Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu - Joshua Hammer

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu
Title: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts
Author: Joshua Hammer
Publication Date: April 2016
Pages: 280
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: My book club is reading it.
Date Completed: 1/30/17

Summary: Abdel Kader Haidara spent the better part of his life hunting down ancient Arabic texts from around Mali. When Al Qaeda became a threat to the region and the rich history within the documents, Haidara and others launched a massive scheme to preserve their priceless charges.

What I Thought: I have to be honest. I thought I was really going to love this book. The premise seems right up my alley on a lot of levels. In reality, though, I really had a hard time engaging in this one. 

I'm not totally sure why. They story is interesting and there are definitely some exciting moments. I loved reading about the excitement of smuggling or hiding the manuscripts. Earlier, Haidara's search across the country for the manuscripts was very interesting as well.  All the rest, though, I really just was less interested than I wanted to be. I guess I was not expecting such a large amount of historical and political content in the book. It makes total sense. After all, you have to understand why the manuscripts are important and why they needed to be secreted to safety. Still, I felt that Hammer spent more time on the context than the story itself at times. I wanted him to stick more specifically with the manuscripts. In some ways, it felt to me like this was a really important mission, but the story directly surrounding it was not quite good enough for a whole book, so Hammer had to supplement with the geopolitical context. 

I don't want to shy you away from this book. It's important to recognize the historical and political importance of place's like Mali. We shouldn't ignore their stories. Those manuscripts are incredibly important on so many levels. It makes me sad that we so often give the brush-off to African history. This could have been Monuments Men level of a story. As with that book, though, the actual execution of the heroism just isn't as dramatic as we have been conditioned to want. There's a great scene in this book where the manuscripts are loaded into boats and floated down a river. That was an exciting, thrilling moment. I wanted more of that and less details about who was leading the extremist charge. Again, I don't want to dismiss the importance of this story or its context. I guess I just felt the book was different than I had expected. 

One moment that did stand out to be big time was when a group of women were protesting and they were threatened. They faced consequences for that act, even though they never formally demonstrated again. It was such a stark reminder to me, having just come off my participation in the Women's March on January 21, that my right to protest peacefully and safely is a precious gift. I should not take it for granted. 

I'm looking forward to discussing this at book club and seeing if I'm the odd one out on this book. I hope I am. If so, I promise to come back and update this post. Until then, I'd encourage you to check with one out for yourself if for no other reason than educating yourself about cultural history and context outside of our own. 

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Probably not.
If You Liked This, Try: The Secret Rooms Hidden Figures / Radical 

A Reduced Review: I wanted this to be a thrilling adventure story, so the more political nature of it threw me off; I couldn't get past that. 

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