Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Buying a book in Lebanon

It was Brigitte’s birthday yesterday and she had expressed interest in the latest book by Fouad Khoury: Invitation to laughter. So I figured I just pick it up during my one hour lunch break. There are plenty of bookstores around AUB so that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Uh-huh, think again.

First, I went to a large bookstore nearby. The man behind the cash register was talking on the phone and motioned that he would be finished in only a second. So I waited and although I hardly understand Arabic, the many number of times I heard him say ‘habibti’ in a supposedly smooth voice (sounded more like creepy, actually), made me wonder who exactly he was talking to. Certainly not to his wife, which would fit remarkably well with a quote from Fouad Khoury’s book that Arab men "love to make love, but not to love". And if they make love, they prefer to do so with a woman other than their wife.

Anyway, after 5 minutes or so, he finally hang up and asked how he could help me. So I inquired if he had the latest book of Fouad Khoury. Immediately, he looked hurt. “But of course we have his book!. We have all the books you will ever need, my friend! Just one second, I will call my boss on his mobile”. Given his assertiveness I almost felt guilty by apparently implying he didn’t have the book I was looking for. Not that I was aware of this, but hey, maybe he was the sensitive type who gets really offended by little things.

Anyway, my guilt was soon replaced by renewed frustration because his boss didn’t know for sure where the book was located in the store. He was on his way, though, to help find it “But you do have it, right?”, I asked him. Again a hurtful look and the assurance that “of course we have this book by the famous Fouad Khoury! He is a very popular writer and we have all his books, my friend!” was the proud response. It was just a matter of finding the book and that of course, required the presence of the boss himself.

While we were both waiting for the boss to arrive, I asked him where the books of Lebanese writers are located so we could already start looking. Ah yeah, that was a brilliant idea and he enthusiastically pointed me in the right direction. “Here we have all the books you need! Feel free to look my friend!” By that time, I might have still been his friend, but he stopped being mine quite a few minutes ago.

Still, I started browsing through the shelves holding the Lebanese books. Unfortunately, there was no book of Fouad Khoury. So I turned to the guy and asked him about this. “Ah, you see, that is why I have requested my boss to come over”, was the answer, followed by his goodhearted expression “…my friend!”. Again, waiting for some 5 minutes and still no boss. At that point, there was one thing left to do: give up and try your luck in a different store.

In the second store, I was welcomed by a pleasant owner who immediately knew which book I was referring to. He also added that Fouad Khoury had passed away last year and that his wife had finished the book. But no, he didn’t have the book. “In fact”, he told me, “you will not find this book anywhere in Lebanon because it is not for sale here. You can only buy it in England, nowhere else, sir”. Just because of the ‘sir’ instead of ‘friend’ I liked him already, but his story that the book is not available in the Lebanese market sounded difficult to believe, especially since the book was mentioned in the AUB Bulletin magazine.

By that time, I was about to forget about the whole d*mn book, but it was the birthday of Brigitte so on I went to yet another bookstore, Books & Pens, off of Bliss Street. Already anticipating another negative experience, I asked the sales clerk if he had the latest book of Fouad Khoury. “Sure”, was the laconic answer and he gave me a copy right away…leaving me behind in complete shock realizing I just bought a book in this store without any hassle. All I could utter was “Thank you…my friend!”


Vodka said...

(There are plenty of bookstores around AUB so that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Uh-huh, think again.)
What a big deal!So you looked in two bookstores and found it in the third.All within one area.
From where you come from how long would it take for you to find a certain book ?Have you noticed that you think just criticizing Lebanon and it's people makes you smart?
If you don't like it here and life is so difficult why don't you just leave?

Riemer Brouwer said...

Previous comment of cedars1559 removed since it had no relation with the blog article