What's in it for you? An inside look at the Jerusalem book fair's appeal to the masses.
02.03.2011 / 14:37
(This article expired 26.11.2013 / 14:37.)
By David B. Green / Haaretz
Why should you attend the 25th Jerusalem International Book Fair? People in the industry - writers, publishers, agents, even the cultural attaches of dozens of countries with diplomatic representation in Israel - all have their perfectly good professional reasons to be there. The fair, after all, which has taken place every two years since 1963, brings together individuals from more than 1,200 publishers and from over 40 countries, offering everyone an opportunity to make deals and keep abreast of what's happening in the field globally.
But what about the "average" Israel-based reader of Haaretz English Edition? What's in it for you, besides the opportunity to get lost in Binyanei Ha'ooma (the International Convention Center ) as you stroll past stands set up by various countries, many of which you know little about - with their displays of thousands of books, in languages you can't pronounce, let alone understand, and most of which aren't even available for sale?
You probably don't need the book fair - which opens to the public this Monday, February 21, and runs through Friday morning - to introduce you to the wonderfully intelligent, always surprising books of Ian McEwan, winner of this year's Jerusalem Prize. But it may be of interest to some that the English writer will appear Tuesday at 8 P.M., in a public conversation with Israeli novelist Meir Shalev, as part of the fair's Literary Cafe program.
Likewise with Umberto Eco, who is scheduled for a Literary Cafe talk with Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua on Wednesday at 8:30 P.M. The Italian author's visit coincides with the Hebrew publication of his 2004 book "History of Beauty," but he will likely be asked about his most recent historical novel, "The Cemetery of Prague," as well. The latter was a mega-best seller in Europe and Latin America last year, but also attracted criticism from both the Vatican and the chief rabbi of Rome, for what some argued was an overly convincing presentation of the arguments of modern anti-Semitism - though the author clearly had the opposite intention. Eco's book is due to be published in an English translation later this year, and you'll no doubt be hearing about it then.
Expand your horizons
The Jerusalem International Book Fair, rather, is a place to go to expand your horizons, by letting yourself be exposed to writers and their creations that, even if published in a language you can read, would be unlikely - through no fault of their own - to ever catch your eye. We mostly have the mainstream media to thank for this, given the tendency to tell consumers over and over again about the same books, being offered by merchants at irresistible discounts. Take Czech writer Petra Hulova, for example, who, at age 31, has already published six novels in her native land, including "All of This Belongs to Me" (Northwestern University Press ) - her best-selling debut work that is to date her lone novel available in English (see box on Page 5 ). That book is narrated by five women representing three generations of a Mongolian family An audacious undertaking, to be sure; one made possible by the author's having studied Mongolian at university and lived for a year in Ulan Bator. Like many of the other writers who will be accessible to the public at the fair, Hulova will appear at one of 30 hour-long conversations at the Literary Cafe (Tuesday, 11 A.M.), where it will indeed be possible to sip a cup of coffee while taking in a chat (or, in a few cases, a performance ) about writing and culture. The value-added element of these events are the interlocutors chosen by series organizer Tsila Hayun to share the stage with the visiting authors.
Hulova, for example, will be joined by fellow Czech novelist Tomas Zmeskal and Romanian novelist Filip Florian in a discussion to be moderated by the Israeli translator and editor Noa Manheim. Like Hulova, Zmeskal and Florian are young writers who came of age after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, and have written socially and politically provocative novels that have been hugely successful in their respective countries.
According to Marina Sternova, cultural attache at the Czech Embassy in Tel Aviv, both Hulova and Zmeskal use their experiences of having lived abroad to depict "the confrontation of Czech reality with global issues." Zmeskal also brings his mixed-race identity, unusual for a homogeneous society like the Czech Republic, to bear in his writing.
Their Romanian peer Florian, was born in 1968, worked for a decade as a journalist, and his first of three novels, "Little Fingers," describes what ensues in a small Carpathian town after a mass grave is discovered there. When an analysis concludes that the grave holds the remains of victims of the bubonic plague two centuries earlier, there is widespread disappointment; most had expected that the skeletons belonged to victims of the more recent communist regime, and that their identification would provide some sort of catharsis for those townspeople who endured that dark era.
