Friday, April 06, 2007

Who Says Librarians Lead Boring Lives?

The online diary of Saad Eskander, Director of the Iraq National Library and Archive (INLA), is a moving daily account of Saad's life as a librarian struggling to replenish the library's looted collection in the middle of an unstable war zone. I was particularly struck by this succinct but very telling entry:

Saturday, 10 March: Three bombs exploded in my neighborhood. Two bombs went off at 7.30. They violently shook my flat, as I was watching some TV programme. At 13.20, another bomb exploded in my neighborhood. It shook my flat. I spent the whole day writing and reading in my room.

On March 5, Saad offers this heartbreaking entry on the bombing that took place last month in Bagdhad's outdoor book market:

As we were talking, a huge explosion shook the INLA's building around 11.35. We, the three of us, ran to the nearest window, and we saw a big and thick grey smoke rising from the direction of al-Mutanabi Street, which is less than 500 meter away from the INLA. I learnt later that the explosion was a result of a car bomb attack. Tens of thousands of papers were flying high, as if the sky was raining books, tears and blood. The view was surreal. Some of the papers were burning in the sky. Many burning pieces of papers fell on the INLA's building. Al-Mutanabi Street is named after one of the greatest Arab poets, who lived in Iraq in the middle ages. The Street is one of well-known areas of Baghdad and where many publishing houses, printing companies and bookstores have their main offices and storages. Its old cafes are the most favorite place for the impoverished intellectuals, who get their inspirations and ideas form this very old quarter of Baghdad. The Street is also famous for its Friday's book market, where secondhand, new and rear books are sold and purchased.... It was extremely sad to learn that a number of the publishers and book sellers, whom we knew very well, were among the dead...This day will be always remembered, as the day when books were assassinated by the forces of darkness, hatred and fanaticism.

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