The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is a great title for a book. Fiction or Non-Fiction, it’s great. When I first heard the title before it came out last year, I was intrigued. When I heard the summary, I was sold. It took a few months to hit the top of my to-read pile, but here we are.
Looking at reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, it seems a lot of people are complaining ‘I don’t want all this history, I want the bad-ass librarians!’ But the question is, can you understand how bad-ass they are if you don’t know the history?
This book covers four broad areas
1) Abdel Kader Haidara being seduced into the work of collecting the books of Mali that are hidden away (based mainly on the colonial era) into a central location where they can be properly conserved, studied and referenced. Considering the experience of people opening up trunks kept carefully locked, only to find that insects have made a meal of the precious hand-written manuscripts (yes, I know that phrase was redundant), it’s clear that it was a task well worth taking on.
2) The history of Mali and Timbuktu in particular to explain why the region is home to so many historically significant books.
3) The rise of Islamic Extremists in the region and how they seized control of much of Mali.
4) And finally, Haidara and other librarians recognizing the great danger to their treasures, going to great lengths to smuggle them out of the extremist-controlled areas, and the continuing danger from the environment as they wait for the right time to return the books to the many libraries of Timbuktu (things are still a little too fraught to do so yet, and the conditions the books are currently stored in are not kind to such fragile books).
I consumed this book as an audiobook, and I have to admit, the narrator did a fantastic job with names that must have been difficult to read out loud without stumbling. Instead, they rolled off his tongue completely naturally. It was a very pleasant way to spend my commute.