The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu
By: Joshua Hammer
Invaluable ancient manuscripts. History. Politics. Librarians turned smugglers. A book about the importance of well, books and what they say about our histories and futures. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu mainly tells the story of Abdel Kader Haidara a man who spent a great deal of his life finding and collecting these priceless manuscripts only to have to smuggle them to safety away from the fundamentalists that waged war in his country.
First off I do not know a great deal (anything) about Timbuktu or the area sadly. I had never even heard the stories of these manuscripts. Science, law, history, religion, medicine and day to day life were collected in these ancient texts along with writing on many other important topics.
I appreciated the importance of them telling a story about this area especially- outsiders might believe this is not an educated area. But the manuscripts tell a far different story. As far as religion they also tell a story of tolerance and open-mindedness that was especially vile to the Jihadis that assumed control.
Our books are our history. They tell the story of our lives writ large and small.
I have to say Bad-Ass Librarians actually isn’t a long book. I read it on Kindle and the book itself ended at about 57%. Also it was a bit hard to get into. It didn’t really start flying for me until about 30%- basically when the Jihadis won the area with the libraries although early stuff with how Abdel collected the books was impressive for his hard work and the recognition of knowledge of the area.
That being said it’s a whole lot of history and names in this text. Unfortunately the ones that stood out where infamous terrorists.
When they take the city however and get closer to a confrontation it’s a fascinating look at the occupation one we don’t really see from our end. Of small rebellion of people being beaten and losing limbs for getting on the wrong side of the fundamentalists. It brought it down to a level that was easy to see. Imagine losing all the music on the radio stations and only getting Koran (or Bible or whatever verses).
There’s a description of a stoning that’s stomach turning.
I also liked the shock of the people and the anger- they are people who were living together and in peace getting by their daily lives and they were angry that they were suddenly being ruled (at the possible costs of their lives) by basically violent thugs who had the power simply because they had the weapons and the willingness to be brutal. At first no one outside really does anything to help with the manuscripts and getting them to safety.
Until the terrorist leaders promise they won’t hurt them. Then everyone knows the manuscripts are in the line of fire and the enormous smuggling operation begins. The book is well written and Hammer obviously is very familiar with the area having traveled to it even before researching this story. He gets interviews with Haidara and several others involved that flesh everything out.
So while short and hard to get into I really enjoyed the main story and appreciated learning about the manuscripts history and the challenges of keeping them safe under severe circumstances.