Fiction, politics set to top book fair

Preparing for the opening of the book fair can be tiring.

BEIRUT: Publishers are gearing up to take part in the 56th edition of the Beirut International Arab Book Fair. While they will be offering a wide range of books during the exhibition, which opens Monday, booksellers’ hopes hinge on fiction titles and political analyses, demand for which has been high.

“Arab readers are demanding novels the most,” says Rana Idriss, the director of Dar al-Adab Publishing House which specializes in fiction works.

“These days, the novel can revolve around many themes at the same time,” she explains, “including philosophy, sociology, politics, love, sex and intellect.”

Among Adab’s new titles featured at the fair is “Mina,” a novel by Sahar Mandour, which tells the story of a young woman who excels in acting.

Another novel, Faten Murr’s “A Key for Najwa,” relates a story set in the Palestinian refugee camps, and sheds light on the community’s sufferings.

Idriss explains that the demand for books on Islamist and fundamentalist movements has also increased recently, speculating that this might reflect the rise of Islamists to power in some Arab countries in the wake of almost two years of political ferment in this region.

“But we are still publishing modern novels,” Idriss continues, “and actually many are about what is happening in the Arab world.”

At this edition of the fair, she explains, Adab will launch three novels by Libyan authors, three by Syrian writers and two more by Egyptians, which reflect the disillusionment of Leftists who often played key roles in initiating uprisings which facilitated the rise of Islamist groups.

Rania Moallem, the managing editor of Al-Saqi books, agrees that demand is high for novels and politics books, and the publishing house is offering many such titles at this edition of the fair.

“This year we have books that are directly related to the events and uprisings in the Arab world,” she says. “We have a new book by Hashem Saleh, entitled ‘Arab Uprisings in light of History’s Philosophy,’ ... in which he tries to explain why the Arab Spring has turned to what he calls a Fundamentalist Fall.”

Saqi is also promoting “Why Aren’t Arabs Free?” Originally written in French by Mustafa Safwan, Saqi’s is an Arabic edition translated by Mustafa Hijazi and includes an additional chapter by the author on recent developments in Egypt.

According to Moallem, although demand for books on the Arab Spring is high, “many people are busy watching these events on television rather than reading about them because they are still happening.”

Not every non-fiction title is related to the Arab Spring. One of the titles Saqi will showcase this year is Nawwaf Salam’s “Lebanon in the Security Council, 2010-2011.”

Saqi will be promoting several fiction titles as well, Moallem says. “We reprinted six novels for Rashid Daif and we have a new novel by Hasan Dawoud, entitled ‘There is No Way to Heaven.’”

With Malik’s books and Librarie Antoine taking part in this year’s book fair, French and English books may be available on the exhibition floor as well.

Jabin Shbaro, from Arab Scientific Publishers, is also playing to high demand for political works since the upheavals in the Arab world.

“We are offering politics books” at the book fair, she says, explaining that “one is forced to follow politics in this region.” She notes too that the surfeit of politics these days is sending some readers looking for fiction works, in order to take a break from politics.

“Novels and politics books,” she adds, “are seeing the highest demand.”

ASP is showcasing Fouad Matar’s “Helpless Syria,” a book by Karim Mroueh entitled “Palestine and the Cause of Freedom” and “Arabs with No Cause,” a new book by Lebanon’s Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi.

The publishing house is also releasing “Sultana Hurrum,” a Turkish novel translated to Arabic that focuses on the life of a wife of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Lawgiver, known in the West as “The Magnificent.”

Works and authors from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Palestine will participate in this year’s fair, which is organized by the Arab Cultural Club and the Union of Publishers in Lebanon. Some 181 Lebanese publishers and 63 from the rest of the Arab world are expected to participate in the event, which will stage over 160 book-signing ceremonies over its 14 days.

The book fair will also host dozens of parallel events, including seminars and lectures on a wide range of topics, fiction and poetry readings along with ceremonies to honor writers.

Lebanese University Professor Saoud El-Mawla and Karim Mroueh, a writer and former member of the Lebanese Communist Party, will conduct a seminar entitled “Contradictions and Obstacles in the Path of the Arab Spring,” scheduled for Wednesday.

Writer and researcher Ahmad Beydoun, former MP Samir Franjieh and Riad Tabbara, Lebanon’s former Ambassador to the United Sates, will gather Saturday for a seminar entitled “Ghassan Tueni, the Politician, Journalist and Human.”

An art exhibition will be held throughout the fair and, Saturday, an Omani-Lebanese Cultural Evening will take place.

Aside from the usual array of printed books, e-books have also found their way to this year’s edition of the book fair.

Neel wa Furat Electronic Library, established two years ago, will have a stall at the fair. The library’s Nahid al-Jrab notes that demand for e-books varies from one Arab country to another and is generally higher in Gulf states.

“For example in Saudi Arabia, e-books are downloaded because the print version of some books is banned,” she explains. “The price of the e-book is 30 percent lower than the print version and there is no shipping cost.”

In poorer Arab countries, Jrab notes, fewer people have the Internet access needed to download e-books.

Other publishing houses will also be introducing e-books soon.

Adab’s Idriss says that clients can soon download e-books from e-Adab. “Sixty of our novels could be downloaded within three or four months,” she explains. “We do not expect that [e-books] will be a profitable business, but is a step that we should take and we will take.”

For her part, Moallem says Saqi has established Al-Saqi electronic library. “We are still making an electronic version of our books, but demand on e-books is still very low.

“Maybe e-books will start competing with print versions after ten years, but we actually like print versions,” she says. “How many people in the Arab world can download e-books?”

“We are always excited to take part in the [Beirut International] Arab Book Fair ... There is a new generation that reads Arabic novels,” Idriss says. “But is this up to our expectations? I don’t know.”

The Beirut International Arab Book Fair will take place at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center in downtown Beirut until Dec. 16. The fair is open daily from 10 a.m. till 10 p.m.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 03, 2012, on page 16.




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