered by footnotes, its 292 pages can be easily read in a day. Pearlman’s introduction explains the book’s eight-part structure, offering a sensitive and compelling overview of the war to date. The voices then tell the story of Syria.” (Chatham House’s The World Today)

“Equal parts heroic epic and tragedy, her book covers the events leading up to and following the Syrian uprising, stitching together the collective journey of Syrians to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and countries throughout Europe. The result is a people’s history of activists, mothers, doctors, students, actors, fighters, and therapists who describe life and loss during this tumultuous period.” (Chicago Magazine)

“Through a patchwork of oral histories, Pearlman does what so few writers have achieved in covering Syria: allowing Syrians the space to tell their own tales.” (90 Days, 90 Voices)

“We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria … uses Syrians’ words – with the speakers’ agreement – to make a purposeful argument about a brave fight for justice and why it has degenerated into such bloodshed. You may find yourself tearing through this grimly beautiful book in two sittings, giving it to people, wishing there were more of it. But on a policy level it will shake all your points of reference: humanitarianism, hard realism, and all the thoughtful dithering in between.” (Marginalia)

“This is oral history at its best.” (RightsInfo)

“Through the adroit combination of these voices, readers gain a solid grasp of the Syrian uprising and its deterioration into a bloody civil war from the point of view of participants and victims … Pearlman masterfully intertwines the testimonies of her Syrian eyewitnesses to produce a rich chronological account.” (Middle East Eye)

“The men’s accounts paint a vivid picture of life under Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian regime, the build up of revolutionary momentum, and the devastation that followed. The female voices here, however, often transport the reader directly into these experiences.” (The Conversation)

“Representing a people shattered but unbent, some voices surge with hope, while others are sardonic and viciously mocking, weary and melancholic. They follow one from another, passing the narrative along like racers relaying a baton, and with them we travel from the early genesis of Syria’s woes to revolution, war, and flight. Wendy Pearlman’s book is essential to understanding not just Syria’s present but its past and future as well.” (Arif Anwar, author of The Storm)

“We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled is a remarkable collection of testimonies … The book sheds necessary light and confounds misapprehensions about many issues pertaining to the study of Syrian politics, and Middle East politics more broadly … This book is a must-read by anyone interested in the Syria conflict, whether they be scholars, policy-makers, practitioners, or general readers. Media analysts, academics, policy-makers, all talk about Syria. The war in Syria is still so badly misunderstood. It is time to listen to Syrians to understand this war, and this is what Wendy Pearlman has done.” (Global Policy Journal)

“Unlike many retellings of personal stories, Pearlman chooses to let the original voices speak for themselves. Like a true curator, Pearlman organizes these accounts in such a way that readers feel the human background of a catastrophe much ignored by the world until colossal damage had already been done … We Crossed A Bridge and It Trembled is a powerful piece of reflective analysis … What this book offers its readers is a chance to listen to those who have suffered, and not just to hear about them.” (Peace Review)