By Anav Silverman
Thousands of books have made their way to Israel’s capital this week, as the Jerusalem International Book Fair opened its doors from February 8-12, in a tradition that has now gone on for 27 years. Since 1963, the Jerusalem book fair has served as a connection point between the world of Israeli literature and the global community of publishing houses, book dealers, editors and hundreds of renowned authors.
“The Jerusalem International Book Fair is a combination of an international trade-fair and a public celebration of literature,” noted the organizers. “There are tens of book stalls offering the latest titles and bestsellers from Israel and beyond.”
The book fair, held at the First Station complex on David Remez Street, and all of the surrounding events including writing workshops and sessions with famous authors, are free-of-charge to the general public.
From its inception, the event has drawn the attendance of 600 publishers and authors from more than 30 countries, and has displayed more than 100,000 books in tens of languages.
This year, around 25 international authors hailing from the Ukraine, USA, Netherlands, Argentina, Italy, Poland, Germany, and France are attending the fair as are publishers from Switzerland, France, Germany and the United States. Iraqi poet, Salah al-Hamdani, who has been living in France for the past 30 years is also among those attending. Al-Hamdani published a joint collection of poetry with Israeli writer, Ronny Someck, also originally from Iraq, in 2012. The two spoke about their work during a literary session at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
One of the main highlights of the prestigious cultural event is the awarding of the Jerusalem Prize, a $10,000 award given to a writer whose work emphasizes freedom of the individual in society. Past winners include Bertrand Russell, Arthur Miller, Simone de Beauvoir, Haruki Murakami and Ian McEwan. Five international writers who received the prize in the past went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
This year, Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat presented the prize at a ceremony held at the Jerusalem YMCA to Albanian human rights writer and poet, Ismail Kadare of Muslim origin, whose works have been published in more than 30 languages including Hebrew. Kadare’s well-known novels include The Pyramid and The Palace of Dreams.
Kadare, 79, who has been a literary figure in Albania since the 1960s, delivered his speech in his native Albanian, where he noted Albania’s role in protecting the Jewish people during the Holocaust. “When the number of Jews throughout Europe had been drastically reduced a result of genocide, in Albania the Jewish population had actually increased considerably,” said Kadare.
In addition, the book fair also featured an exhibit called “The Hidden Wall” in honor of the jubilee year of Israeli-German diplomatic relations. The two meter-high wall is filled with 5,000 removable wooden bricks with quotes from leading German philosophers, musicians, politicians, and academics. The idea behind the Hidden Wall is to create a bi-cultural communal dialogue between Israelis and German according to its creator, German architect Prof. Werner Sobek.
The Jerusalem International Book Fair has also coordinated a special platform for Israeli authors looking to reach the international community with their works. A special event organized by Penguin Random House and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be held for a select group of 30 Israeli authors that will enable them to pitch their ideas to hundreds of international publishers, distributors and literary experts.
But the best part of the Jerusalem International Book Fair for book lovers of all ages is of course the books.
“It was a really interesting experience to see books from different parts of the world that otherwise I would have never seen before,” said Jerusalem resident, Shira Fisher. “I’ve been to many book fairs in Jerusalem and this one was very definitely different,” she told Tazpit. “I also didn’t expect to see so many books on sale!”
Tazpit News Agency