Helping Syria reconnect with Literature

By August 13, 2022 January 3rd, 2023 No Comments

‘Syrians need this’: the kiosk helping a war-torn nation reconnect with literature
Books have become a luxury that many Syrians can no longer afford. One man is on a mission to change that in the city of Tartus, Syria

The sweltering summer temperatures keep most people off the streets in the Syrian coastal city Tartus. However, Mohamed Zaher devotedly stands in his book-lined kiosk, like he does everyday, offering those who dare to step out in the heat a seat and a free journey through one of his books.

Having experienced the healing effects of reading during Syria’s decade-long conflict, the 32-year-old co-founded the Wisdom Seller, a social project that aims to reconnect Syrians with the dying practice of reading.

For Zaher, books provided an escape during the seven years he spent in the battlefields that claimed thousands of lives and devastated his country. “It’s therapeutic. Flipping the pages of a book helped me get by each day, and step away from the horrors of war. Syrians need this – to erase the images the war encrypted in their minds,” he tells Positive News.

But books have become a luxury unaffordable for most Syrians. The conflict did not only see the demolishing of many printing houses, the shutting down of countless bookstores, and the fleeing of intellectuals and authors from a country once celebrated for its regional cultural influence. It also left Syria’s economy in tatters: 90 per cent of Syrians now live below the poverty line, according to the UN, while more than 80 per cent are food insecure.

Buying books, therefore, is the last thing on people’s minds, especially as printed copies have been overshadowed by growing dependence on the internet to access information and literature.

Zaher’s wooden kiosk, located in the centre of Tartus, just metres from the glistening Mediterranean Sea, is adorned with literature quotes, images of politicians, and an invitation for passersby to grab a book and read 15 or more pages to get a free cup of coffee.

Those who accept the invitation get to choose from 2,000 odd books, which line the kiosk’s walls, both inside and out, and are displayed on stands in the street, surrounded by tables and chairs.

For Ali Shaqra, 35, the kiosk has quickly become one of his favourite hangouts in his home city. “It’s a place where I gain knowledge and meet interesting people,” says the newly married young man, who met his wife, Loujain Al-Owair, at the kiosk.

Flipping the pages of a book helped me step away from the horrors of war

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Written by Safaa Sallal
Image: Safaa Sallal / Positive News
Publication date: August 9, 2022

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