Reveling in the Joys of Books, and Reading, at a Baghdad Book Fair


BAGHDAD — Protesters in Baghdad maintain a sit-in demanding that U.S. troops go away Iraq. Counterterrorism troops patrol streets. A federal courtroom ponders whether or not to certify outcomes of parliamentary elections two months in the past.

But at the Baghdad International Fair grounds, nearly nobody cares about all that.

Inside is the Baghdad International Book Fair. It’s not even the greater guide truthful of the identical title that the Iraqi authorities has sponsored for many years. But it’s a guide truthful nonetheless.

There, patrons savor the likelihood to browse aisles of paperbacks and hardcovers stacked on tables in pavilions from completely different international locations. To pose for selfies in entrance of the pretend volumes glued collectively and organized to spell the phrase “book.” To revel in what to many Iraqis is the true, enduring character of Baghdad, far faraway from political turmoil and safety issues.

“There is a big gap between the people in the street and the political elite,” stated Maysoon al-Demluji, a former deputy minister of tradition minister who was visiting the truthful. “People in the street are not that interested in what happens in politics.”

Ms. Demluji, an architect, described a mini-renaissance in Baghdad tradition fostered by improved safety and younger folks keen to attach with the world.

“New generations are exposed to ideas that were denied previous generations,” she stated. “So much is happening here.”

At the fairgrounds in the modern Mansour district of the metropolis, some of the pavilions usually used for commerce exhibits have been remodeled to appear to be outdated Baghdad. Buses disgorge youngsters in college uniforms on class journeys. Groups of mates sit in the winter sunshine ingesting Arabic espresso and espresso at outside cafes.

Inside, the pavilions have choices from printing homes throughout the Arab world and past. An Iranian writer options luxurious espresso desk books of the nation’s cultural wonders.

At the stall of a Kuwaiti publishing home, Zainab al-Joori, a psychiatrist, paid for books about historical Mesopotamia and a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson translated into Arabic. Most of the books at the stall had been paperbacks.

“Reading is my therapy,” stated Dr. Joori, 30, who works at a psychiatric hospital.

Paperbacks are a distant second to the really feel and the scent of the outdated books that Dr. Joori loves finest. But nonetheless, she appears to be like ahead to the guide truthful for months.

“Just visiting this place is satisfying even if I don’t buy any books,” she stated.

Iraqis love books. “Cairo writes, Beirut publishes and Baghdad reads,” goes an outdated saying.

In the Nineteen Nineties, my first reporting assignments to Baghdad had been to a closed nation. It was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq — tough to get into and, when you had been there, tough and harmful to discover beneath the floor.

The United States had simply pushed Saddam’s forces from Kuwait and the United Nations had imposed sweeping commerce sanctions on Iraq. In a previously wealthy nation, the shock of sudden poverty gave the metropolis and its inhabitants a tougher edge.

But in these uncommon glimpses behind the closed doorways of folks’s houses, there have been usually books — in some homes, lovely, built-in wood cabinets of them, all of them learn and nearly each guide handled by its proprietor as an outdated good friend.

Iraqis are proud of their historical legacy as heirs to the world’s first identified civilizations, alongside the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The earliest identified kind of writing, cuneiform symbols inscribed in clay, emerged in southern Iraq greater than 5,000 years in the past.

In the ninth century A.D. in Baghdad — at the time the greatest metropolis in the world — translators at the Bayt al Hikma, or House of Knowledge, a big library and mental heart, had been tasked with translating all necessary works in existence into Arabic and furthering mental debate. Scholars from across the Abbasid empire, stretching from Central Asia to North Africa, traveled to the establishment, partaking in analysis and fostering scientific development.

Twelve centuries later, on al-Mutanabi Street, the love of books and concepts lives on in the Friday market the place sellers lay out used books on the market on the sidewalk in a custom that’s the beating coronary heart of Baghdad’s conventional cultural life.

At the Baghdad guide truthful, two booksellers sat below fairy lights draped from the ceiling, close to a big inflatable plastic snow globe with Santa Claus inside.

Hisham Nazar, 24, has a diploma in finance and banking however works, by alternative, at the publishing home Cemetery of Books. Prominent on the cabinets of the writer’s choices at the truthful is “American Nietzsche,” about the German thinker’s affect on the United States.

Mr. Nazar, 24, declared Nietzsche the “second greatest mind in the whole of human history.” The first, in his estimation, is Leonardo da Vinci.

He stated the writer’s best-selling books had been by the Iraqi author Burhan Shawi, who has written a nine-part collection of novels, together with “Baghdad’s Morgue,” set towards the backdrop of violence in postwar Baghdad. Iraq’s turbulent and violent historical past since the U.S. invasion in 2003 has supplied wealthy fodder for writers.

“The war has given Iraqis a lot of material,” stated Dr. Joori, the psychiatrist, including that almost all of the clients at the truthful had been younger.

In the worst of occasions in Iraq, books have proved a consolation.

When the Islamic State took over components of Iraq in 2014 and declared the metropolis of Mosul the capital of its caliphate, life as Iraqis knew it in the nation’s second-biggest metropolis basically stopped. Almost all books had been banned, together with music. Women had been basically confined to their houses. In the nearly three years that ISIS occupied the metropolis, many individuals stayed house and secretly learn.

In the first studying pageant after Mosul’s liberation from ISIS, hundreds of residents got here to the occasion in a park as soon as used to coach youngster fighters. Families with youngsters, older folks, younger folks — all hungry to have the ability to learn brazenly once more.

Mr. Nazar, the bookseller at the Baghdad truthful, stated that whereas many individuals now learn digital books, he and many others desire to carry books in their palms.

“When you open a paper book it is like entering into the writer’s journey,” he stated. “A paper book has the soul of the writer.”

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