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The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu

and Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts
May 15, 2017ba_library rated this title 4 out of 5 stars
This book was written by a journalist who documents the efforts of a Timbuktu man - Abdel Kader Haidara who collected and preserved manuscripts during a time of upheaval in Mali. The first 70 pages covers how Haidara went about collecting/purchasing ancient manuscripts and how he organized the efforts to preserve them and maintain them – he set up a number of libraries and introduced digitization and preservation techniques. The next 70 pages deal with the evolving emergence of fundamental Muslims (Al Queda had an operative branch in the Timbuktu area) and the ongoing problem of rebel group of Tuareg who want a separate Tuareg state. I was a bit confused because of the initial coverage of manuscripts then onto politics, but the two do meet when a group whom the author refers to as jihadists take over the area, set up a Sharia Islamic state (forcing women to wear full Burquas, outlawing booze, music and most interactions between men and women) and saying Muslim shrines are not recognized in the Koran. Haidara worries that they will find and destroy his manuscript collection. He decides to move the collection into safe houses in the South and recruits locals to help him when jihadists are searching all vehicles and imprisoning any suspicious people. Haidara explains that Timbuktu has always been a moderate Muslim community and he does not appreciate being told how true Muslims behave. The jihadists are becoming more violent, kidnapping and/or killing Westerners or trying to ransom them. Haidara has help from a woman called Emily Brady in the book (a pseudonym for Stephanie Diakite – easy to find her on the web, see her website a female attorney from Washington State who helps Haidara with international funding. She splits her time between home in Washington State and Mali. Another comment here says the book does not identify the manuscripts (there were 377,000 at the time the book was written and cataloging them was part of Haidara’s task. The book states the manuscript collection included “a treatise about Islamic jurisprudence from the twelfth century; a thirteenth century Koran written on vellum made from the hide of an antelope; another holy book from the twelfth century no larger than the palm of a hand, inscribed on fish skin, its intricate Maghrebi script illuminated with droplets of gold leaf” (p. 4). I thought the book could use some photographs, but they are easy to find on the web just type in the title of the book. These valuable, historic, iconic manuscripts were fortunately saved and preserved by some bad-ass librarians from Timbuktu!