The Sana’a International Book Fair
The 26th Annual Sana’a International Book Fair started this week, showcasing more than 250 publishers and book dealers from around the Middle East. The exhibition is taking place in the Apollo Expo conference center, located past CityMax on Siteen St, and will run from October 22nd to November 2nd. I’ve been looking forward to this event for months, as it is a great chance to snag awesome books at super cheap prices.
The vast majority of the books are of a religious nature, but there are many publishing houses selling books of a political or cultural nature, as well. For example, Ali Shafiq from the Egypt-based Dar al-Thaqafa publishing house, whose stall was stacked with volumes of Mahmoud Darwish, Nizar Qabbani, and Nabil Yassin’s collections of poetry. Many stalls also were selling collections of Arabic calligraphy, the history of Islamic art, and collections of photographs of notable Islamic architectural monuments throughout the world. There was a booth from Turkey, and when I started asking for books in Turkish, they sort of gathered around me and took turns asking questions, apparently puzzled by this white dude in Yemen who happened to speak Turkish.
For students of Arabic, the Book Fair is a gold mine. The stalls are packed with valuable materials to fill your shelves. From children’s books to short stories, there is a vast selection of books to help you along the way. If you’re looking for something relatively easy in language and length, collections of fatwas, or Islamic legal Q&A texts, are both abundant and easy to read. In addition, many booksellers offer specialist dictionaries and Arabic grammar texts, which are sold for much cheaper than they would be abroad. I myself purchased a dictionary of diplomatic terms and a guidebook to common grammatical mistakes. I passed on, for space concerns, dictionaries of literary terms, economics, proverbs, medical terminology, a book of verb conjugations, and many other drool-worthy books to provide a fix for the Arabic student’s habit.
The crowd that attended the fair was surprisingly diverse. While there were, of course, many Yemenis, the fair was also attended by Arabs from throughout the Middle East, scouting for good deals to bring home, as well as a large number of Indonesian and Malaysian students. East Africans were also out in force, with small clusters of young men towering a head over the rest. While most attendees came from the greater Islamic world, there were also a fair number of Germans and assorted Europeans milling about as well.
While most booths were run by individual private publishing houses, many booths were set up by the Ministry of Tourism or Development of particular countries. I visited the Oman booth and spoke with the people there for some time, and they presented me with a very beautiful book about the history and cultural geography of Oman, free of charge. The first booth upon entering the main showroom is run by the Saudi government, and I picked up a nicely bound Qur’an, with English translation, also free of charge.
The book fair is an event I’ve looked forward to for months, after first going in 2007. It is a wonderful show of culture and literacy, and a chance for Yemen to have access to the literary wealth of the entire Arab world and beyond.
All photographs by Rachael Strecher