Reveling in the Joys of Books, and Reading, at a Baghdad Book Fair – The New York Times
BAGHDAD — Protesters in Baghdad hold a sit-in demanding that U.S. troops leave Iraq. Counterterrorism troops patrol streets. A federal court ponders whether to certify results of parliamentary elections two months ago.
But at the Baghdad International Fair grounds, almost no one cares about all that.
Inside is the Baghdad International Book Fair. It’s not even the bigger book fair of the same name that the Iraqi government has sponsored for decades. But it’s a book fair nonetheless.
There, patrons savor the chance to browse aisles of paperbacks and hardcovers stacked on tables in pavilions from different countries. To pose for selfies in front of the fake volumes glued together and arranged to spell the word “book.” To revel in what to many Iraqis is the true, enduring character of Baghdad, far removed from political turmoil and security concerns.
“There is a big gap between the people in the street and the political elite,” said Maysoon al-Demluji, a former deputy minister of culture minister who was visiting the fair. “People in the street are not that interested in what happens in politics.”
Ms. Demluji, an architect, described a mini-renaissance in Baghdad culture fostered by improved security and young people eager to connect with the world.
“New generations are exposed to ideas that were denied previous generations,” she said. “So much is happening here.”
At the fairgrounds in the fashionable Mansour district of the city, some of the pavilions normally used for trade shows have been transformed to look like old Baghdad. Buses disgorge children in school uniforms on class trips. Groups of friends sit in the winter sunshine drinking Arabic coffee and espresso at outdoor cafes.
Inside, the pavilions have offerings from printing houses across the Arab world and beyond. An Iranian publisher features luxurious coffee table books of the country’s cultural wonders.
At the stall of a Kuwaiti publishing house, Zainab al-Joori, a psychiatrist, paid for books about ancient Mesopotamia and a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson translated into Arabic. Most of the books at the stall were paperbacks.
“Reading is my therapy,” said Dr. Joori, 30, who works at a psychiatric hospital.
Paperbacks are a distant second to the feel and the scent of the old books that Dr. Joori loves best. But still, she looks forward to the book fair …….