There are many pleasures in life and reading is one of those we indulge in from an early age. It opens doors to the world and it helps us discover our feelings and let our imagination loose. Books move us from inside and connect us sometimes with imaginary characters that stay in our memory forever. In this article, I decided to write about a place I have great memories with since I was a kid and this place is considered one of Tripoli’s landmarks. It is the Fergiani Bookstore.
I remember the car rides I had with my aunt, Nadia, when I was a little girl. We would go to Martyrs square and head to 24th of December street where the bookstore is located to get some books. I got many books from it in relation to Libya and novels. After all these years and after moving to France, I found out that the Fergiani bookstore has an online store. Luckily, I managed to get some of the books I couldn’t find in their branches in Tripoli and I was ecstatic. I have been buying books from their online store for two years now. I feel grateful that there is a place where I can buy books related to Libya.
Anyway, not a long time ago, I started following Mr. Ghassan Fergiani on social media. The Fergiani bookstore is a family business in which Mr. Ghassan is one of the owners with the rest of his brothers. Turned out that he is based abroad and he is responsible for the bookstores they have in London. Therefore, I decided to reach out to Mr. Ghassan myself and see if there was a possibility for an interview to know the story of the bookstore myself and luckily, Mr. Ghassan was so open and thrilled to the idea.
It is important to know how this bookstore was first founded. Mr. Mohamed Fergiani, the founder of Fergiani bookstore, was a five years-old little boy when he moved with his family from Gheryan to Tripoli. They lived in Addahra street. One day, Mr. Mohammed Fergiani was playing in front of his house when another boy passed by him and talked to him. The boy showed a book to Mr. Mohamed and he was curious to know about the book and that got him excited to know more about books. The boy left and Mr. Mohamed rushed to his parents in the house and insisted on them to sign him up in school. They finally signed him in an Italian school for Arabic students back in the Italian days.
Mr. Mohamed learned both Arabic and Italian and then continued his studies in Zwara city, close to Tunisian borders, where his father worked. Mr. Mohamed finished his studies and decided to apply for English education. Mr. Mohamed finished his studies and worked as a teacher, however, his passion for books grew bigger and he started to buy old books and sell them. He started the journey of making connections with people in Egypt and Lebanon to get books. He was very knowledgeable and then he started to learn from old businessmen, Jews and Italians, in real-estate but his passion towards books grew even bigger. He has always loved books and when he moved to the UK, he started DarF publishers (Dar Fergani).
Mr. Mohamed acquired books about Libya and the rest of the Middle East and he republished them in facsimile editions. They have 3 bookstores in Tripoli. They are located in Mezran street, 24 December street, and Hay A Andalus street. Hisham Fergani is the manager of the branch located 24th of December street. Samir Fergiani is the manager of Mizran street and Usama Fergiani is the manager of Hay Al Andalus branch. In addition, they have two English bookstores in London. The first one named West End Lane Books established 1994 trading for 26 years. The second bookshop in London opened in 2004 and has been in business for the last 15 years.
Mr. Ghassan moved to London in 2002. He told me that there is a huge Libyan diaspora in Europe so he started the online bookstore. Mr. Ghassan tried in 2008/2009 to provide services for people and then the revolution broke. Ghassan used Neel Wa Furat and Jamloon online bookstores originating in the Middle East. These two fine online shops were useful to buy Arabic books but the problem was that the cost of the shipping was expensive and the delivery time was long.
The Fergiani books online bookstore is trying to solve this problem of providing books at reasonable price and expedited service to their customers in the UK and the rest of Europe. He told me that they focus on children’s books as well especially for the Arab diaspora.
The business is competitive but Mr. Ghassan assured me that all they want to do is to provide a role model. When he hears about Libyan musicians, artists and writers who achieve success at what they do to produce songs regardless of the situation in our homeland, he gets happy and hopeful. ”We want to make balance, we want to give hope, inspiration, and love” Mr Ghassan described. ‘’We want to change the narrative about Libya, that it is not only about war, displacement, and grief’’, he added.
When Mr. Ghassan was younger; he read a lot of fiction Arabic and in translation from around the world. He believes that helps him in having a better understanding of other cultures and peoples. He is interested in the role reading plays in people’s lives. It creates balanced and poised people. Through this journey with books, Fergani family want to be enablers for this, they want Libyan writers to write, they want to provide prizes and give books to schools. Dar Elfergiani is publishing 12 Arabic novels including Libyan authors and one translated novel about Libya.
In the International book market there is a big openness towards Arabic books. Arabic books are translated into French, English, Italian among other languages. Darf publishers Ltd is the London based publishing branch for Dar Elfergiani. Publishing translated works is expensive, it is important to know that the fees associated with translating books is high, that is why Mr Fergiani thinks that not many big publishers don’t invest in it. “We try to do our bit in this field, but there are limitations to how much we can do.” says Mr. Fergiani.
In Libya, bookshops owners face many difficulties, among them is that they are not allowed to transfer the local currency to foreign currency through the rate set by the bank so it is done through the parallel currency market. Thus, the price of books is high and it is considered expensive for the customers. This is making things difficult for them but regardless of how challenging the situation is but they are still doing their best. Mr Ghassan told me a saying his father used to say to him and his brothers:
—الوي و اشبح القدام ––‘’Don’t stop moving forward but don’t look right or left, stay focused’’.
Regardless of the situation, Mr. Ghassan remains hopeful and they have a future vision for this cultural heritage. They hope to expand and have more branches all over Libya and the Arab world. When he told me of his story of him moving to another country at the age of 18. He noticed that people are the same and he said and I quote ”We are all the same and we have the same dreams. To him reading, especially fiction books helps, they widen the horizons of the mind.. Also, he added: ‘’You have to be persistent so the work can develop’’. Whenever he goes to the Books Affair in Egypt, he would immediately think of what customers like even if he was going to get books for himself.
Getting the chance to speak with Mr. Ghassan made me appreciate this bookstore even more. I am glad that he agreed to have this interview to share the story of a bookshop people got attached to for years and witnessed its growth.
At the end of the interview, Mr. Ghassan shared his advice to young Libyan writers. Many want to publish post the revolution and he encourages people to write but they must focus on Libya and the Arab world. Many are just waiting for an opportunity to seize. For the bookshop, as he mentioned, it is not only a place that sells books but it is a cultural heritage and it means so much to his family and it will be inherited to their kids.