The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Frankfurt Book Fair

Frankfurt International Book Fair

The Frankfurt International Book Fair opened yesterday with "the Arab world" as its guest of honor. If all goes well, I'll be attending the fair tomorrow morning as I fly from Casablanca to Cairo, via Frankfurt, and have about eight hours to linger. I'll try to do some reporting on the fair -- as much as I can in that short time-span -- and post anything worthwhile, hopefully from the fair itself or otherwise later in the day.

In the meantime, here are a few articles culled from the internet on the opening and other pertinent issues:

  • The BBC writes about how Arab authors are "stealing the show" and the difficulties they encounter with censorship.

  • Al-Ahram Weekly reviews press coverage -- especially German press -- of the Arab role in the fair.

  • The Simon Wiesenthal Center is complaining that some books at the fair "incite hatred" and gives a list of the offending titles. However, while some of the books listed are clearly offensive and racist, others are simply anti-Israeli. For instance, a book about the Israeli destruction of Quneitra (in Syria) doesn't seem that offensive, since that town was razed to the ground by Israel. That's not really racism or anti-Semitism, so it's a shame they include them and only discredits them.

  • IslamOnline has a special book fair file that already has several interesting articles, including:

  • In “Arab Publisher Speaks Out on the Frankfurt Book Fair” the deputy-director of the Arab Publisher’s Association, Mohammed Rashad, speaks out about the obstacles to publishing in the Arab World, reading trends in the Middle East and his preparations for the fair.

  • An interesting note from Rashad's interview:

    “As an observer of the Arab market, I can tell you that the interests of the Arab reader have followed several trends in the course of my career. In the beginning of the ‘70s literature and modern poetry were the main interest of the Arab reader. Towards the end of the ‘70s, religious and classical religious writings came to the forefront, such as Qur’anic exegesis and Hadith. By the ‘80s books related to IT [information technology] topped all the lists. In the ‘90s literature had a strong comeback. Nowadays, surprisingly, classical and modern works on Islam and modern Islamic thought are topping the sales lists. We find a lack of religious thought and intellectual production when it comes to this field. Also, no one can ignore the strong interest in modern poetry.”

  • In “Dialogue With the President of the Frankfurt Book Fair,” Volker Neumann provides us with a behind-the-scenes impression of the organization of the fair, the negotiations with the guest of honor, and his hopes and expectations for the event.

  • In “Arabic Literature in Translation: A Survey,” Peter Ripken gives a historical overview of the translation of Arabic literature into Western European languages and sheds light on the causes for the lack of translations from Arabic available on the Western book markets today. 

  • In “Translations as Caricatures of the Arab World?” Samir Grees challenges the contention that translations from Arabic are chosen exclusively on the basis of Orientalist stereotypes of the Arab world and political sensationalism while expressing harsh criticism of the Arab League for its perceived lack of support for literary production.

  • In “Authors Without Books: Young Yemeni Literature Is Looking for Its Place,” Arab Literature expert Günther Orth uncovers the hidden pearls of a virtually unknown literature and describes the struggles its authors face in a land where the publishing tradition is only just being born.