The 2016 Palestine International Book Fair

With more than 10 publishing and distribution houses from Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait represented, (bringing books from around the globe) there was much to see and do over the three book halls and three events rooms.

Most prominent among the book displays were the recent works of two Palestinian fiction writers, Raba’i Al-Madhoun’s Destinies, which just won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and his earlier acclaimed title The Lady from Tel Aviv. Madhoun travelled from London to attend a special discussion of his works, hosted by the PA’s Minister of Culture Ihab Biseisu, whose ministry organizes the event each year. Ibrahim Nasrallah’s most recent title The Souls of Kilimanjaro was also on prominent display, following his recent launch of the work at locations across the West Bank, from Ramallah to Nablus to Tulkarem.

Children’s books were also a big part of the program, with daily readings at 5 and 6:30, and at least an eighth of the works on display aimed at kids 0-12. Once schools let out and the weather cooled off (most of the halls were not air conditioned and Palestine saw an unexpected heat wave that brought the mercury to near 40 degrees), kids made up a good portion of the attendees and even the customers, many spied spending small book budgets throughout the first hall. This all seemed a good outcome of the slogan of the fair, “Palestine reads,” with families and students coming out to the exhibits and events which lasted well into the evening.

The first few days of the fair events were dedicated to official proclamations and events from the fair’s guest of honour, Kuwait, whose Minister of Culture and a few key speakers arrived to open the exhibits. This was, however, not free of controversy, given the competing demands of Palestinians to at once open up to the Arab world for support and to boycott Israel and its discriminatory permit/visa systems until Palestinians themselves can be guaranteed access to the homeland.

Underscoring the continued problem was the marked absence of Palestinian writers and thinkers from Gaza, who though on the official program were not present at any of the week’s panels. This meant a celebration of Kuwait at an event that could not celebrate its own full literary sphere. Sadly, the halls did not have the capacity bring in the absent presenters by videoconference; so many of the panels were cut short.

Curtailed panels did mean, however, that there was more time to browse. With titles from all across the Arab world (and a few houses bringing in world literatures in English, Spanish, French, German, and Turkish), including notably harder to find works from Syria, Cairo, and the Gulf, as well as Jordan and Lebanon, the region did, for a little while, feel at one’s fingertips.

For a look at the image gallery and the full article, check out Arabic Literature (in English), which commissioned both.

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