LEIPZIG BOOK FAIR

Leipzig Fair: Stories of different reading realities

04.04.2024

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One notices the importance of the Leipzig Book Fair (LBF) on the train to the city. No bicycles were in wagons: During the Fair, it was forbidden. The drivers on strike make an exception and one tram line rumbles from the old town to the fair’s exhibition center. There are people with books in the wagons, people with books on the streets, people with books, and occasionally with anime swords, on the public transport stops… All have come to celebrate the biggest reading event of the region.

Next to the LBF event posters, there are posters appealing for people to be active during the upcoming elections for the European Parliament. Next to discussions about the advantages of paper books, one finds debates about reading in times of catastrophes.

 

“We can’t share our trauma with you, but if Putin executes his march on Berlin – we can share our children’s literature with you on how to speak about war with kids,” noted the writer Olena Stiazhkina during one of the events. Read about these and other clashes of reading realities in our report.

General attitudes

This year’s Leipzig Book Fair, like last year’s Frankfurt Fair, is very political. This is reflected in the program, which reacted to the Russian-Ukrainian war, and to the Israel-Palestinian war, too, but also to the upcoming elections – elections for the local municipalities, the German Parliament, and the European Parliament.

 

The slogan not to be indifferent to the elections “Demokratie wahlen jetzt” (“#DemocracyVoteNow”) was in the pavilions, and also during the grand opening of the fair. There was a flash mob action, for which every visitor could hold up a carefully printed poster with this slogan.

 

 

 

And if this part of the opening was well-orchestrated, the other one – the reaction of the public to the speech of the Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz – could not have been predicted. During the Chancellor’s speech people reacted roughly, criticizing his (and current Germany’s government overall) pro-Israel position, similarly to how they reacted to the speech of the philosopher Slavoj Žižek at the Frankfurt Fair.

 

“Freedom, democracy, and diversity are not self-evident, but rather values ​​that need to be fought for again and again. At the Leipzig Book Fair we commit to this with a principled stance, defending diversity and freedom of thought, constructive exchange and tolerance,” stated Astrid Böhmisch, director of Leipzig Book Fair, during the opening. Thankfully, this stance didn’t lead the organizers to initiate Russian-Ukrainian readings, but there were plenty of Israeli-Palestinian ones.

 

German-Israeli author Omri Boehm during his speech.

 

One of the key prizes of the fair – for European Understanding – was awarded to a German-Israeli author Omri Boehm (as reported earlier, in 2023 this award was granted to the Russian writer Maria Stepanova).

 

“Israeli and Palestinian friends can speak about the catastrophic failures of our brothers and sisters, knowing that if we aren’t able to look our friends in the eyes after this, we won’t be able to look in the mirror. Friendship has always been that challenge which protected us from catastrophic failure of brotherhood and grotesque abuse of abstract ideas about armed resistance and self-defense,” noted the author in his award speech.

 

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“This year, it is felt that there was more political confrontation – between the audience and the positions of the speakers. It is felt that the times are tense and this is in the conversations of most readers, even though for them the fair is firstly a holiday,” adds Martin Born in a commentary for Chytomo. Born is a publisher at Passagen Verlag, which specializes in intellectual literature – essays and humanitarianism.

Readers’ holiday

At the same time for many attendees, the LBF is primarily a reading holiday. The slogan of the fair – “Who’s still reading?” – looked especially funny these days in the city, where it is felt that people read everywhere, and read specifically paper books and periodical literature. The Leipzig Book Fair is the second largest German fair after Frankfurt, and one of the biggest European “readers’ own” fairs.

 

Visitors of the fair

 

Happening simultaneously with the Manga-Comic-Con, the fair gathered thousands of people – 283,000 visitors (9,000 more than last year’s 274,000), and 2,085 publishing houses from 40 countries. No surprise, then, that the pavilion with mangas was the most numerous in terms of attendance, and the stands with popular literature and its most diverse variations overshadowed the stands of more respectable publishing houses like the Suhrkamp Verlag.

 

The teenage audience was particularly vast, and German publishers note that this is the achievement of booktokers, with whom the fair closely collaborates. This is important since teenagers are not only future readers, but also future voters.

 

 

The variety of genre literature

 

Some of these bloggers are real stars. Teenagers lined up to take a photo with them, and the stages set aside for booktok discussions outnumbered the platforms for highly intellectual debates. Also, for teenagers, there were their favorite authors and varieties of teenage and young adult literature – with emphasis on first love, erotica, fantasy, and horror. Teenagers are buying books again, and consuming them like TV series – in large volumes.

 

Guests hurry up to visit ComicCon events

 

 

Suzann, a visitor of the fair, with whom we stood in the queue for coffee for forty minutes, said that she comes to the festival for her favorite authors and atmospheric reading. At the fair for the literary events, there is a separate program – “Leipzig liest” (“Leipzig reads”), and these events happen all around the city – in galleries, bookstores, libraries, and universities. Together with the rainy weather, all this reminds me of the Lviv Book Forum (one of the biggest Ukrainian book fairs held in Lviv) on a larger scale.

 

Guests of honor this year were the Netherlands and Flanders. The key topics of discussions and events were the climate crisis, overconsumption, the global migrant crisis, and the war in Europe.

 

Guests of honour pavilion

Stories and books from Ukraine

For the Ukrainian delegation, the fair was a representation of a strange double reality — holidays are here and danger is in the homeland. On the morning of March 21, there was a Russian missile attack in Ukraine just before the opening of the Ukrainian stand in Germany. During the opening, Olesia Ostrovska-Liuta, the general director of “Mystetskyi Arsenal,” noted that just before the event, her colleagues checked her apartment to see whether or not it was damaged by the wreckage.

