Iraqi Publisher Releases First New Catalog ‘Since the War’

Translator/academic Chip Rossetti wrote briefly yesterday for Publishing Perspectives about al-Muthanna Library’s new 2009-2010 catalog. Rosetti called it the Iraqi publisher and bookseller’s first catalog “since the war.”

This was a follow-up to Rosetti’s two-part piece about al-Muthanna Library (part 1 , part 2), detailing its history—from its founding in 1936—through colonial rule, Saddam, sanctions, and wars.

Now, after a multi-year absence, al-Muthanna finally has out a new catalog. It strikes me as odd that much of the catalog’s information—including the entire preface from owner Anas al-Rajab—is in English, although the list is mainly Arabic publications (with a few Kurdish and Syriac works).

I didn’t count the books, but the catalog is quite a substantial one.

Last year, Ibrahim al-Rajab estimated for Rosetti that around 300 books were being published in Iraq annually. Thus, Rosetti says, “this catalogue represents a good chunk of current Iraqi publishing.”

I have already talked everyone’s ear off about the crimes against Iraqi literacy: what was 90 percent a generation ago was 74 percent “before the war,” and is around 58 percent now. And I have also written, a bit, about Iraqi authors.

It’s a great thing, of course, that the urge to write, publish, and distribute books remains strong. Still, while Rosetti—who certainly knows better than I—says “the publishing industry there has progressed [far] since the war,” I find myself more anxious than optimistic.