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In the heart of the Amazon, the “forest bookseller” does not let himself be defeated

LETTER FROM MANAUS

It is a small green Art Nouveau kiosk, lined with old and second-hand books, sheltered from the sun by hundred-year-old trees. In the square, children play cat and lovers hug each other. Friends meet for a drink. An amateur musician practices the violin. Tourists take pictures of themselves in front of the splendid Belle Epoque theater. The sun sets. It almost feels like being in Paris. Except that…

Except that the scene takes place in Manaus, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, 8,500 kilometers as the crow flies from the Palais-Garnier and the Eiffel Tower. It is there, in Sao Sebastiao Square, opposite the imposing Amazonas theater, set on the black and white wave-shaped pavement, in the shade of venerable mango trees, which we find the very discreet Banca do Largo.

“I am a bookseller! ” (to pronounce “Boukinichti”, Brazilian), laughs the owner of the place, Joaquim Melo, pushing the confusion to the end. With an easy smile, graying hair and a soft voice, the 63-year-old rules over nothing less than the world’s largest bookstore devoted to the Amazon. Three thousand works in all, which have earned his booth the poetic nickname of “Forest bookstore”.

“Everything is not stored here, far from there”, insists Joaquim Melo from the outset. The banca is indeed great only “29.95 m2 (exactly !). “Most of the books, I keep them at home, in a safe place”, says the bookseller, logistics expert. Keeping fine paper at 40 ° C and 100% humidity is indeed no easy task. “You have to leave the air conditioning on all the time, to prevent them from rotting”, he explains.

A merchant as cunning as he is generous

On the shelves of a forest green, the choice is vast. Treatise on biology, cosmogonic study of the natives of Kanamary, travel accounts of Jesuit priests or of the Frenchman Charles Marie de La Condamine, old editions of Euclides da Cunha or Alberto Rangel (“Who knew how to describe the reality of rubber fever like no one else”)… The stock has some rarities, such as the first edition dated 1897 of the Trip to Tocantins-Araguaya by Frenchman Henri Coudreau.

The “bookseller of the forest” is also a merchant as cunning as he is generous (left to buy a single book, we came out with five, three of which were offered). But, much more than an expert in literature, Joaquim Melo defines himself first and foremost as a ” gold digger “. “Where I’m good is finding any book on the Amazon, wherever it is”, he said. Man has his touts all over Brazil. “I sometimes spend years hunting, but I’m patient and always find! ”

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