 

Claudia Roth and Yulia Kozlovets

 

“The credo of our stand remains the same: ‘Fragility of Existence.’ And I want to remind you once again: The price we pay for this existence is very, very high,” noted cultural manager Maria Shubchyk, the coordinator of projects in the field of literature and translation support at the Goethe-Institut Ukraine.

 

The Ukrainian representation was at three adjacent stands: The national stand of Goethe-Institut in Ukraine, Ukrainian Institute, Ukrainian Book Institute, the stand of the Meridian Czernowitz festival and publishing house, the stand of National cultural and artistic and museum complex “Mystetskyi Arsenal.”

 

Ukrainian national stand

 

The program and the national stand were supported by the city of Leipzig, the Saxon State Chancellery, and the Leipzig Book Fair. This year, the Ukrainian national stand continues last year’s representations – both in Frankfurt and in Leipzig.

 

RELATED: Reflections from Frankfurt 2023: The fragility of existence and supporting local markets

 

“I am extremely glad that this year and last year the arrival of Ukraine’s stand became possible and visitors will be able to discover the diversity, engagement, and energy of the Ukrainian community. I hope this process will also work in the opposite direction: I would like authors from Ukraine to also be able to get strength and confidence from the fact that the German-speaking public supports them and is interested in conducting a cultural dialogue,” noted the head of the Ukrainian stand at the Leipzig Book Fair Astrid Böhmisch during the opening.

 

The events at the stand were always crowded. Among the visitors there were not only Slavists and publishers interested in partnership, but also ordinary German readers. Ukrainian children and teenagers approached with exclamations of “Wow! The book is in Ukrainian!” and left with full bags. Among the books presented at the stand, those created by volunteers and military people had a special place: poems by Valery Puzik, Valery Zapeka’s novel “Puppy” (these books, in particular, were noted by Tetyana Trofymenko at the event as those that are important to be translated into German), a collection of poems “Poetry From a Loophole” by Maksym Kryvtsov (to which a separate presentation was dedicated), “Daughter” by Tamara Duda (Tamara Gorikha-Zernya), work on the translation of which is already underway, “Point of no return” by Dmytro Verbych, a book of poems by Hlib Babych and others.

 

Event visitors

 

Readers were interested in a selection of recently published books in German, to which the presentations at the stand were also dedicated, in particular books by Artem Chekh (translator Alexander Kratochvil was present at the discussion), Stanislav Aseev (translator Sofya Onufriv was present at the discussion), Olena Stiazhkina, Tetyana Trofymenko, Olena Zakharchenko, Victoria Feshchuk, an anthology of Ukrainian poetry edited by Tania Rodionova and Claudia Dathe. Among the books, an anthology dedicated to the partnership of Kyiv and Leipzig, which have been fellow cities for 60 years, was important.

 

Ukrainian books in German translation

 

However, the national stand had little to offer for teenagers, as one of its participants, a co-founder of a bilingual magazine Come[:b]lau, writer Kseniya Fuchs emphasizes: “This year there are more teenagers than ever at the Leipzig Fair, and it would be good to offer them something from us: Ukrainian literature for teenagers, and even better comics, which they love so much. Good Ukrainian stories translated into German and in comics would be very, very much bought here.”

 

In particular, the Meridian Czernowitz stand presented Igor Pomerantsev’s book “Czernowitz,” which was translated and published in German by the same publishing house. The stand of Mystetskyi Arsenal offered a collection of bilingual catalogs.

 

Meridian Czernowitz stand

 

At the same time, most of the books of the national stand and the Meridian Czernowitz stand are in Ukrainian. Publisher, President of the International Literary Corporation “Meridian Czernowitz” Svyatoslav Pomerantsev tells Chytomo that the target audience is invariably Ukrainians in Germany, Slavists, all those who study Ukrainian: “As Igor Pomerantsev once said, the Leipzig Book Fair is not a book exhibition, it is an exhibition of modern cultural faces of cities and countries. Therefore, we are not presenting books, but the new cultural face of the city of Chernivtsi.”

 

In just four days of the fair, more than 20 events of the program took place at the national stand, and 40 participants took part in readings, discussions, and lectures. The literary program of the events of the national stand with a focus on “stories of resistance, loss and resulting identities” was prepared by the Goethe-Institut in Ukraine together with the Mystetskyi Arsenal National Art and Culture Museum Complex and in partnership with the Ukrainian Book Institute and Ukrainian Institute.

 

A conversation about the work of poet and soldier Maksym Kryvtsov

 

Perhaps the conversation about the work of the poet and soldier Maksym Kryvtsov with the participation of his sister Anastasia Khudaverdyan and his brother-in-arms, writer Dmytro Verbych was the most poignant.

 

“Look at these empty chairs, Ukrainian authors and artists could be sitting here, on every single one of them, but Russia killed them and is killing them, children could be sitting who would later grow up to be artists and writers, but Russia killed and is killing them too,” said Olena Stiazhkina during one of the public events. Visibility of stories of lost authors is a strong thread of all conversations with the participation of Ukrainian authors.

 

A Ukrainian stand at Leipzig BookFair was a part  of “Promoting exchange between the German and Ukrainian book & literature industries” program.

 

RELATED: What it’s like to open a publishing house during a pandemic and a war

 

Images:  Leipziger Buchmesse, Victoria Feshchuk, Vira Dumke

 

Translation: Olena Pankevych, Milana Polova

Copy Editing: Mark Klenk, Terra Friedman King

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