Book fairs without authors

The structuralist notion of texts without authors is given a non-theoretical equivalent in ongoing Saudi book fair participation

The recently held Seoul International Book Fair presented some new and upcoming translations of Czech writers, but another connection between the two distant countries is that the guest of honor in Seoul was the same controversial guest of honor at last year’s Book World Prague.

This year though the Saudis haven’t provoked the controversy that led to some pointed diatribes in 2011, in spite of the fact that the Prague fair featured an extensive program of writers from the Arab world and discussions on issues such as censorship and the Arab Spring. I have no idea whether Korean-language coverage brought up any of the same issues that were raised in Prague in 2011 but the scant coverage I found was almost surreal in its disconnect with reality.

For one thing I couldn’t find a single mention of a Saudi writer (nor did I find one in articles about their guest of honorship at this year’s Casablanca International Book Fair). One article bizarrely highlights the Arabic translation of two books by a Korean miracle-healing evangelist Jaerock Lee. The article says the Arabic version of Lee’s books are being distributed in the Middle East and they mention a lone bookstore in Lebanon and “” In other words, it almost has to be banned in Saudi Arabia itself, where conversion to Christianity is a crime punishable by death and where Christians presumably wouldn’t need an Arabic translation.

Earlier this year Korea was the guest of honor at a Saudi cultural fair and the reciprocity was so strong that Saudi English-language Arab News headlined the Seoul fair by writing “Koreans throng Saudi pavilion in Seoul book fair” while at the Saudi fair in February “Visitors throng Korean pavilion at Janadriyah.”

This amounts to a lot of thronging for one year. Let’s hope that’s it till 2013.

Photo – From the Saudi pavilion at Book World Prague 2011

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Categories: Literary Events


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