well read - 53rd Beirut Book Fair

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Appointed World Book Capital for 2009, Beirut hosts the 53rd Annual Arab Book Fair in December. Here we look at the work of two new Arab authors, and the collaboration with the Hay Festival.

THE UNITED KINGDOM-BASED HAY FESTIVAL has evolved into an international celebration of literature, including Beirut39 – a four-day festival in April 2010 to celebrate 39 Arab authors younger than 40.

Former US President Bill Clinton fittingly classified the Hay Festival as ‘the Woodstock of the mind’, for the Welsh-originated gathering has evolved into an international outpouring of affection for the diversity and creativity inherent in literature.

Since its creation in 1988, the Hay Festival has stretched its branches through the Hispanic world, holding festivals in Spain and Colombia.

Its first venture east, however, is Beirut – which was in January appointed the World Book Capital for 2009 by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The resulting collaboration is designed to bring together 39 of the most interesting writers of Arab heritage under 40.

The Beirut39 competition criteria are rather basic. Authors must have been published, be younger than 40 years old, and of Arab heritage; with the works themselves not necessarily written in Arabic.

The Beirut Book Fair
The 53rd Annual Arab Book Fair in downtown Beirut has endured since its inception at the West Hall of Beirut’s American University in 1956. Every year, even throughout Lebanon’s intermittent strife, the power of literature has won out – occasionally delayed but always occurring.

Organised by the Arab Cultural Club, the fair capitalises on Lebanon’s relative openness and tolerance, allowing access to publications prohibited elsewhere in the Arab world.

The fair contains booths chock-full of their latest titles from authors based in nations including Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Lebanon. This year’s fair, held during the first two weeks of December, is expected to include more than 170 publishing houses.


Short Listed

Born in Cairo but now living in Madrid, Ahmad Yamani
published the first of his four books of poetry at the age of 19. His most recent book, Wrong Places, published by Dar Merit of Cairo, is his entry in the Hay Festival. Yamani’s move between the two locales is the focus of Wrong Places. He moved to Spain in 2001, and wrote all of the poems in Wrong Places between 2002 and 2006. Yamani describes the book as an effort to see both his native Cairo and new home of Madrid as both separate and connected.


As one would expect of an author from Palestine, Adania Shibli
has become renowned for the sensitivity and vivid detail of life in the West Bank. At the age of 35, Shibli is one of the region’s most talked-about young writers. The A.M. Qattan Foundation has twice awarded her its Young Writer’s Award, the first for Touching in 2002. The book, published by Beirut’s Dar Al Adab, was Shibli’s launch into the spotlight. Her style is perhaps best described by novelist and professor Anton Shammas, who notes Shibli’s “amazingly and beguilingly simple language... making the rusty stains of reality disappear, and then making them reappear in writing as stains of gold.”



However Tall the Mountain
By Awista Ayub
Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Awista Ayub escaped with her family to the USA when she was two years old, but her connection to her heritage remained strong. An athlete her whole life, she chose football as a way of uniting girls of Afghanistan. Fifteen teams now compete in the Afghanistan Football Federation, with hundreds of girls participating. This is a story about hope, about what home is, and in the end, about determination.
HarperCollins USA.


Images of Muhammad
By Tarif Khalidi
Tarif Khalidi examines the ways Muhammad has been depicted and revered from the immediate aftermath of his death to the present day. With scholarly authority, Khalidi explores how the ‘biography’ of Muhammad has been constructed, reconstructed, and utilised in various Islamic cultures, and he illuminates the values and ideas shared by the Sunni, Shia, and Sufi sects, as well as the differences among them.
Random House USA.



the sand fish –?A novel of Dubai
By Maha Gargash
Set in the 1950s in what now makes up the United Arab Emirates and the Musandam Peninsula of Oman, The Sand Fish tells an inspiring and unforgettable universal story of strength and self-reliance against the backdrop of Fifties’ Arabian society. Maha’s debut novel is as richly atmospheric a look at Middle Eastern life and culture as The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Alaa Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building.


The Hakawati
By Rabih Alameddine
Four generations of Arab life is the theme of The Hakawati, which mixes the story-telling enigma of folklore, with historical drama and contemporary Lebanon. There is nothing heroic or unusual about the extended family, and their happenings and trials are the stuff of common lives, but as their parallel stories unfold, twist and turn, the simplicity of their lives resonates and makes the connection so deep.


Falconry: Celebrating A Living Heritage
By Dr. Javier Ceballos. Translated by Beatriz Candil
This beautifully illustrated account of modern falconry captures the essence of this 5,000-year-old sport. Falconers from across the globe contributed to this unique work, with photography providing documentary evidence of contemporary falconry in regions where it was thought to have disappeared. Produced to coincide with the 2nd International Festival of Falconry.
Motivate Publishing.



Rivers of Paradise:
Water in Islamic Art and Culture

By Sheila S. Blair & Jonathan M. Bloom
This milestone title from Yale Univertisty Press is the first to address the pivotal role that the collection, distribution, and symbolism of water have played in the lands where Islam has flourished. A diverse spectrum of scholars covers a wide range of topics: from the revelation of Islam in the 7th century to today’s conservation and development issues; and from watering oases in the Moroccan desert to the flooded plains of Bengal. Copiously illustrated with beautiful colour photographs and newly-drawn plans and maps, this book will provoke readers to appreciate and acknowledge the essential, if often invisible and transitory, roles that water played in the arts of the Islamic lands and beyond. Published in association with the Qatar Foundation, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, and Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar.
Yale University Press

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