x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Guy DeLisle one of the highlights of Abu Dhabi book fair that offered diversity, depth, relevance

This year's Abu Dhabi International Book Fair offered diversity, depth and was regionally relevant

The 23rd Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) closed its six-day run at Adnec earlier this week, and it is hard to shake the feeling that the capital will feel a slighter place for its absence this weekend.

The book fair's cultural programme trailed a succession of interesting discussions, from Guy Delisle, author of the graphic novel Jerusalem:Chronicles from the Holy City, talking about the "efficiency of comics" as a method of storytelling, to two local self-published authors explaining how almost anyone can, with the right mix of hard work and inspiration, vault themselves from unknown to published writer within a matter of months.

There was plenty more besides: Nihad Sirees talked eloquently about the challenges, both contemporary and historical, of being a Syrian novelist; Jim Al-Khalili transported his audience on two journeys of scientific enquiry, while Frank Klötgen, a German poet and rock musician, might well have scooped this year's award for the "hardest working man at the book fair". As well as taking part in the Rooftop Rhythms open mic and poetry slam evening, Klötgen spent two hours on Thursday afternoon building a model of Qasr Al Hosn made entirely from books. He went one better on Saturday, taking a little longer to construct his interpretation of Emirates Palace hotel on a small portion of Adnec's cavernous carpeted floor.

This year's programme offered diversity, depth and was regionally relevant - the GCC had its own discussion stage - while still bringing international voices to the fore, notable among them Natasha Trethewey, the US poet laureate. Roll on April 2014.


Staying with books, Seth Lerer's enchanting new memoir Prospero's Son: Life, Books, Love and Theatre was published earlier this week by The University of Chicago Press - and what an interesting book it is.

His writing balances discovery with revelation and appears to poses an intriguing question: how many memories do you retain from your childhood and how does your mind reduce, recycle or reorder these memories as you grow older?

Lerer presents, in 10 short chapters, snapshots from his life as an academic and writer, as a father and son - each one framed by an episodic memory; every one of these nuggets used to provide a wider exposition of the author's life - unravelling in the process his complex relationship with his deceased father, whose own existence had been punctuated by unsuccessful stints as a teacher, management consultant and thespian.

Dark secrets and light memories jostle with restive dissatisfaction and strived-for resolution on Lerer's pages, as the author recollects his father's grand gestures with money the family didn't have and recalls the mistakes he too has made since becoming a father.

For all of us, life passes in crystal clear detail: every day is a journey of intense detail only for that vivid colour to be later compressed into just a few short lines of data. "Whole stretches of my childhood have evaporated from me," notes Lerer, although he prescribes this fact to the chemical boyhood his paediatrician consigned him to - at his mother's behest, he spent years in therapy and on prescription drugs - rather than the delete button we all regularly use to wash away unwanted memories.

Despite these lost scenes, Lerer marshals his material in the manner of a filmmaker amid a careful edit, setting aside irrelevancies to present an essayistic journey of self-discovery that picks away at the exposed seams of his family's fabric.

This is a life in full presented via a life in part. It is truthful and mournful.

When Lerer confesses he wishes he could "rewrite" his son's childhood, he must almost be referring to his own.

His writing also raises questions of recall and challenges the reader to consider their own achievements and failures, their own flaws and follies.

And it leaves the reader jabbing away at their own conscience, wondering what will be their own legacy?