May 27, 2024
2 Min. Read

LOCAL HERO

RICH OR POOR, FAMOUS OR UNKNOWN - THE FACES OF ZANZIBAR

The last bookstore

TV journalist Farouk Karim owns Zanzibar’s last bookstore. It’s no big literary center - but the smell of paper and calm intellectualism still prevails.

Why did he become a bookstore keeper? “I learnt from my father that you can earn a living with books and journalism.” But as a young man, Farouk Karim had other dreams. “Everybody wanted to be a seaman in the 80s”, he recalls. He skipped military service, was hired by a freighter instead, arrived in Piraeus in Greece, made some cash, lived abroad for over a decade, saw his marriage in Toronto fail, returned to Zanzibar, remarried - and stayed. Many men of his generation here tell a similar story.

Now 60 years old, Karim has been selling books, stationery, and newspapers for the last 30 years. And like his father, who reported for the BBC and Reuters in the early independence years, Karim, has become a local media celebrity as an ITV correspondent. As Chairman of the Zanzibar Media Committee, he is involved in creating new media legislation. Under President Mama Samia, he says, things have changed for the better. Karim also brought Zanzibar into the Confederation of African Football, which probably won him the most fans. 

Printed newspapers, all of them, and every day. Karim has them. The Citizen, the Mail, the Guardian … and of course East Africa’s renowned weekly, The East African, founded in the 80s and still running. The international press, Vogue or Time magazine?  “You can’t get these here”, he says, “would be far too expensive to import them.” Comrades pass by to discuss the daily going-on. Men who are soft-spoken and read are Karim’s clients.

Karim’s shop is not your cosy Notting Hill collector’s heaven, nor a Barnes & Nobles, it does not even have a sign outside. What are his bestsellers?  Schoolbooks, educational and inspirational books, says Karim. “How to make money”, or “How to sew a dress” kind-of-books. 

Sorry, no Tom Ford here, no Zadie Smith, but Abdulrazak Gurnah, the Zanzibari Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, is available with his first Swahili translation “Peponi”. The famous writer even came by to greet Karim and brought a sales poster with him. But time to talk he had not, the bookkeeper says.

Masomo Book Shop

Market Street, Darajani

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