Don’t Miss the Miracle of the Mali Manuscripts

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu,” by Joshua Hammer, vividly captures the history and strangeness of this place in a fast-paced narrative that gets us behind today’s headlines of war and terror. Jeffrey Brown Washington Post

The great title lives up to expectations

By Leslie Clague

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu was a book on display in Turangi Library.

Available for loan and with a title like that, how could I resist?

As a retired librarian I got the giggles and then read the sub-title: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts

That did it. I got it out on loan to be enthralled and educated.

A beautifully written tale about rebellion and rescue

Author of the book is Joshua Hammer, an American free-lance journalist, now living in Germany. Hammer’s style of writing is classic journalism.

He doesn’t over-sensationalize and he allows those he interviews to give their understanding of the subject clearly. He travels extensively and visited Timbuktu several times in order to create this book.

The book is about the 2012 Tuareg tribe rebellion in northern Mali. Aided by Al Qaeda, the Tuaregs invade the city, bringing terror and mayhem.

 It tells the extraordinary story of removal of some 377,000 ancient manuscripts from the city to protect these treasures from destruction.

But before the book tells this story, it relays the history of the city over five centuries, as two Islamic ideologies, “one open and tolerant, the other inflexible and violent,” try to make the city theirs.

The wonders of Timbuktu

Unbeknownst to me, who thinks of Timbuktu simply as a centre for trade across the burning Sahara desert, Timbuktu is also a centre of education and culture to a grand extent. Some 45 libraries, many of them private family treasure troves, are dotted throughout the city.

UNESCO has been active in the city for some time, setting up the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research in the 1970s.

The book also tells the story of Abdel Kader Haidara, whose father willed him a family collection of manuscripts. The son goes on to become a key library leader in the city, working with the United Nations team. He is the man responsible for plotting the saving of the city’s written treasures.

If you wish to learn more about the Islamic struggles in the Middle East and northern Africa and if you have a passion for learning and books, especially ancient tomes that certainly rival western Medieval writing, I think you will enjoy The Bad-Ass Librarians.

An audio copy is available at Waikanae Library and I am sure printed copies would be available through interloan.

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