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A Dispatch from the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

2016/5/17 — 16:28

【Text by Claire Pershan】

"Languages are not islands. Relationships between languages are necessary for one another’s growth."

Although it may not yet have the statistics or the industry renown of the Frankfurt or London book fairs, each year the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair attracts writers, readers, and book folk from across the world, from wherever Arabic is spoken, and then some. The event was held this year for the 26th time—not bad for a country that’s only 44 years old—and boasted a record number of exhibitors (1,260), as well as 500 cultural initiatives, 600 authors, 20 artists, and a handful of 3 star Michelin chefs. This year booksellers from 63 countries set up their stalls in the ADNEC convention center, in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which is itself emerging as an important location for conversation and cultural exchange. For Lebanese publishers and Sudanese translators, for Indian illustrators and Nigerian publicists, the Abu Dhabi Book Fair provides a place to meet in the middle.

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I spent the better part of a week wandering through the massive convention hall, who’s striking resemblance to an airport reminded me just how much, and how rapidly, this city is redirecting flight paths and avenues of discussion and innovation. I was able to navigate by flipping between my four overlapping program guides, and weaving through the rows and rows of Arabic books—contemporary, mass market, antique, translated, children’s, cooking, coloring. Fortunately, the hall was never too crowded; the only occasional traffic came from groups of children wheeling suitcase-shaped book carts, courtesy of the event, that rivaled them in size. 

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