sir john mortimer, the writer of rumpole, summer’s lease, the titmuss novels, journey round my father, and, not last or least, the original screen adaptation of brideshead revisited (jeremy irons, anthony andrews, nicholas grace, laurence olivier, etc., etc.) died this week. i can’t help feeling it’s a little ridiculous to feel sad over the death of someone i’ve never met but, on the other hand, i also can’t help feeling that a certain voice of sanity has left england as well as an excellent writer. if you haven’t read any of the above — or, in the case of brideshead, summer’s lease, or rumpole — seen them, i suggest an addition to the ol’ netflix queue and library list.
librarians — or archivists — rarely get to lay the smackdown. only in the movies do we generally get to tote around weapons of mass destruction (in the form of books, of course), swing through forests, or try to track down demons; mostly in the real world we even try not to shush people too much. i think this is all to the good, but, on the other hand, i can’t help getting a real sense of satisfaction out of the verdict in the trial of farhad hakimzadah in london.
the first headlines i saw on this story were from last november’s guardian. approximately 150 rare and/or unique books in the british library’s collection had been vandalized — pages sliced out, maps missing, etc. — over the space of a few years. the librarians worked with the police — and their own reading room records and the like (use statistics to fight crime!) — to figure out what was going on and tracked the entire problem down to hakimzadah. lord love the british, they immediately took him to court for it for vandalism and, basically, irreparable damage to international cultural heritage items. if you click through into the story above, there’s a partial list of some of the volumes he went through and some of them are just heartbreaking — and they can never be the same again. even with the sliced-out maps, pages, indices, whatever returned, the books can’t be fixed to be the same. the informational value will be the same — for the books that had all their missing parts found and if those missing parts are still undamaged, legible, etc. and i don’t know whether they did find all the missing pages — but the experience of using them will never be the same for any researcher after hakimzadah.
within the last two days, the trial has concluded and the verdict handed down — the library gets to claim about three hundred thousand pounds in damages (plus the return of the items, obviously) and hakimzadah goes to jail for two years — plus paying legal costs, restitution, so on and so forth. (the two links above are to two very similar stories, by the way; i just included them both for the sake of completion.) apparently, hakimzadah pleaded that he had a psychological “compulsion” to steal from the library to perfect his own personal collection. apparently hakimzadah had also stolen from the bodleian (which has to be pretty pissed it didn’t notice what was going on — i see no note of whether their items are returned or paid for) and previously from the royal asiatic society which let him off if he paid for the mutilated and lost items.
now, hakimzadah, as far as i can see, has absolutely no excuse for what he did. he was a topline academic, access to research collections across the world for basically anything he might need to get his hands on outside, maybe, of the vatican archives which i hear are a pain to get into. he had money to buy more or less anything he wanted for his own collection which was, so the article said, the fourth best in his field in the world.