Fast food for the soul: Booksellers of Peshawar despair of the decline in readership

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp

Naseem Hijazi’s fictionalised accounts of Islamic history have made inroads into a new market – across the border in Afghanistan.

Booksellers point out it’s not just Hijazi, a writer often lampooned by liberals for his portrayal of Islamic history in his historical romance novels. Other writers are also getting much attention in Afghanistan, pointed out Inamullah from University Book Agency in Khyber Bazaar.

According to Inamullah, Afghans are avid readers in comparison to their Pakistani counterparts and Naseem Hijazi is hugely popular there.

Afghan publishers print a large number of books from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) translated to Pashto, Persian and Dari. Hijazi’s work has been translated from Urdu into Pashto and is an instant hit with Afghans, according to the bookseller.

At present, about 10 printers are publishing Hijazi’s work translated to Pashto, and in large quantity. “Most of Hijzai’s translations have 5,000 reprints per publisher,” said Inamullah.

Fact or fiction

Sadly, Peshawar has seen at least three bookshops close their doors for good over the past few years. Those in the book trade say reading is a dwindling habit in K-P.

Inside the remaining bookshops, new sections have gained prominence – shelf upon shelf of books in English on Afghanistan, the Taliban and tribal areas. Authors ranging from Ahmed Rashid, Robert D Kaplan, Peter Hopkirk, Gretchen Peters, Victoria Schofield and John K Cooley are proudly showcased.

At some stores, copies of Henry George Raverty’s translation of Afghan poetry and Mountstuart Elphinstone’s An Account of the Kingdom of Cabul – outdated throwbacks to love of all things Anglo – are displayed with equal pride.

However, Inamullah remembered Saeed Book Bank used to sell the works of recognised foreign fiction writers before it shut down in Peshawar; Saeed Book Bank is still open for business in Islamabad. “These books sell less; only a certain percentage of avid readers will go through the shelves, looking for such works.”

Source: The Express Tribune