Figuring out the Foreword

Thus far, I have remained silent on the subject of the book’s foreword.  This is not because I didn’t have something planned, but rather because I wanted to wait until the text was set and the permissions verified before I made the news public.

I’m very happy to report that the foreword will consist of quotes by three citizens of Timbuktu.  I know you will be touched by what they have to say.

How did I come to this decision?  Well, the truth is that, at first, I did try and go with the more conventional route, and I worked to find an appropriately famous academic or famous photographer to write my foreword.  However, my search didn’t go smoothly, and this may partly be due to the fact that the two people who I really wanted to write my foreword (Bruce Chatwin and W. G. Sebald) had already died.

In the course of my search, a few of the famous academics and famous photographers suggested that I simply ask one of the scholars of Timbuktu to write my foreword.  This was a good idea, and I liked it, but I was also worried.  So many eminent Timbuktu scholars had helped me in my work.  It was a political nightmare to choose one over another.  Moreover, a good number of them had – understandably – stopped answering their emails during this last year of political chaos.

But, at the same time, I was in frequently communication with friends from Timbuktu from all walks of life.  I learned about their lives in exile or lives under the Islamist rule through touching, short emails.

So, I decided contact all the people I knew from Timbuktu whose emails still worked and ask for their words – just a few sentences were fine – and their thoughts about their town, about the tradition of scholarship, and about this last year’s war.  I received about 15 thoughtful replies, and out of these I chose sections of three that I felt were most appropriate to my book.

They make a beautiful foreword, and I think that even if Chatwin or Sebald were alive, they couldn’t have written a better one.

Thank you, to all my friends from Timbuktu for your amazing words!


Remember to support my book “333 Saints: a Life of Scholarship in Timbuktu”


And, don’t worry, episode 3 on book drafting will be coming out before too long…

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