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Book fair: A feast of books, arts and ideas

Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Abu Dhabi  /  Mon, April 30, 2018  /  10:31 am
Book fair: A feast of books, arts and ideas

Bookworm’s heaven: Visitors checking out books exhibited at one of the booths at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2018, which runs from April 25 to May 1 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. (JP/Sebastian Partogi)

Literature and arts and culture enthusiasts in Abu Dhabi have a reason to be happy, as the 28th Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is being held from April 25 to May 1.

Hosted in the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), the book fair presents books from 1,350 exhibitors from 63 countries with 35 languages in total. Besides featuring books published by Arabic-speaking countries, it also presents books published by English, Chinese, French, German and Indian publishers, among others, each in their own respective languages.

In between indulging bookworms with its book showcase, the exhibition will also feature some 830 panel discussions, activities, workshops and art performances.

“The book fair aims at attracting writers, publishers and journalists — anyone who has to do with the publishing and reading industry, to raise their awareness of the current trends and future directions of this sector, but also at bringing great minds together through these activities,” Abu Dhabi National Library Program Management Department director Saeed Hamdan Al Teneiji told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the exhibition.

He added that the book fair also aimed at attracting all segments of people living in the United Arab Emirates — especially children, elementary and university students — in order to boost their reading interests.

This year, the book fair is celebrating Poland as its country of honor, introducing the audience to the Polish literary tradition, whose history goes back over 1,000 years. Among the Polish authors whose works are celebrated during the book fair are the late female poet and essayist Wislawa Symborska as well as male poet and prose writer Czesław Miłosz, both of whom won the Nobel Prize during their lifetimes.

Also displayed during the exhibition are Poland’s highly successful works of children’s literature, books that are essential in instilling a love of reading among children as early as possible.

“Children’s books are very conspicuous in Poland, I would say they have gained huge popularity both domestically and abroad. The quality of Polish children’s literature has become better, mostly in terms of illustration, but also in terms of content,” Polish Book Institute member Elzbieta Wierzchowska told the Post.

According to Wierzchowska, Polish delegates have been invited on an annual basis to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy, and have consistently won awards in that book fair for best illustrations and authors, a testimony to the quality of Polish children’s books.

The book fair also designates a special pavilion to showcase books by Polish authors — in their original language as well as those already translated into Arabic — while presenting a special fringe event showcasing Polish cooking demonstrations and musical concerts.

The cultural programs also seek to celebrate the ties that Poland has had with the Arab world, dating back to the 10th century, when an anonymous Arabian writer visited the country and wrote a report on its people, who lived in “the land of honey, milk and meat”, according to University of Warsaw Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies professor Janusz Danecki.

Polish people have also long expressed an interest in the Arab world, according to Danecki.

“In the late 18th century, Polish prince Rzewski, who studied under a prominent European scholar on Eastern studies from Austria named Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, studied Eastern languages such as Turkish, Persian and Arabic. In the early 19th century, he traveled to Allepo in Syria to study,” he said.

He explained that Rzewski was eventually impressed by the kind of freedom in which the Bedouin people in Syria lived their lives, becoming aware that Polish people had no such freedom at that time, being occupied by Russians.

Literature and arts and culture enthusiasts in Abu Dhabi have a reason to be happy, as the 28th Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is being held from April 25 to May 1.Literature and arts and culture enthusiasts in Abu Dhabi have a reason to be happy, as the 28th Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is being held from April 25 to May 1. (JP/Sebastian Partogi)

“Therefore, upon his return to Poland, he staged a revolution against the Russian occupation before he died in 1830,” he explained, showcasing the enormous impact of cultural exchange.

Besides encouraging cultural exchange through the Polish fringe program, the book fair also seeks to promote the internalization of literary traditions by showcasing the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism’s Kalima translation project, which translates into Arabic books from three languages: French, English and German.

This year’s edition of the book fair also celebrates United Arab Emirates’ founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who came from Abu Dhabi and who passed away in 2004. This year, Abu Dhabi is marking the 100th anniversary of his birth.

He also guided the founding of the book fair’s first edition in 1981, true to his vision that a society could flourish only through strong literary and intellectual traditions. The man himself was also a poet whose literary works focused on human civilization.

One of the most interesting exhibitors in the book fair is Alserkal Cultural Foundation Project leader Idris Mears, who sells rare English-title books on studies from various disciplines — anthropology, literature, politics, history, science and sociology, among others — across the Muslim world, from Egypt and Afghanistan to Indonesia.

His assistant saw the Post carrying Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Timeand spontaneously said: “You like science books? Then you must read this,” while handing over a book called Pathfinders: the Golden Age of Arabic Science by Jim Al-Khalili, an interesting chronicle of Arabic scientific tradition. Then the Post was drawn into Mears’ store.

“The foundation’s office in Dubai has a bookstore presenting books — mostly academic and literary in nature — on different approaches and perspectives in Islamic studies. Therefore, it is not a propagation center; it is more like a cultural legacy seeking to preserve the history and legacy of the Muslim civilization across different countries,” Mears said.

Interestingly enough, his booth also showcases academic books on Indonesia, including a book called Indonesia’s Secret War in Aceh by Australian journalist John Martinkus.

“I hope that the government will further promote this book fair to encourage an intellectual tradition here,” he said.