Panta Rhei (Anemone Achtnich) reports from the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest trade fair for books, multimedia and communication:
“We got up at 5am, hopped on the bus at 7am and endured a three hour train ride (which, in fact was kind of funny, as I got into a surreal conversation with a fat red-haired CD producer lady and a guy who looked like a Yugoslavian hobo and picked up some undefinable mushrooms at an autobahn stop and devoured them while telling fairytales). We arrived at Frankfurt at around ten in the morning, and entered the halls of chaos.
As always, I started slowly. I took my time in the international halls, looking at some wonderfully artistic Czech children books, at weird and wild Roald Dahl play sets for kids produced by a British publishing company, at exquisite facsimiles of a small Israeli publisher (almost bought a beautifully made bilingual version of Celan’s ‘Death Fugue’), and at great Italian black-and-white photography books.
Three hours passed like nothing, and I pondered whether I should spend the remaining four hours wandering around the agora, the huge patio in the middle of the halls where young German authors read from their work in the mirror tent and where this year’s guest of honor, Korea, offers various cultural shows and events, like taekwondo performances, poetry readings, art exhibitions and Korean puppet shows — or whether I should continue strolling through the halls and look for interesting books, interviews and readings.
I decided to do the latter, and entered the halls where the German publishers were presenting themselves.
Giocondo Belli was signing books. I heard an interactive audio-book presentation called “Learning English with Stephen King”. I listened to various interviews (or at least parts of them): with Wim Wenders, who talked about his book “A Sense of Place”; with Marc Levy, the author of the book on which the film “As Long As You’re There” is based; with Franka Potente (“Run, Lola, Run”), who talked about her book “Los Angeles – Berlin”; with Hanna Schygulla (German actress and singer who was just awarded the German literature film prize).
I heard Nick Hornby speak, but couldn’t see him… too many tall folks in front of me.
I waited for Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish author who was just awarded Germany’s highest literary honor, the peace prize of the German book trade which is awarded by the German book trade association every fall to coincide with the Frankfurt book fair (past recipients of the peace prize include Susan Sontag who won it in 2003). He was supposed to appear on the so-called “Blue Sofa”, a place where various authors and other book-related folks are interviewed during the book fair by the local TV channel, but unfortunately he didn’t appear.
I spent some time at an interesting discussion of German author Monika Maron (“Flight Ash”) and Israeli writer Joshua Sobol (“Whiskey’s Fine”, a book I’m definitely going to read, btw) about the role of writers in today’s society — the question was whether authors can be considered as or should understand themselves as “warning/reminding prophets”.
Despite the very shallow moderator who seemed to have no personal interest in this discussion and to be merely checking off his list of questions without ever really going into what Maron and Sobol said, the discussion itself was quite inspiring due to the two thoughtful and original participants.
Other great names at this year’s book fair were Margaret Atwood, Ken Follett, Albert Uderzo (“asterix” cartoons), the Dutch poet, novelist and playwright Cees Nooteboom, and Austrian Arno Geiger who on past Monday became the first recipient of a new literature gong, the German book prize, that is intended to be the German-speaking world’s equivalent of the Booker prize. I saw neither of them.
I had a peek into the film “Marchenschatten” (fairytale shadows), a documentary of the work of gunther grass illustrating the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen; there also was an interview with the author and illustrator of the book, but all of the sudden I realized I had to run to get back to the exit hall if I wanted to catch my bus back home.
On my way back, I rushed through the cartoon hall and run into some hysterical, mostly Asiatic teenagers who were going mad about a nearby manga hero. I then raced through the international center again and passed a reading by Yehuda Amichai’s widow, who was reading from her deceased husband’s work — I stopped for a moment and would have loved to stay, but had to continue running back.
Luckily, I caught one of the fair’s shuttle busses that took me across the huge area and back to the gate where I had started seven hours ago. I hopped onto the bus again, and almost four hours along the rainy autobahn later, we arrived. Then I walked through the rain to the Greek restaurant where my husband and my daughter were waiting for me to take me back home.“