Malsa Maaz, First Maldivian Barefoot Bookseller

Back in 2018, Soneva Fushi partnered with Ultimate Library to host the very first popup bookshop in Maldives. The resort began its search for Barefoot Booksellers, highly passionate individuals to run its desert island bookshop. From hundreds of applications from all corners of the world, Soneva would choose only two lucky candidates every year.

In 2021, with a second bookshop at Soneva Jani, the resort found its first Maldivian Barefoot Bookseller, Malsa Maaz. Hotelier Maldives interviewed Malsa to learn more about her work.

Hotelier Maldives: Tell us about yourself and your career

Malsa Maaz: I grew up here in the Maldives, in Malé. After I finished school, I worked in the heritage industry as a Research Intern, which paved the way for university. For my Bachelor of Arts, I studied Archaeology and Anthropology and I have just finished my Master of Research in Engaged Anthropology at a university in Wales, in the  UK. My main focus was on the documentation of Maldivian cultural heritage and my fieldwork involved learning traditional arts and crafts such as fangi vinun (coconut thatch weaving), roanu veshun (coir rope weaving) and kasabu viyun (embroidery lace weaving) using traditional tools and techniques.

After university, I worked on a project as a cultural anthropologist to help   establish a private museum at a resort, researching the pre-Islamic history of the Maldives and Maldives-Chinese relationship to trace the porcelain trade.

Working as the Barefoot Bookseller here at Soneva Jani is my first full-time job after university. It’s a true honour to be the first Maldivian in this role.

HM: What does your job entail as a Barefoot Bookseller?

MM: This job role entails so much more than just selling books and no day is ever the same. I run creative writing classes and biblio-dialogue sessions, offer private tutoring, make personally tailored reading recommendations for guests hailing from all around the world, and reading sessions with those looking for a digital detox and to reconnect with nature. I’m also planning to restart the Barefoot Book Club that was started by my predecessors.

Together with the Barefoot Bookseller at Soneva Fushi, we will be documenting our journeys with weekly blog posts.

Malsa Maaz, Barefoot Bookseller, Soneva Jani

HM: How is it like working at Soneva Jani? What do you like most about the resort?

MM: For me, working at Soneva Jani feels very liberating – it is indeed the place to make a difference. New ideas are readily accepted, giving everyone the chance to grow and thrive.

I really like the ‘No News, No Shoes’ ethos here which encourages people to disconnect, relax and reconnect with the ground beneath their feet. As the Barefoot Bookseller I am always literally barefoot, and it makes me feel really connected to the natural environment.

I also really like the fact that Soneva as a brand is about breaking barriers – there is a high percentage of women working here in so many different fields, from marine biology  to engineering. I am inspired by these women every day.

HM: Tell us about the book collections at Soneva Jani

MM: The Soneva Jani book collection has been carefully curated by the Ultimate Library, tailored to underline Soneva’s values and sustainable ethos, celebrate the local culture and reflect the diverse tastes of its sophisticated, cultured guests from across the world.

We have an extensive collection of non-fiction, including wellness, relaxation and mindful reading, as well as books on sustainability and eco-conscious living, all which reflect Soneva’s barefoot luxury philosophy.

There is also a wide collection of fictional books, including thought-provoking contemporary novels, much-loved classics and children’s books for readers big and small.

Malsa Maaz, Barefoot Bookseller, Soneva Jani

HM: What is your favourite book from the collection?

MM: I love books about local Maldivian culture, such as The Maldives Islanders and Folk Tales of the Maldives by Spanish anthropologist Xavier Romero-Frias. He has lived and done fieldwork in the Maldives for a number of years and has contributed to documenting our unique cultural heritage and history.

When it comes to the classics, Pride and Prejudice is one book that I have read time and time again. Elizabeth Bennett is one of my favourite literary characters of all time and I somehow always associate with her as she is not scared of breaking barriers. That inspires me – so I always end up re-reading it whenever I feel like I need a little motivation boost.

At the moment I am reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – recommended to me by a lot of guests. I am also reading The Apollo Murders, which is a space mystery thriller by my favourite astronaut Chris Hadfield.

I have had a lot of requests for the new Bill Gates book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, so we’ll have that in stock very soon.

HM: As a booklover and the first Maldivian Barefoot Bookseller, what is your advice to someone looking to pursue a career in this field?

MM: Always be different and come up with new, creative and innovative ideas. Be willing to learn from people: the more you engage with different people, the more you learn.