Georgeta Pana, who directs the Romanian Cultural Institute in Tel Aviv, says the literary scene in her country has come into its own in recent years, much like its highly praised film industry. During the reign of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, she says, "it was difficult to get a good book. People would stand in line for hours in front of bookshops to buy a book. Today we have dozens, even hundreds of publishing houses, and it's possible to speak of a new wave of Romanian authors, people who are well connected to both Romanian realities and the Romanian past, and who give an interesting perspective on both."
French by the few
The French, whose literature has seen new waves and even newer waves, are sending only a small number of people to Jerusalem, but all are prominent figures at home. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the prestigious publisher Gallimard, and the current CEO of the company, Antoine Gallimard, grandson of the founder, Gaston, will attend several events. Among them, a celebration on Tuesday at 7:30 P.M. of the publishing house (in French and Hebrew ), with the participation of Israeli authors Amos Oz, Zeruya Shalev and Alona Kimhi (all of whom are published by Gallimard ), book fair director Zev Birger, and French writers Pierre Assouline and Maylis de Kerangal.
Assouline, a prominent journalist, has written biographies not only of Gaston Gallimard, but also of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Georges Simenon and, most recently, Herge, the creator of immortal comics character Tintin, among others (the latter three have been published in English ). De Kerangal is the author of three novels, including "Naissance d'un Pont" ("Birth of a Bridge" ), which won last year's Prix Medicis, awarded to writers "whose fame does not yet match their talent." The book, explains Roselyne Dery, literary attache at the French Cultural Institute here, is a tour de force that "interweaves to great effect the stories of different people involved in the design and construction of a huge bridge in the fictional city of Coca, California." The last Literary Cafe of the fair, set for 8:30 P.M. on Thursday, will pair French novelist Jean-Christophe Rufin with Israeli Francophile MK Daniel Ben Simon. Rufin, a physician by training and one of the founders of Medecins Sans Frontieres, served until recently as a French diplomat in Senegal (see interview on Page 12 ). The action of his lastest book, "Katiba," according to the French daily Liberation, unfolds in numerous locales, including "Paris, the depths of the Sahara, the bar of the Aero Club of Dakar, the suburbs of Brussels, the slums of Nouakchott and the streets of New York."
Don't miss the Deutsche
Germany will be represented at the book fair with a far larger delegation, and a considerable number of events - not only at the Literary Cafe, but at the country's own stand. Just a few sample events follow. For example, a meeting (in English ) at the LC on Tuesday, at 6:30 P.M, between the young Israeli scholar and Kafka biographer Prof. Galili Shahar and Prof. Klaus Wagenbach, a politically outspoken independent publisher (an article about him published by the Goethe Institute notes that he delivered a eulogy at Ulrike Meinhof's funeral, and he boasts of having the longest rap sheet of any German publisher ) who is himself the author of a variety of books about Kafka.
Another event later that evening, at 7:30 P.M., will see the presentation of a new biography of Berthold Beitz, an extraordinary German figure who was a director of the Krupp steel corporation during the Holocaust years who saved the lives of several hundred Jewish workers, for which he was named a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. After the war, he continued his career with Krupp, overseeing its transformation into a charitable foundation. Journalist Joachim Kappner's biography of Beitz, who today is 97, became a best seller in Germany when it was published earlier this year.
A Wednesday evening event - at 6 P.M. at the LC (in English ) - will bring together Wagenbach, German novelist Jenny Erpenbeck, Israeli scholar Fania Oz-Salzberger and Arye Shalicar, among others, for a round-table discussion about Berlin. Shalicar, in his early 30s, is an , Berlin-raised Jew who published a memoir in Germany last year called "A Wet Dog Is Better than a Dry Jew," a title taken from an old Persian saying. His book describes his childhood in Berlin, where he was often attacked by Muslim peers for being a Jew, until he joined a tough street gang involved in drug dealing, among other things. Today, Shalicar lives in Israel and serves in the Israel Defense Forces' Spokesman's Unit.
