Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 September 2020

More than a million turn out for Sharjah International Book Fair 2014

The Sharjah International Book Fair concluded with more big names and a self help session by popular Indian author Chetan Beghat.
More than a million visitors attended this year’s Sharjah book fair. Courtesy Sharjah International Book Fair
More than a million visitors attended this year’s Sharjah book fair. Courtesy Sharjah International Book Fair

The 33rd edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair concluded with a new record of more than a million visitors attending the 11-day event at the Expo Centre Sharjah. The fair wound down with another weekend of programmes packed with regional and international authors appearing in panel conversations, speeches and a self-help session by the Indian literary giant Chetan Bhagat.

Ahlem Mosteghanemi defends Arabic

Ahlem Mosteghanemi is known for her uncompromising prose in both her novels and poetry. The Algerian was on fine form on Thursday at a packed session in The Ballroom. The 61-year-old delivered a stirring one-hour address, where she spoke of her passion for the Arabic language and decried its present lack of respect in consumer circles. “Our first challenge is to return to the Arabic language,” she said. “It is the language of my heart. It lies as the foundation of my world view. In all the years I have lived and written, I still don’t know a better way to say I love you than in Arabic.”

A good story creates its own world

The fellow Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra (real name Mohammed Moulessehoul) shared a different opinion than that of Mosteghanemi. The author of acclaimed French novels such as The Swallows of Kabul and The Attack, which have been translated into English, Khadra – who initially used a pseudonym to avoid military censorship in his homeland – said the story is what matters, as opposed to the language in which it is delivered. “I don’t want to say any names, but there was an Arab writer here who chastised me the other day saying as an Arab I should write in Arabic,” he recalled. “I said: ‘Does it matter, if many people in the Arab world are reading my books and are in turn inspired to write?’ ”

In his Thursday session titled The Pathway to the World: New Prospects in The Novel, Khadra spoke of how a good story can create a new world for the reader. “When I am writing, it is a fully immersive experience,” he said. “Some novelists like to have some distance from their characters. I am the opposite. I like to be in the heart of the character, to see and feel what they feel. Even when I write about youth, I can still be inside them because I was once young like them.”

Changing the game

In a session that rivalled the buzz created by Dan Brown in the opening days of the fair, the Indian novelist Bhagat spoke to more than 2,500 fans in The Ballroom on Friday. Bhagat returned to the Sharjah Book Fair to launch his latest novel Half Girlfriend and deliver a self-help lecture. Using PowerPoint slides and quotes from Charles Darwin, Bhagat urged the audience to “change the game” and “think big”. Bhagat also dedicated some time to addressing his critics who slam the literary quality of his novels. “Look, I know I am not the best writer in the world,” he said. “But I am happy to be one of the most-read in India. I want to reach the maximum amount of Indian readers and influence them towards a more progressive society.”

The festival will get bigger and better

Despite the record number of visitors, the festival director Ahmed Al Ameri said there is always room for improvement. “We will only get better and that’s because we work under the direct guidance of Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah,” he said. “Every day he is on the phone with me asking how the fair is going and giving me and the whole team advice on how to proceed and make the fair stronger.”

Speaking of challenges, Al Ameri says this year a few book retailers engaged in price gouging. “We did eject a few publishers because they were selling books at unacceptable prices,” he says. “One of the books was being sold for Dh500, which shouldn’t be the case.” As well as promising a new system to regulate book prices at next year’s book fair, Al Ameri says visitors should expect more big-name authors and innovative sessions to be part of the 34th edition. But first, the maintenance crew of the Expo Centre Sharjah have some work to do as part of the clean up from this year’s event. “We had so many people this year that we have some cracks in the tiles,” says Al Ameri. “That’s just amazing.”

sasaeed@thenational.ae

Updated: November 15, 2014 04:00 AM

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