Modern-Day ‘Cultural Sinbad’ Spreads Literature across Iraq
The worsening violence plaguing Iraq has not prevented the bookseller Star Mohsen Ali from organizing book fairs in cities and provinces across the country. Since his first exhibition in the southern town of Shatra four years ago, Ali has held 53 book fairs, including in the roiling cities of Mosul and Tikrit.
The owner of a bookshop on well-known Mutanabi Street in Baghdad, Ali believes that reading is a must. Books, he thinks, are not meant to adorn bookshelves. Iraq’s provinces are suffering from a weak provisioning of books, leading to a shortage in the supply of new and rare publications, so Ali delivers the publications he manages to obtain to those in need.
He has met with fame in the cities he has visited. He is always surrounded by readers, lending the impression that Iraqis are eagerly returning to literature. Could this trend be a solution to some of what ails Iraq? Ali told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview from Baghdad that his work makes him feel optimistic because of the overwhelmingly positive response to reading he encounters in the nation’s cities.
Ali has visited Iraqi cities so much that large numbers of people know him. They have given him such nicknames as the “cultural Sinbad” — after the fictional sailor in Arab mythology known for his travels — and the “ambassador of the book,” among others. Commenting on this, Ali said, “My friends multiply day by day. They ask me to come back to them with more books. Some students and professors call me and ask for a rare, missing or forbidden book. Delivering a book or a thesis to students who need it makes me feel very happy.”
Although selling books is his livelihood, Ali does not do his job just for the money. Sometimes he distributes books to people who need them and to girls and boys who enjoy his exhibitions and refuses to accept payment.