Forty-three-year-old Jenny Erpenbeck, whom the Guardian recently described as "one of the finest, most exciting authors alive," spent the first half of her life in East Germany. Her most recent novel, "Visitation" (one of three Erpenbeck books to have been published in English ), is the story of a grand house that witnessed firsthand much of the dramatic and horrific history of Germany during the past century, and is based in part on the history of a house owned by the author's family after the war, which was repatriated to its prewar owners in 2002.
Erpenbeck (see box on Page 4 ) will also appear Wednesday, at 5 P.M., with Russian-born Israeli writer Alex Epstein, in an event moderated by Israeli journalist Shiri Lev-Ari.
Italian writers will also be well represented next week in Jerusalem. Besides the formidable Umberto Eco, and the poet and writer Erri de Luca, who has become a regular guest at literary events here (he will be doing a fun event Monday at 9 P.M. with Israeli chef Rafi Adar, where they will discuss de Luca's works as well as "love, music and Naples," according to the program, and there may be some food involved as well ), several less well-known writers, at least outside of Italy, will also appear.
At the LC on Monday at 7:30 P.M., the Israeli crime novelist Liad Shoham will meet with two Italian authors of crime thrillers: Gianrico Carofiglio and Carlo Lucarelli. The former is a senator and ex-magistrate from Bari, in the country's south, who took his experience prosecuting Mafia activities and turned it into extremely popular fiction. His series of novels, several of which have appeared in English, feature a defense attorney named Guido Guerrieri.
Lucarelli is the author of over 20 crime novels, as well as host of an Italian TV show dedicated to examining unsolved crimes. Shoham, a lawyer by training, is the author of more than a half-dozen Hebrew thrillers. Their panel discussion will be moderated by Claudia Rosenzweig, a scholar of Yiddish and Italian literature at Bar-Ilan University.
A very different sort of meeting will take place at the LC at 12:15 P.M. Tuesday, between David Ehrlich, owner of Jerusalem's beloved Tmol-Shilshom cafe-bookshop, and Angelo Pezzana, who owns a similar hybrid establishment in Turin. Pezzana, now 70, founded Italy's first political party devoted to advancing the cause of gay rights, 40 years ago, and he has written several books on subjects related to homosexual issues. Though he himself is not Jewish, Pezzana also wrote a book (in Italian ) about Italian Jews who have made aliyah to Israel.
Three particular panel discussions should draw large, enthusiastic crowds. Tuesday morning, from 10 A.M., there will be two back-to-back conversations, each an hour long, on digital publishing: the first on how the digital age is changing the industry itself, the second on its effects on education. Moderating the first panel is Yossi Vardi, Israel's legendary high-tech entrepreneur who's helped numerous start-ups get established and go public. He has invited former Columbia Records president and founder of S-Curve Records Steven Greenberg (who once served as a DJ on the Voice of Peace, from "somewhere in the Mediterranean" ); Santiago de la Mora, who heads Google's Book Search project in Europe and the Middle East; and Guy Rolnik, editor-in-chief of Haaretz sister publication TheMarker. Vardi expects his group to examine "the new definition of 'publisher,' when you have 100 million publishers out there - some of whom do their work with no money and give their product away for free. We want to look at possible business models." Prof. Yoav Yair, dean of development and technology at the Open University of Israel, has put together an equally high-powered panel to examine the effect of digitization on education. Panelists include Laurie Racine, one of the directors of the American non-profit Creative Commons, who has personally been involved in numerous educational and non-profit digital initiatives; Gila Ben-Har, executive director of Israel's Center for Educational Technology; Yosi Ben Dov, CEO of Time to Know, the Israeli firm developing digital teaching platforms for the classroom; and Shai Reshef, founder and president of the University of the People, a tuition-free online university. Among other things, explains Yair, the group will look at how educational institutions are being redefined by new technology, as well as the way digital platforms respond to the different ways in which students need to read various kinds of materials. Later that day, at 5 P.M., Hebrew University professor Shlomo Avineri will lead a panel discussion on conflict resolution in politics and literature. Participants include Adam Michnik, a Polish journalist who helped lead the underground opposition movement against the Communist regime during the 20 years that preceded its fall; Dubravka Ugresic, a dissident Croatian writer who now resides in the Netherlands, and whose anti-fascist outspokenness made her a target of radical nationalists; and Enrique Krauze, the Mexican historian and writer.
