Book Fair Blues: O Argentina!

Our brain is like a labyrinth with all those fissures and lobes, and memory was a big theme at the 62nd Book Fair in Frankfurt-upon-the-Main 2010. The memories of the writers and poets who haven’t forgotten the terrible upheavals in Argentina. The writers and the people who suffered under the repression, censorship and eventual escape from a country ruled by a brutal regime from 1976 to 1983 culminating in the debacle and trauma of the Falkland War in 1982 in which the underpaid Gurkhas of Nepal were also engaged in combat in Port Stanley, as regular soldiers of the British Army. The Brits have been unkind and unfair to the Gurkhas since Queen Victoria’s times.

Many of the 65 Argentinian writers who flew to Frankfurt during the Book Fair were themselves victims of the regime. Juan Gelman, the poet who spent years looking for his granddaughter. Felix Bruzzone and Laura Alcoba still miss their parents for they have disappeared. Repression is an eternal them for writers in their novels especially in the works of Martin Kohan, Guillermo Saccomano and Pablo de Santis. 

Most Argentinian writers have written about the tension in the field of literature and politics, violence, savagery and so-called civilisation , as seen in the literature of the 19th century and even today. The Argentinian writers tell us their stories of the wounds that they are still licking and which time hasn’t been able to heal. Chronic wounds in the souls of the people of Argentina, a nation of off-beat writers, who prefer to produce profound literature and not kitsch.

Argentina, where Europeans migrated to en masse and where the indigenous people’s rights were brutally trampled and where these hapless people were criminally assimilated, a fact which still delivers social and political issues. A land that lived on cattle rearing and wool export and became dependent on foreign capital of the world market, where social and political reforms were interrupted by military dictators. What remained was modernisation that has failed. It resulted in a big chasm between the haves-and-have-nots, like in many societies throughout the world, and led to social imbalance and a late consolidation of the national state in the 19th century brought instability and new reforms that were enforced aggressively.

Argentina is a country that has brought literati like Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar. Sousa, Che Guevara, Eva Peron and Madonna. A land which was one of the richest western states at the beginning of the 20th century. Only 100 years later followed the corralito, whereby bank accounts of the citizens were closed and the state went bankrupt. In recent years we’ve seen the cases of Iceland and Greece. Argentina is also a land where 30,000 people were arrested, tortured and murdered during the military dictatorship, and a hundred thousand people sought shelter and asylum as refugees in neighbouring countries.

In Spain the book consumption is ten books per person per annum. In Argentina, which is the second largest Spanish language market, it is three books per person per year. In 2009 Argentina published 20,300 new titles and reached a total of 75 million copies sold. Argentina has an Act to promote books and reading, a law that provides subsidies to promote publishing and reading. Books are exempted from taxes, the shipping rates are reduced and there’s a network of 600 booksellers that help to support the market.

Are Argentinian writer and poets pretentious? Yes indeed, this is due to writers like Borges, Bioy, Silvina Ocampo who write not to make a living but as artists who write literature of longstanding value, and not commercial writing in the Spanish-speaking world.

However, it must be mentioned that Guillermo Martinez (and not Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar or even Juan Jose Saer) has sold more books in foreign countries. His novel ‘The Oxford Murders’ (Crimenes de Oxford) is written in an Agatha Christie manner, a whodunit which was long on the bestseller list.

In the past three decades Buenos Aires has been the venue of the largest Book Fair in South America with an average of a million visitors each year. According to Fuentes, there’s nothing more Argentine in Borges than his necessity to fill the ‘blank book’ of both his country and the Latin American literature, which makes him one of the founders of the new prose in the region. At the sight of a herd of horses in Puente Alsina at dawn, Borges is said to have cried out: ‘Hot damn! That’s homeland.’ A passionate man and a lover of night.

Author Cornelia Funke launched the Book Fair and said: ‘After my last novel ‘Ink Death,’ I was longing to write in a more lean and modern way’. Now she has written ‘Reckless’ in tandem with the film producer Lionel Wigram, who’s known for his movie versions of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories. Indian writer Mita Kapur presented her book ‘The F-Word’ which I haven’t read as yet. The Indian sweet meat at the discussion was delicious. I just couldn’t resist them and Mita looked rather tired of the fuss at the fair.

Mita Kapur with her book: ’The F-Word'
This year’s Book Fair cast a spotlight on storytelling in multifarious ways: in video games, on film and in digital and print books for, as we know, the contents of stories know no borders. What Gutenberg started as a printing revolution 500 years ago has gone digital and 3-D (starting with ‘Avatar’) today, which in itself is a revolution. In Germany most reading is still done from printed books. The e-books represent only 1 %. Kindle and Oyo haven’t caught on as yet. In China and USA e-books are growing exponentially. This goes to show that digital is no longer the scary space it was many years back. To understand media you have to understand how it works. In the media cosmos the computers play the role of the sun, and digital has come to stay and is growing all the time.

Do European authors have the same publishing rights? Far from it. In UK the duration of a contract can vary from 70 years after the death of the author. In Spain it’s 15 years. Economic rights and moral rights are separate in France. And in Germany? The rights are indivisible. In UK the book market was deregulated in 1995. The UK royalties for authors are greater but the market is tougher and books are discounted. If you want to read it in French on:

What do smart and savvy young people want from media? The Millinium Generation can surf on YouTube, download two-minute shots they prefer which is  actually a short-attention-span entertainment, the ones we upload on FB. If the hook in the story you’re telling doesn’t work, the young people zap to another story. This is an age where parents are regarded as peers, who really don’t show the kids how to navigate the world. Do the young people understand the world? No, they don’t. They’re even scared of the world. The last time I went to the Fair there were a lot of schoolkids in Manga look, with coloured hair and fantasy costumes and this time it was CosPlay (‘cos’ is costume and ‘play’ is acting or Schauspielern) and the younger generation of Germans were a part of the book scene as they strutted about in their gaudy costumes from another epoche and world and having a good time posing for the paparazzi. 

The Frankfurter Buchmesse, like all fairs, can be a tiring experience and so I took time out and went to Beata, a Polish blonde who gave me a great massage (see pic). She and other physiotherapists were promoting an Austrian wellness shop. I even chanced to meet a publisher from Catmandu: Siddhartha Maharajan of Mandala Book Point) and a Nepali poet who was selling black and white photos & poems. I always make it a point to speak in as many languages as I can at the book-fair, and I must say it was as always a great experience chatting with so many interesting people from all over the world. Jonathan Franzen, Artur Becker and Günter Grass were together at the 3Sat stand in Hall 4.1 Q561. It was a case of: Glasses (Frenzen) meet Vodka (Becker) and Pipe (Grass).

The craft of clock- and watch-making is one of the mainstays of the Black Forest industries. All you have to do is simply follow the sound of the music instruments or the call of the cuckoo clock. The world’s largest cuckoo clock is located in Schonach and is 3,60m in width, 3,10m high and 1m in depth. The house itself is the clock in the landscape with pine trees in the background.

From Triberg you can drive to Villingen-Schwenningen, an ancient town founded by the Dukes of Zäringen, which is only 20 km away. Strasbourg (France) and the Alsace region are 90km and the old university town of Freiburg is 60km to the south. Freiburg has 850 years of history and a youthful charm. Titisee, one of the most beautiful glacial lakes of the Schwarzwald, is only 60km away.


More by :  Satis Shroff

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