110-year-old Sudan bookshop struggles on with no single sale

110-year-old Sudan bookshop struggles on with no single sale

KHARTOUM - Agence France-Presse
110-year-old Sudan bookshop struggles on with no single sale

A man walks past the closed 110-year-old Sudan Bookshop in Khartoum. AFP photo

It’s as if the dust-caked volumes have been sitting on the shelves of Sudan Bookshop for the past half century since some of them were published.

Three weeks might pass without a single book being sold, said the shop’s general manager, El Tayeb Mohammed Abdel Rahman, who has been associated with the business for decades.

But shutting the doors is not really an option for the 110-year-old store which Abdel Rahman believes is the oldest in Sudan, “and maybe in Africa.” “It is a famous place,” he said, recounting how people tell him: “Please do your best not to close this shop.”

Tucked away on a garbage-strewn side street in downtown Khartoum, the business reflected a “book culture” which developed under British and Egypt rule and in the post-independence years after 1956, said historian Abdullah Ali Ibrahim.

“So it is a very sad thing” to see the store decline along with the role of books in Sudanese society, Ibrahim said. Abdel Rahman, 62, said he has seen documents which that confirm Sudan Bookshop opened in 1902.

Walking into Sudan Bookshop is like entering a museum. Near the front door are the English books, including two hardback copies of “Better Cricket for Boys,” a 1965 publication which features black-and-white pictures of batting techniques.

Another is “The Problem of the Soviet Union in the Arab World,” while paperback copies of “The Jungle Book” wait for sale beside two editions of the medical text, “Proctology.” “Nowadays it’s not like before, not much people looking for the books or stationery,” said Rahman.

Revenue from the shop does not even cover the telephone and electricity bills, let alone the monthly rent of about $1,800.