BEIRUT: Billed as the third-largest Francophone book fair in the world, Beirut’s annual Salon du Livre is a fixture for bibliophiles well-versed in the so-called language of love. The 21st edition of the fair opens on Oct. 31 at BIEL. Over the course of its 10-day program, the event is set to include more than 200 book-signing sessions and over 100 round-table discussions and talks.
The full program was announced at a news conference Tuesday attended by French Ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli, along with Belgian Ambassador Alex Lenaerts, Swiss Ambassador François Barras and Canadian Ambassador Hilary Childs-Adams.
Also present were a representative of BankMed and the president of the Lebanese syndicate of book importers, Sami Naufal.
Paoli began the proceedings by introducing the theme of this year’s fair, “Des Mots, Des Histories” (Words, Stories).
“The theme chosen for the 2014 edition,” he explained, “allows us to celebrate the qualities of the book as a vessel of culture and of memories, and thus of history.”
He went on to highlight the importance of celebrating culture at a time when Lebanon is facing political problems.
One audience member asked how suitable it was to host an international literary event amid problems with terrorism and other security concerns. In response Paoli joked that if they were to wait for perfect conditions in which to hold the fair – given the changing problems the country faces each year – it would never happen at all.
The ambassador also highlighted the scope of the fair, emphasizing that, in addition to a comprehensive program at BIEL, consecutive literature-related events would be held at all eight branches of Lebanon’s French Institute across the country.
The fair attracts an average of 60,000 visitors annually, and this edition is set to ruminate upon books both as repositories of knowledge and history and as aesthetic objects.
The “art village,” a collective stand dedicated to Francophone art books, is set to be one of the focal points of the event. As well as showcasing selected tomes, the “art village” will host a program of conferences, round tables and signings related to the book as a thing of beauty.
Students from the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts, who helped to organize the program in collaboration with certain publishers who form part of the French Syndicat National de l’Edition (National Union of Publishers), will work throughout the fair to produce an enormous fresco, an initiative introduced at last year’s event.
For the third year in a row, France’s foremost literary prize, Le Prix Goncourt, will be awarded during the fair. The Goncourt Academy’s Didier Decoin and French author and journalist Sorj Chalandon, who was shortlisted for last year’s prize, will preside over the ceremony, scheduled to take place at 4 p.m. on Nov. 2.
A second award, Le Choix de l’Orient, launched by the French Institute of Lebanon and the Middle East office of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie in 2012 and sponsored by the Goncourt Academy, will see a jury made up of 26 students from 19 institutions in Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Djibouti, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen select their choice of winning title from this year’s Goncourt shortlist of four.
The winner will see their novel translated into Arabic. Chalandon, who was awarded last year’s Choix de l’Orient, will be on hand to sign copies of his novel “The Fourth Wall,” published in Arabic by Dar al-Farabi.
The 21st edition of the Salon du Livre is also set to highlight children’s titles.
Last year’s fair was attended by more than 16,000 schoolchildren, organizers said. This year young attendees will have the chance to meet with nine authors and illustrators specialized in kids’ books.
More than 90 child-friendly events are set to take place at BIEL during the 10-day fair, in addition to a further 40 to be held at participating schools and branches of the French Institute across the country.
An exhibition of photographs by Hannah Assouline will bring an aesthetic sensibility to the fair. Her series of images captures the hands of famous Francophone authors, from Patrick Modiano and Jean-Marie Le Clezio to Lebanon’s own Amin Maalouf and Charif Majdalani.
This year’s fair will not pack the star power of previous editions, but with more than 30 publishers and 150 authors in attendance, it still seems set to give Francophone readers plenty to discover.
The 21st edition of the Salon du Livre runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 9 at BIEL. For more information, please visit www.salondulivrebeyrouth.org