Syrian Publishers to Open an Arabic-Language Bookshop Called Pages in Amsterdam
In 2004, Gulnar Hajo and Samer al-Kadri, partners in life and business, founded the award-winning children’s book publisher, Bright Fingers in Damascus, Syria. In 2012 they fled their native city following increasing harassment from government security forces and a year later settled in Istanbul with their two daughters, along with over 350,000 other Syrian refugees. It is estimated that a total of three million Syrian refugees live in Turkey today.
In 2013 they re-established their company and opened a multilingual bookshop, café and cultural center, Pages, in the Fatih district near the Kariye museum, with an emphasis on books in Arabic, Istanbul’s first.
On June 12th, Amsterdam is to get an Arabic-language bookshop and café
On June 12th, Amsterdam is to get its own Arabic-language bookshop and café, also called Pages, in the ground floor space of the Prince Claus Fund Gallery on the Herengracht canal, one of Amsterdam’s toniest.
The Prince Claus Fund, which provides resources and opportunities for cultural and creative projects, in particular where cultural heritage is threatened, offered to house the Pages concept of a bookstore café and cultural center with additional help from the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts.
Amsterdam once had an Arabic language bookshop called El Hizjra, which unfortunately closed in 2013 because of lack of funding.
Al-Kadri has since been granted refugee status in the Netherlands and is focusing all his energy on the opening of Pages in Amsterdam: building shelves, tables and benches, making trips to Ikea, and unpacking boxes of books in Arabic that just arrived. While 70% of the books will be in Arabic, there will also be books in English, Turkish and Dutch. Much like what proved to be a very successful formula in Istanbul, Pages in Amsterdam will be a space for Syrians and Arabs to connect and communicate, for Syrian refugees to have a moment of respite where they can forget their situation for a short while and enjoy a moment of culture. There will be cultural encounters, book signings and readings for children, and in general, al-Kadri hopes, it will be a venue for open dialogue. Both al-Kadri and his wife, Gulnar Hajo, studied fine arts in Damascus and are painters and illustrators with a decided inclination for education and cultural activism.
Last March a Catalan publisher launched a translation of a children's book published by Bright Fingers in 2015, that won the Etisalat Award for Best Illustration, about a little girl, Nur, who lives in a dark and sad world. One day she decides to confront the present and through her imagination, escapes her daily life and invents a better world.
In Istanbul some of the most popular books at Pages included works by Turkish author Elif Shafak, Syrian authors Mustafa Khalifa and Khaled Khalifa, and of course, George Orwell.
For the past year, al-Khadri has also been extending his publishing arm and now publishes fiction, poetry and non-fiction under a Pages imprint. Fifteen titles exist, all “written by a new generation of Arab authors, their first works.”
Al-Khadri is looking to have these works translated, but also to translate books from other languages into Arabic for the imprint.
At the Pages Amsterdam opening next week there will be a concert and an art exhibit including works by his wife, Hajo. Al-Kadri says his dream is “to expand the bookstores everywhere.”
Plans to open a Pages bookshop in Berlin are already underway….
Top illustration by Gulnar Hajo