Sweden is the guest of honor at this year’s Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF), running from April 30 to May 5 at the vast glass-and-steel Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
From the IKEA-designed pale wood booths offering free rides on an environment-friendly bicycle, to a back wall of biodegradable plastic grass, the event is focused on celebrating a holistic approach to life. “Reading is naturally a big part of it, as this is a book event, but we are also here to present the different angles of Swedish society and culture to the Arab world,” said Pia Roed, counselor and deputy head of mission at the Swedish Embassy, which has lined up numerous daily activities at the Pavilion on top of 42 events for the six-day fair.
Swedish noir authors such as Kristina Ohlsson and Marie Hermanson are among the 30 guests, that also include illustrators Jonathan Lindstrom and Stina Wirsen, chefs Tareq Taylor and Stefan Eriksson, musicians as well as artists.
Publisher Mona Henning of Dar Al-Muna, who has translated about 160 titles from Swedish and other Scandinavian languages in the past 30 years, said that in the recent past "translation was not treated as a part of the culture and civilization in the Middle East, and in the children’s book segment, [it] was looked upon a few years ago as ‘westernizing’ the minds of Arab children.” But, she noted, this has changed. Henning explained that, now, in the Gulf "schools and public libraries are the biggest clients for children’s books, with big sales volume." With that said, she believes what is still missing is "proper book distribution to the public, and media coverage."
This is the fifth ADIBF for director-general Jean-Guy Boin of BIEF (Bureau International de l’Edition Francaise), which is responsible for the promotion of French books abroad. This year, the BIEF's 100-sq-m pavilion represents 70 publishers with 1,200 single-copy titles. The organization partners with Dubai-based French bookseller Culture & Co., which is brought in to cater to the buying public. Boin said that French children’s books are well known in this region, even as translation efforts often face cultural sensitivities and representation issues.
For the Germans, ADIBF 2014 is another milestone in its 40-plus years of presence in the Middle East market. “We represent 150 publishers with a display of 300 titles, and serve as the contact point for local publishers and rights agencies to reach their German counterparts,” said Cornelia Helle, sales manager for Middle East and Japan from Frankfurter Buchmesse, co-organizer of the German Pavilion. “Children’s book is the biggest segment in terms of translation, and publishers are eager to sign rights deals right here at this event to qualify for the translation subsidy scheme.” Translation of German titles into Arabic has been growing steadily, but 2012 was a special year for Helle as there were far more trade visitors—and rights deals—at that event. “Goethe-Institut has grown in the UAE but the demand for German books in Abu Dhabi come mostly from the expat community. This is unlike in Egypt, where the population of German speakers is the highest among the Middle East countries. But we have just hit the midpoint of this event, and some surprises may be in the offing.”
Speaking of subsidy for translation, copyright and rights consultant Lynette Owen is in town to help with applications at the Business and Rights Centre. “This year sees some changes to the scheme. Instead of the maximum subsidy of $1,000, the new rules offer $2,500 for children’s and YA titles, and between $2,500 and $4,000 for adult titles."
Over in the E-Zone where digital solutions providers are showcasing their products and services, Seoul-based Tabon Books brings a different proposition to the table. “We want to donate Tabon’s ePub3 e-reader to the Abu Dhabi National Library so that their visitors can use it and grow to love it. This will, by default, popularize the use of ePub3 in the Arab world,” said president Eric Yang (who also owns RHK, formerly Random House Korea, and heads the Asia Pacific Publishers Association).
More than 1,000 exhibitors from 50 countries, displaying half a million titles, are at this public fair organized by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority. New to the 24th event is the Black Box Cinema project featuring 15 Emirati short films that is aimed at bridging the world of books and cinema. Also new is the Author in Focus initiative, with the honors going to 10th-century Arab poet Al Mutanabbi.