Before it was devastated by invasions and war and sectarian violence, Baghdad had a very different reputation as the heart of literature in the Middle East.
Twenty-five-year-old Ali al-Moussawi is doing his best to revive his city's literary soul. With a BA in English translation and a passion for reading, he began selling books from a stall to finance book clubs and writing seminars. He now employs a staff of four and drives a converted van full of books around Baghdad's barbed wire and bomb-proof barriers.
Mr. al-Moussawi is often stopped by security teams that suspect him of carrying explosives in his van, and he is well-versed in long discussions over where he can set up shop. Still, he hopes that the books will serve as a starting point to bring communities together.
For now, the disparities facing Baghdad's readers are mirrored in the titles on display, which he changes according to the neighbourhood's clientele. Shiites and Sunnis can both easily find their respective religious texts, and the biographies of Saddam Hussein that continue to be popular in Sunni communities are available there. But when Mr. al-Moussawi sets up amongst students, it's biographies of celebrities, not political leaders, that are the order of the day, along with poetry, textbooks, and fiction.