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January 26, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of the photo caption misidentified an employee of South Asia Books. The correct name is Jake Parsons.
Tucked away on Nelwood Avenue, South Asia Books isn’t a traditional bookshop. As a premiere distributor of books published in India, this organization provides scholars and institutions a literary gateway to the vibrant culture of South Asia.
South Asia Books finds its roots in the late scholar Jerry Barrier’s passion for all things India. While traveling in Lahore, India, this former scholar in Sikhism had to take refuge in a bookshop during a riot. Like any good historian, Barrier spent this time collecting books.
Exchanging these bundles of knowledge with his peers eventually turned into a business in 1969. Barrier then began advising customers on how to build their South Asian collections.
Barrier developed relationships with publishers, which helped influence the quality of the Indian publishing trade. People who order books from India often have logistical problems, so South Asia Books acts as a liaison between publishers in India and American customers. The National Book Trust and the Indian government recognized him for this in 1994.
“People involved in the book trade consider Jerry as the first person to really bring their books to the West,” Matt Liccione, the distributor’s manager, says.
Although Barrier died in 2010, Liccione, his stepson, is carrying on the organization’s legacy as a top-notch resource.
“[South Asia Books] is a communication hub that connects people interested in the topics it carries,” Paul Wallace, Barrier’s friend and colleague, says.
Primarily selling online, the business’ warehouse, which houses about 20,000 titles on ceiling-high shelves, is a book lover’s gold mine. They have publications on every South Asian subject imaginable, such as a graphic novel about the experience of untouchables and a guide to yoga in the Kashmir Shaivism tradition. Books about Sanskrit are some of the most popular, which Liccione says is because Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages in the world and the foundation of Indian religion.
With this vast selection, South Asia Books makes Indian publications available in North America and includes textbooks, fiction and even cookbooks in their listings. And if a customer is looking for a specific title, Liccione says they do their best to find it.
“Our goal is to bring the entire Indian publishing trade as much as possible to the United States,” Liccione says.
In a world where the Internet rules, South Asia Books gives customers knowledge on South Asian culture that is often beyond Google’s grasp. By recreating the collection of rich scholarship that Barrier saw on that unruly day in Lahore, they’ve allowed customers to satisfy curiosities about the cultural quilt that is South Asia without leaving Columbia.