Around Town A new chapter
A multilingual bookstore opens up in the heart of the historic peninsula. Claire Zerhouni gets to know the owners. Photos by Julius Motal
n a side street near the Chora Museum in the historic Fatih neighborhood, you’ll find a charming restored wooden house that is home to the newly opened bookstore Pages. Samir Al-Kadri, the founder and manager, welcomes you with a smile as he invites you to sit down and have some coffee. You can lounge on the first floor, enjoy the little garden on the second floor, or bring your kids on the third floor especially decorated for them.
Al-Kadri and his wife Gulnar Hajo left the Syrian capital Damascus in 2012. They are both graphic designers, illustrators and painters who studied at the Institute of Fine Arts. In 2005, they opened Bright Fingers, a Damascusbased publishing house for children’s books. “Before the Revolution, we distributed books to more than 500 bookstores in Syria,” Al-Kadri recalls. “In 2012, we left everything. Our storage was completely destroyed and we had to leave.” The
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for a long time, there was no place in the city where you could find Arabic literature. “When you live outside of the Arab world, you discover that you need to explain a lot about yourself and your culture,” AlKadri says, acknowledging how misunderstood Arabic culture and Syrian history could be, even in a multicultural city like Istanbul. Upon moving to the city, he and his wife resurrected Bright Fingers and reprinted its titles one by one. They then decided to open a space where people who speak Arabic, Turkish and other languages could read, meet others and exchange ideas through literature and culture. “This place is about more than just selling books,” says Al-Kadri, who strongly believes couple in the power of stayed in such an initiative. Jordan’s “This is a long-term Samir Al-Kadri capital Amman project, a space open for one year to everyone where you can before choosing to settle come, exchange and know down in Istanbul and build a more about Arabic culture. new life here. You can also discover what Since 2011, Turkey makes us close.” has welcomed almost 2 This is how Pages was million Syrian refugees, born. It is a multilingual and an estimated 350,000 bookstore where you can of them currently live in buy books on a variety of Istanbul. The war in Iraq subjects in Arabic, Turkish, also increased the ArabicEnglish and French. It also speaking population in operates as a library where Turkey. Yet despite the you can just pick a book, recent surge in Istanbul’s read it or borrow it: Jules Arabic-speaking population, Verne in English, Gabriel
exhibitions, concerts and weekly book signing events. Starting in 2016, the venue will double as a publishing house with a collection of books translated from Turkish to Arabic and from Arabic to Turkish.
When you ask Al-Kadri if it was hard to find and open the space, he smiles and says, “Well, we found it in five days. We immediately felt at home. And we wanted the people who walk in to have the same feeling.”
Well, it seems like a successful bid. Pages Bookstore Café Kariye Çıkmazı No: 5, Ayvansaray-Fatih (507) 031 18 57/www. pagesbookstorecafe.com
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García Márquez in Turkish, or Ghassan Kanafani’s novels in Arabic. The bookstore already has more than 2,000 titles of modern and contemporary literature, poetry, social sciences and even medicine. It will soon receive around 1,000 titles in English. The whole third floor is dedicated to children’s literature in Arabic, Turkish and French. Pages also hosts regular educational programs such as illustration workshops for children, as well as workshops in graphic design, scriptwriting techniques or ones for young citizen journalists. All are led in Arabic, English or Turkish. You can also grab a coffee and hang around for film screenings, visual art