Documenting the Books in Abdelrahman Munif’s Missing Library

Late last month, Fehras Publishing Practices held a launch event at which they issued a first draft of When the Library Was Stolen, a book that refers to the private library of the great Saudi novelist Abdelrahman Munif (1933-2004):

Photo: Fehras Publishing Practices.
Photo: Fehras Publishing Practices.

Like a miniature, modern-day Kitāb al-Fihrist — the tenth-century work by Ibn al-Nadim that gave an account of the books available in Arabic in his time — When the Library Was Stolen gives an account of each of Munif’s missing books. According to the publishing house:

The theft of Munif’s library has recently been addressed and widely covered in the Arabic media. To this Fehras Publishing Practices has decided to issue a book that documents the titles of the existing publications of the library. Munif’s Library consists of approximately 10.000 publications from the field of politics, philosophy, arts, literature and poetry. Encompassing a wide span of time, the library acts as an archive of the movements in publishing, writing and distribution within the Arab world in the last century.

The Fehras publishing house was just launched by three displaced Syrian artists: Kenan Darwich, Omar Nicolas, and Sami Rustom. The project is an effort, according to a review in Mada Masr, “to create discursive alternatives to a history lost in rubble.”

According to Mada:

“When the Library was Stolen” is the first iteration of Fehras’ ongoing project, Series of Disappearances. The collection of published materials will examine the relocation of knowledge in and out of the region due to various economic, political and social changes — for example, via the displacement of libraries and books.

It was early 2015 when Munif’s wife issued a statement that said many of her deceased husband’s books, rare unpublished manuscripts, personal notes, and hundreds of letters, were stolen from the library. Other items were damaged or vandalized; it was a story among many about Syria’s loss of cultural heritage, and the details were contested, but it resonated widely.

“He’s one of those writers who leaves space in his books for other writers to contribute,” Nicolas told Mada Masr. “We felt his library was like a tree, or a spider web or a fabric. It’s not just about his work, but the others around him.”

At the June 27 launch and exhibition, Mada Masr reported, Fehras had copies of a provisionary draft of a catalogue of Munif’s library. They hope to turn into a comprehensive Arabic-English index once they find funding for the project.


Mada Masr: The stolen library: Syrian artists poetically archive Arab publishing

Fehras Publishing Practices: Exhibition »When the library was stolen«

Also, if you’re in London:

Cities of Salt: A new opera explores how the discovery of oil changed the Middle East – ‘Cities of Salt’ will be performed in the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000) on 22 July