Attending a book fair…in Mosul

Things are changing in Iraq, reports Niqash:

One of the most dangerous cities in Iraq recently held its first book fair. And despite concerns about security in the troubled northern city of Mosul, the event was an unprecedented success for both locals and visitors.

A sign hanging between two power poles and some traffic lights showed him the way he wanted to go. And as soon as Mosul man, Faysal al-Jarba, arrived at the venue, his eyes widened in delight. “I never expected this to be so good,” al-Jarba, 30, exclaimed, scanning the place and uncertain where he should begin.

Al-Jarba, a civil society activist working for a local NGO, was one of hundreds of Mosul locals to visit the city’s first international book fair. The fair was held inside the relatively small 600 square meter premises of Mosul’s Association of Engineers. The venue also happens to be only around 1,500 meters away from the historic Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, one of the first organized libraries known to man and named after named after Ashurbanipal, last king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire – that was something organisers saw as a good omen for the book fair.

And it seems they were right to do so. By the end of the nine day event, which opened March 20, it had been so successful that it was extended another 36 hours. So for 11 and a half days, all sorts of Mosul locals visited. Some bought books while others were just pleased to be able to browse and enjoy a cultural event in a city more often in the news because of political disputes and violence. Authors signed contracts with publishers and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of books were sold. There were also a series of peripheral events focusing on local arts and crafts.

The book fair was planned and prepared for in record time, Nabil Nour ad-Din, a member of the book fair’s organising committee and also the head of the Archaeology Department at Mosul University, told NIQASH. From idea to reality took around 75 days, he explained, but “we were not sure how successful we would be”.

“In fact, following contact with potential visiting publishers, we were told they had a lot of fears about security in Mosul and we really didn’t think we would get more than 40 publishing houses coming here,” ad-Din said.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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