Shubigi Rao




  • an excerpt from Pulp II: A Visual Bibliography of the Banished Book


an excerpt from Pulp II: A Visual Bibliography of the Banished Book

AT an exhibition of photographs from the war by famed photographer Milomir Kovacevic, I see familiar faces, many of the people I have been meeting, all younger, haggard with the horror around them, but defiant and resistant nonetheless. A shell-pocked wall, with an exuberant spray of ‘Joy Division’ painted across it, hangs next to another photograph. a group of five men load armfuls of books into the back of a truck while the library burns. I see a youthful Goran, bearded but very recognizable.

“The national library was not just the symbol of Sarajevo, it was the homeland of our books as well. My friends and I would go to the library with food, offering help (during the Siege); as an author that was my duty. And then one morning when I woke up, I saw a great grey snow falling on the city, over the old town where I lived. The national library was burning.”

“The guard/the guy in charge of protecting Vijećnica, told me that from the hills surrounding the city came phosphorus shells, meant to burn with hot flames everything they touched. He said they couldn’t stop the fire, as it spread from one room to the next, the building under constant bombardment. We could do nothing. It was heavy shelling that day. Over the next few days, with sniper bullets all around, my friends and I managed to commandeer a van from the military, and tried to save as many books as we could, filling them into the van. We started from the top floors, and in one room, as the destruction raged, I saw scattered among the archival books and newspapers, a very old one with the headline, roughly translated to read “Can you imagine, they are burning books in China”. My heart burned with that newspaper.

We were lucky that we survived, but more than that, we were lucky we saved more than a million books. We hid them safely, in secret, for the rest of the war. We knew that there would be another attack on what we had saved if word ever got out about what we had done.

You can replace buildings, you can build new bridges, but with the library, it’s like they tried to kill the memory of Bosnia, of Yugoslavia, of the world. When you burn books, it’s like you are trying to kill the whole imagination of the world.”

© Rock Paper Fire

by Shubigi Rao
from Pulp II: A Visual Bibliography of the Banished Book (2018)
published by Rock Paper Fire