I learned today from this article in al-Baeed (which is, by the way, a fantastic Sudanese website for readers of Arabic) that Meroe bookshop in Khartoum is closing down. Apparently the rent is being raised and it cannot afford to pay it. It is quite likely that they will move somewhere else and continue their work. Still, I thought I would take the chance to pay tribute to it briefly here. As a slightly obsessive book-buyer, it would remiss of me not to appreciate the people and places that allow me to do this.
During the process of working on The Book of Khartoum, an anthology of Sudanese short stories, I was lucky enough to go to Khartoum a number of times and visit this bookshop. On one occasion, they even gave me some breakfast. In addition to collections of short stories I also picked up a number of interesting books, which appear to have been produced in small runs and are cheaply, but quite beautifully, made (The first of these is a book of short stories and other short writings called “Who will buy my grief” and the second is a poem called “The local council”):
I also managed to pick up some nice postcards (of which I also keep a small collection to send to people as thank you cards etc.. I recommend you do the same). Here is one:
However, perhaps the most interesting story about a book I got from Meroe bookshop is not directly connected to Sudan. When I was in Khartoum I was also in the middle of my dissertation on Arabic adaptations of Oedipus Rex. In the bookshop, I noticed a few copies of the 1986 Madbuli edition of Ali Salem’s Comedy of Oedipus. It is a book that is quite hard to find in Egypt so I picked up a couple of copies. After Khartoum, I went on to Cairo and, after a little searching, managed to get in contact with Ali Salem. He invited me to meet him at the Five Bells in Zamalek.
I assumed that it would be a short interview and we could talk about his work. I also brought the copies of Comedy of Oedipus so he could see them and perhaps sign one for me. When I arrived at the place (early as usual), I found out that it would not be an academic meeting but that it was his birthday party. I showed him the copies of the book, which he was very happy to see because, he told me, they had been banned in Egypt. I got him to sign one and, as he thought it was quite funny to pick up a book that had been banned in Egypt in Khartoum, I gave him the other as a birthday present. Ali Salem sadly passed away last year but I still have the book as a memory of his generosity and of Meroe bookshop.
I hope that they will find somewhere with cheaper rent to house Meroe Bookshop. For now, I want to recall my debt to the shop and its staff.