The idea for the discussion came out of a realization that though "most writers are against war and for peace, it seems that a lot of writing is about war, including some of the world's greatest classics - writers from Tolstoy to Stendhal - while's there very little about peace," Avineri explains. He of course understands why the drama of war is more likely to serve as a literary backdrop than more placid times, but says he's tried to invite people from former war zones that have become peaceful, to discuss the cultural effects of such transformations.
Did we mention it's free?
Why else should you attend the fair? First, let me emphasize that I have touched - very subjectively - on just a small portion of the week's events. I advise taking a look at the schedule (online at jerusalembookfair.com ) to see what else might appeal to you. Let me also note that there will be a number of events designed for kids every afternoon between 4 and 6 P.M. Tuesday at 5 P.M., for example, writer Meir Shalev and illustrator Yossi Abulafia will discuss their collaborative children's books; if you have a child or grandchild, it's permitted to employ him or her for cover. Also, did I mention that all events are free?
In the space remaining, I will mention a few additional events that seem particularly worthy of note. On Monday at 12:30 P.M., for example, Ketzia Alon, a regular reviewer of fiction for Haaretz, will be speaking (in Hebrew ) with Aharon Appelfeld about his role as a postmodern writer. In Alon's opinion Appelfeld is often pegged simply as a "Holocaust writer," but also deserves to be read as a post-colonialist who, "like V.S. Naipaul or Toni Morrison, writes about what it is like to live under oppression."
Later that day, at 3 P.M., American novelist Robert Cohen (who is interviewed on Page 10 ) will speak at the LC with Bar-Ilan English professor Michael Kramer. Cohen's poignant, comic novels have been compared more than once to those of Philip Roth, and neurotics (but not only ) can certainly find a lot to identify with in them.
That conversation will be followed at 5 P.M. by a meeting between German writer Mirjam Pressler, whose forthcoming book tells the "extraordinary story of Anne Frank's family," and Anne's last living relative - her first cousin Buddy Elias. There is good reason we remain moved and fascinated by the details of Anne Frank's life.
Wednesday morning will see an unusual event, conducted in English, about "two poets of the lost Vilnius" - Czeslaw Milosz and the Yiddish writer Abraham Sutzkever (set for 11 A.M. ). Lithuanian critic Mindaugas Kvietkauskas will speak with American Yiddish scholar David G. Roskies and Polish poet and editor Krzysztof Czyzewski; and they will be accompanied by a selection from a dramatic interpretation of Sutzkever's story "The Twin Sisters"?
Later the same day, at 4 P.M., is an event related to cookbooks - a field only minimally represented at this year's fair. Two giants in the field, Joan Nathan of the U.S., and our own Israel Aharoni, as well as chef Ezra Kedem, of Jerusalem's landmark restaurant Aracadia, will talk about the meaning of Jewish food; moderated by Washington, D.C. bread baker Mark Furstenberg. No serious American lover of cooking is unfamiliar with Nathan's works - the most recent of which, published late last year, centers around her "search for Jewish cooking in France."
Finally, an admittedly esoteric event will bring together two leading scholars of Indian culture and language on Thursday, at 1 P.M., when Hebrew University's Yohanan Grinshpon speaks with his colleague David Shulman, one of the world's principal experts on Sanskrit. Born in Iowa, Shulman has written numerous books on Indian poetry, religion and mythology. (He is also a tireless political activist, in particular on behalf of Palestinians living in the south Hebron Hills, which he described in his 2007 book "Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine." )
My plan next week is to embed myself in the fair and take in as many of the varied events as my mortal frame allows, breaking only to write a daily dispatch on my impressions for this paper (Tuesday through Friday ). If you're there too, I'll be the one with the dazed look on his face, running madly around the convention center, notebook in hand.