x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Al Ain bookfair's thousands hear Emirati authors' tales

Fair included performances by Emirati pianists, readings by local authors and tens of thousands of books on display from 29 publishing houses and distributors,

AL AIN // Thousands of book-lovers attended a week-long fair that ended in Al Ain yesterday, with students bussed in to hear Emirati authors discuss their work and recount stories from their childhood.

Al Ain Reads 2010 drew more visitors than expected since it opened October 17, organisers said. With performances by Emirati pianists, readings by local authors and tens of thousands of books on display from 29 publishing houses and distributors, this year's show was the second to be held in Al Ain by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and Kitab, an organisation that aims to promote reading in the UAE.

Sara al Shikar, a special events coordinator with the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, said: "Hundreds of students arrived every day by the busload along with their teachers to listen to Ghaya al Dhaheri tell tales from her childhood and to learn about their culture and heritage. dMany participated in the mural-making and learnt how to make bookmarks through basket weaving sessions."

Among the authors to meet the public was Salha Obaid, 22, who sat on stage before a packed audience on Friday evening discussing her book Zuhaymer, a compilation of short stories including one about a young woman who has Alzheimer's disease. In her next series of books she plans to write about children with cancer.

Ms Obaid shared the secrets of her creative process, divulging that she checks local newspapers for news of tragic events and tries to imagine what led up to them.

"That's where the ideas for many of my short stories come from," she said.

Members of the audience were impressed with her weighty subject matter. Kafia al Kaabi, an Emirati educator, told Ms Obaid: "We are very proud of you that you are with us and that you are giving importance to children suffering from various illnesses. I haven't read any of your books yet but after hearing you speak today, I will go get a copy right now. It seems that in your writings you represent children with illnesses as simply children."

Ms Obaid is working on her next novel, titled Saee Al Saada, or "Bearer of Good News", about a postman who reads the letters he is supposed to deliver to check if they contain bad news. If they do, he alters the letter to make it one that delivers good news.

Audiences were at full capacity when Emirati authors including Ms Obaid spoke, but writers were not the only draw.

Ms Shikar said: "When the Emirati pianists Sarah al Kaabi, Asala al Jaberi, Saif al Jahory, Ibraheem al Junaibi, Mohammed al Jahori and Mariam and Sheikha al Kaabi performed, the balconies on the mall's upper floor were filled with people who wanted a bird's view who were listening and clapping."

The event concluded with a book swap held on Friday and Saturday, which brought hundreds to the mall to exchange their old books for titles they had never read. Abdulhakim al Jabri, 22, a Kitab volunteer, said that within the first hour 97 books in English and Arabic had been swapped.

Sharanya Hedge, 15, a student from India who lives in Al Ain, brought her mother and a friend along to exchange titles.

"I enjoyed the book show tremendously," Ms Hedge said.

ealghalib@thenational.ae