Seen and Heard at Idlewild Books

Thursday evening was a very exciting one for Literary Rapture. I attended a reading and discussion at a soon-to-be-open bookstore in Manhattan, socialized with book people, learned about a great wine store, and ate at a great French restaurant. So let me start at the beginning.

Idlewild Books will open in a couple weeks on 19th Street in Manhattan. This bookstore, dedicated to travel and world literature, is located in an amazing space perfect for readings and literary events. From the website: “A bookstore organized by country rather than genre, Idlewild will carry fiction and non-fiction from all parts of the world, including new and classical works in translation, travel guides, books about politics and culture, graphic lit, language-learning books, maps, and more.”

The inaugural event at Idlewild on Thursday evening was a reading and discussion of Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo by Murat Kurnaz. The English translation of the book was just released in the US by Palgrave Macmillan on April 1 of this year. Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen with German residency, was arrested without explanation in Pakistan when he was 19 years old and sold to American forces there for $3,000. He was held at Kandahar, Afghanistan and then sent to Guanatamo. He was interrogated and tortured there for five years before finally being found innocent and released.

There is a slight sense of uncertainty in Germany as to Kurnaz’s complete innocence, and the media coverage of his case and his book in Germany raises the question, why did Kurnaz travel to Pakistan in 2001-2002. At that time, it was not exactly a vacation spot. On the other hand, the US government found no solid evidence of his guilt of anything at all.

Although Kurnaz could not get a visa to come to the US, the co-author of the book was at Idlewilse to read from the English translation of the book. Kurnaz’s American and German lawyers discussed the case and difficulties of getting him released. Also present was journalist Justine Sharrock, who has interviewed soldiers at Guantanamo about the procedures and torture they inflicted on detainees. A big crowd turned up at the event and bookstore owner David del Vecchio sold tons of copies of the book.

A reception followed the discussion, at which 24 bottles of wine and many Cheez-Its were consumed. I don’t know how long it has been since you’ve had Cheez-Its, but they are delicious, especially the white cheddar variety. They go quite well with wine bought from a great wine store across the street from Idlewild called Bottlerocket. If you are looking for a German or Austrian red wine, go there!

After talking about blogs and books and other things, the last partiers standing went around the corner to L’Express for a midnight meal. The onion tart was great, as was the steak au poivre. One more reason Manhattan is awesome: restaurants are full at 11:30 pm.


Author: Hannah Johnson

When I first came to New York City, I almost ran over Liza Minelli with my suitcase. Then I got a job in book publishing.

2 thoughts on “Seen and Heard at Idlewild Books”

  1. Must have been a real good event! I’d like to mention that “Guantanamo” by Dorothea Dieckmann (published by Soft Skull)is also an an excellent short novel to read on the subject. I hoghly recommend it! Daniel

  2. The bookstore space is great and so is the eclectic selection of books, not to mention the kind and knowledgeable owner, David! A wonderful addition to Manhattan. Ann

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