Lebanon is in the spotlight at the fair this year and a slew of prize-winning novelists, journalists with incredible life stories and the country’s culture minister Omar Halablab will spearhead events over the next 10 days.
Visitors are eagerly anticipating talks and events from the Naguib Mahfouz medallist Hoda Barakat; the 2013 “Arabic Booker” finalist Jana El Hassan; and May Chidiac, the former television reporter who was the victim of an assassination attempt in 2005. She had been publicly criticising Syria’s choice to keep troops stationed in Lebanon and was seriously injured in a car bombing, losing her left leg and arm. She later published a memoir about the experience called Le Ciel m’attendra (Heaven Can Wait) and was awarded the French Legion of Honour in 2007.
“Lebanon has produced some of the most amazing writers in the world,” says Marilyn Booth, the chair of Arabic and Islamic studies at Edinburgh University and the translator of works by figureheads of Lebanese literature such as Elias Khoury and Barakat. “The Lebanese writers I’ve translated have a precision and an elegance with language that is particularly theirs.”
She describes some of her favourites – Hasan Daoud and Jabbour Douaihy, as well as Khoury and Barakat – as “endlessly inventive and searching and restless in their art, while being utterly connected to community and history”. Each exists in their own context and culture; what ties them together, she says, “is history, and the brutality of war”.
M Lynx Qualey, who blogs about Arabic books at arablit.wordpress.com, says that she finds Lebanese literature “vibrant and exciting”, from the 19th-century author Ahmad Faris Shidyaq, with his “incredible, genre-bending” Leg over Leg, to the “young, boundary-challenging authors at work today”, who are working not just in Arabic but also in English and French. She advises visitors to search out work from a wide variety of Lebanese writers, “from classic novels by Jurji Zaydan to works by the contemporary graphic novelist Lena Merhej”. In addition to author talks, 97 Lebanese publishing houses will be showcasing their books, musicians will play folk music and a roster of special Lebanese events will include a play for children, a daily painting show and seminars on topics including globalisation and sustainable development.