It was March 24, 2019 when Les Etoiles Bookshop opened in Rabat:
The bookshop followed the establishment of a branch of the “Lighthouse Publishing House” in Rabat in 2017, an imprint of the Beijing-based People & Tangel Publishing House, which launched in 2015 and received a 2016 grant for exploring North African and Arab markets. People & Tangel has also published a number of translations, including a bilingual Arabic-Chinese edition of the The Three Kingdoms.
The two-floor Les Etoiles is the first bookshop in Morocco’s capital featuring wide spaces, a broad multilingual selection, events, and seating for readers. Bookshop employees said they also planned to be a gallery space and to open a subscription service, where people could come pay a monthly fee to read books in the store.
There was a large area for children’s books on the second floor, including many popular children’s comics and graphic novels. Prices were surprisingly reasonable; all the books we bought were between 20 and 40 MAD, or $2.10 to $4.20 USD. Unsurprisingly, books translated from Chinese were the most affordable.
The store prominently features Chinese literature, Chinese language-learning materials, and Chinese literature in Arabic and French translation. There are also prominent sections of Arabic, French, and English books, although most of the Arabic came from a handful of publishers in Morocco, Lebanon, and Sharjah; Kalimat and Rewayat books were prominently featured.
Bookstore worker Zakariya Chababe said the bookshop works with branches in New Zealand and Sharjah; management and ownership is based in Beijing. They also have traditional Chinese medicines and other products.
On the Saturday afternoon I went, patronage was low, but the store has an excellent location — near a tram stop in the Hassan neighborhood — as well as reasonable prices and a range of stationery and pens. The Chinese presence at Arab book fairs has been growing ever since China launched their “Belt and Road” initiative in 2013. Surely, more such collaborations will follow.