However, once I began reading I was immediately drawn to the main character. He is never given a name, instead asking that we call him Ishmael, in reference to his favorite book, Moby Dick. Our 'Ishmael' is unabashedly, a great lover of books living in war torn Africa. He spends his entire life traveling from village to village asking for books, or lending out books, or telling the stories he has read in his beloved books. This man they call the barefoot librarian, is a man after my own heart. He sees books almost as a way of life, a source of joy, of love, and of healing. In fact throughout the story, he is literally saved by his love of books, be it a bullet through his copy of Moby Dick or the strength his body has developed from carrying many, many books across long distances. In one quote he states:
"Reading is alimentary. We devour books and get our teeth into them and lap them up and feast on words if the language is not indigestible. Books are nourishment and, like all nourishment, there is always enough to go around. Only it is not very well distributed." (pg 28)As the book starts out, our librarian meets a white woman named Kate. Kate is an academic, determined to bring to light the many atrocities being committed in the name of God. Our librarian can tell immediately that like many foreigners, Kate is in way over her head in this land ruled by overly religious men called the Warriors of God. These warriors are zealots who roam freely on horseback, taking whatever they like and punishing those who don't follow their standards of morality. Unsurprisingly, these are men who don't take very kindly to women especially. Among the warriors is an old childhood friend turned enemy of our librarian who has sworn to kill him at some point.
These two individuals along with a young girl, who they find along the way, find themselves in an unlikely partnership trying to escape the Warriors of God. Throughout everything they manage to maintain their humanity and become a family of sorts, clinging to each other against the inhumanity of those around them.
It's a beautifully told story and even though it is a mere 158 pages, each page is intense and it feels like a much longer book. It was a heart-wrenching story that will likely stick with me for a long time. I would recommend it to adult readers but be forewarned that despite it's small size, this is definitely not a light read.