Memories of the Baghdad Book Market

Today in The National, Iraqi-Canadian journalist Hadeel al Shalchi takes us down Al Mutanabi Street in Baghdad, an area known as the Book Market.

It’s a more hopeful stroll than to visit the bombed out Baghdad home of the great Palestinian writer Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, who spent most of his post-Nakba life in Iraq. However, this story also has its grim side. Al Shalchi notes:

Mutanabi Street lies in an old quarter of Baghdad and is named after a 10th century classical Iraqi poet. The street used to be the heart of the Iraqi intellectual community, a place where students came to discuss literature, artists swapped tales and people flip through the latest books.

However, during the wars of 2006 and 2007, the street was destroyed by sectarian and militia fighting. In March of 2007, a car bomb killed at least 38 people on the street and wounded more than 100.

The street did re-open, al Shalchi said. But it wasn’t the same:

It is cleaner now with shops sporting new signs, new doors and new bricks. But the area is a shadow of its former self, the scholarly air lost, replaced with a more frantic bustle.

Still, even though al Shalchi’s experience with the book market was disappointing, the piece ends on a positive note. Baghdad is, after all, still Baghdad, still tied to what came before. And:

Whenever I travel, I report back to my family about the new streets and sites I see, but knowing that my father, my uncles, my grandparents knew the streets I am walking through here in Baghdad, makes me at once closer to everything around me.

More from Salon on the “death of Mutanabbi Street.”