On a huge black poster put up on a wall at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), thousands of names were neatly listed in white. They were not famous nor were they chosen at random — they were people whose stories ended in a snap, one airstrike after another.
Titled Unfinished Stories, the display was a heart-wrenching tribute put up by local publisher Uhibbook Publishing. It was a stark reminder of the true cost of war.
“Right now, it feels like we are a split life,” said the founder of the publishing house, Sadia Anwar. “On one side, we are all going on with our daily lives while on the other side, we are witnessing entire chunks of a population being wiped out.”
According to the founders of the publishing house, the task took them almost a week to complete.
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“We first downloaded the list published by authorities,” said co-founder Mehnaz Anshah. “Then we transliterated them into English, which was quite a task because some names were Arabic, and it was hard to find an exact translation. And sometimes, there were titles ahead of the names, which again we needed to go on a name-by-name basis.”
On October 7, Hamas launched an attack on Israel, killing 1,400 people. Since then, Israel's retaliatory bombings on Gaza have killed over 8,000 and displaced more than one million people. The names were taken from a list of 6,747 documented deaths that was published by the Gaza Health Ministry at the end of October.
Putting the list together was challenging but the most difficult part of it all was the mental toll it took on the team.
“There are some instances where 88 people of the same family were killed,” said Sadia.
“Their ages ranged from infants to 72-year-olds. These were real people with dreams, hopes, and talents that they hoped to contribute to the world. Not only are they being killed but their homes are razed, and all their belongings are destroyed. It is as if any proof that they ever existed is being wiped out.”
The publishers said the least they could do was to remember them.
“As a publishing house, we focus on the premise that everyone has a story to say,” said Mehnaz. “So, the only thing we can do is make sure that these names are not forgotten. They all had stories. Stories that they never got to complete because they were unfortunate enough to be caught in a war.”
The installation has received a good response from the visitors to the book fair.
“Some people are really moved by it,” said Charitie Aguma, a woman who volunteers at the stall. “Yesterday, an Egyptian publisher spent a long time reading through the names. After he left, he came back with a friend to look at it again. You could see that they were getting really emotional.”
The SIBF kicked off on Wednesday with publishers from over 108 countries bringing over 1.5 million titles under one roof. From rare items and the latest books to informative panel sessions and exciting workshops, there is plenty on offer at the book fair.
Uhibbook has also created a “Wish Wall” at its stall where visitors are invited to take a wish from the envelopes and leave their own wish for another person to read and keep with them.
“We know that the world is going through a lot of grief and hurt,” said Sadia. “We just wanted to spread a message of positivity.”
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