Oldest bookseller launches distress call to save temple of knowledge as it faces closure
01/11/2020 17:39, TUNIS/Tunisia
(TAP/Interview by Sarra Belguith) – In Rue d'Angleterre at the heart of downtown Tunis is nested the oldest bookseller in the capital.

This bookstore, which has existed since the fifties, is facing closure.

At first glance, it is a business that looks neither profitable nor attractive. Yet, as soon as we get closer, we feel lured by the spell of this strange bazaar loaded with old books having wrinkled yellowish pages.

A temple of knowledge seriously hit by coronavirus

It is here that “His majesty” the book reigns supreme. A king, - sovereign of the locality, - who has a character, a soul, and always keeps the breath of those who bought it new, leafed through it and inscribed there dedications or underlined lines or scribbled remarks.

By opening a book, we travel across the universe of other characters and explore their life. Their universe is serious, futile, funny, pensive, focusing on several themes including history, science, love, fish farming, political economy, gardening, philosophy or cooking.

They embrace the entire repertoire of human thought. Enemy of pomp, these books do not need sumptuous palaces but rather mere shelves. Again and again, we have noticed audacious passers-by approaching the bookstore.

Out of simple curiosity, they open the books then very quickly give in to the temptation of buying them. Books have, indeed, courtiers of all ages and  from all walks of  life.

Today, these book nests are under the threat of closure. After the grip of the Internet, which has gained ground on hardcopies, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the fragile situation of this aged place known for selling and buying old and used books for over 70 years old.

Historically, this bookstore dates back to the era of its founder, a Tunisian Jew named Victor Guez.

He sold them following Tunisia’s Independence to Bouraoui Hedhili who has furnished them with a huge and rich collection of books and magazines, in more than five languages.

The place has become a pilgrimage for book lovers and enthusiasts from all walks of life.

Today, this temple of knowledge is faced with a threatened closure. The heir of this place, which is steeped in memories for decades, Dean of Booksellers Faouzi Hedhili has been unable to pay his employees.

His frail shoulders are crumbling under the weight of crippling debts owed to the National Social Security Fund (French: CNSS) and other operating fees of his increasingly deserted place.

Over the past few years, a burden of mounting debts has been noticed while sales of books have shrunk like a skin despite their reasonable prices.

In a bitter tone full of regret for having no choice but to close this bookstore, the owner of the premises told TAP in an interview that he couldn’t take it anymore.

"The book has fallen prey to a never-ending crisis. After the grip of the internet on a large readership, particularly among young adults, the coronavirus crisis has added insult to injury".

"Not touching books for fear of contracting the coronavirus is seen even among our regular customers," he pointed out.

A memory of over 300.000 books could vanish in a puff of smoke

Over  300,000 books from all categories combined (novels, essays, history books, pocket books, collections of poetry, works of philosophy, books by Fikh (jurisprudence), academic and scientific research as well as surveys ... by ancient and contemporary authors , in Arabic,  French, English, Italian, German,  Spanish ...) richly furnish this exceptional place.

Several rare works dating back to early 20th century are now threatened with loss.

A memory of 300.000 books could vanish in a puff of smoke and the whole place could be replaced by another trivial vocation or turn into a soulless business, Hedhili told TAP with regret.

Amid the coronavirus crisis, which has seriously impacted the entire cultural sector, Hedhili launched a distress call to the Municipality of Tunis to intervene and save this little jewel and temple of knowledge.

He called on the Cultural Affairs Ministry and the Education Ministry to revive the book sector and promote reading habits.

Translated by Helmi Ben Aziza

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