Publishers Talk of Healing New East-West Divide
TWIG - Representatives of more than 6,000 publishing houses
joined booksellers, authors and literary agents in Frankfurt Tuesday,
October 9, as the 53rd International Book Fair slowly got off the ground.
Fairgoers are facing longer lines than usual this year because of rigorous
security checks at the doors of exhibit halls.
State Minister for Cultural Affairs Julian Nida-Ruemelin
launched the event with an appeal for greater respect for human life across
the world. The culture minister was standing in for Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder, who was in the United States for the day.
The September 11 attacks and their aftermath have raised a
number of issues at the fair, including the need for more liberal exchange
between Western publishers and their colleagues in the Islamic world. So far
the literary exchange between the West and Muslim countries is a one-way
street running east, and even that road is riddled with obstacles, says
UNESCO book expert Chandran Nair. But it isnít religious or political
differences that get in the way - the main barriers are economic and
The Association of German Publishers and Booksellers argues
German companies should fund more projects in Arab countries, where
publishers often lack the money even to buy paper for the printer. "We
can make a big difference by supporting books about the position of women or
the rights of minorities, for example," says association spokesman
Eugen Emmerling. Germanyís leading organization for promoting German
culture abroad, the Goethe Institute/Inter Nationes, has established a
translation fund in cooperation with the German Foreign Office. Such
programs need to be expanded, says Emmerling. "We need much more access
to those who think differently."
Bringing literature from Muslim countries to the West
presents other challenges. Of the approximately 7,600 translations published
in Germany last year, only 18 were from Arabic languages. Frankfurtís
Suhrkamp Verlag has ties with publishers in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon and is
working to expand its Middle East list. "After September 11, of course,
we feel especially called upon," says Suhrkampís Petra Hardt. Many
authors in these countries would like to get published by Suhrkamp, Hardt
explains. The problem is in the selection. "We have no one in-house who
speaks Arabic. We need a scout who can read these texts and tell us whether
they fit into our program."
Hardt says readers in Muslim countries show a strong
interest in German literature, especially in classic modern authors such as
Hermann Hesse and Bertholt Brecht. But many places simply donít have the
infrastructure needed to make bookselling profitable. One of the largest
markets for German books in the Middles East is Lebanon. Thanks to a
translation grant, bookstores there will soon carry a collection of essays
by philosopher Juergen Habermas, winner of this yearís Peace Prize of the
German Book Trade.