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In our pages: Buying banned books in the Middle East

November 15, 2010 |  2:03 pm

What's the most widely requested banned book at Al Taliya Books in Amman, Jordan? Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses."

Al Taliya Books is the place readers go when they want to get a book that has been officially banned, Borzou Daragahi reports in Monday's Times. "I can get any book," owner Sami Abu Hossein boasts. "But don't ask how I get them." In addition to Rushdie's well-known novel, banned books that get requested tend to be about sex, politics and religion.

Abu Hossein's shop, in the capital's rambling but lively downtown, also sells nonblacklisted books. His shelves are filled with titles from serious political studies about the Middle East to romance novels and pirated software manuals.

But his shop is known as the place in Amman to get forbidden fruits of knowledge.

Even the government official in charge of restricting them recently announced in a newspaper article that "stopping books from reaching the people is a page we've turned."

The censor, Abdullah Abu Roman, occasionally stops by the bookstore to hobnob with Abu Hossein. So do plainclothes security officials. Abu Hossein serves them his Turkish coffee. They very politely ask him for the copies of the forbidden books. He hands them over. It's all very civilized.

In recent years, independent booksellers in the U.S. have been facing tough times -- but not quite that tough.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Sami Abu Hossein at Al Taliya Books. The lime green sheets hanging in the store list banned titles. Credit: Borzou Daragahi