By Olivia Snaije
Opening on the heels of the Francophone summit in Montreux, Switzerland – Lebanon’s 17th Francophone book fair kicks off this Thursday in Beirut and runs until November 7th. Articles about the former French protectorate regularly lament the loss of French speakers to English but the Beirut event has nevertheless gained the status of being the third Francophone book fair in the world, after Paris and Montreal.
Lebanon, with a population of less than four million, is nevertheless still among the world’s top ten importers of French books. French publishing houses such as Actes Sud and to a lesser degree Gallimard, specialize in Arabic fiction in French translation and have successfully published authors including Abbas Beydoun, Rachid Addaïf, and Hassan Daoud. Several other Lebanese authors, such as Goncourt prizewinner and this year’s winner of the Prince of Asturias prize, Amin Maalouf, write in French.
Although 700 publishers are listed with the union of Lebanese publishers, professionals estimate that only 150 of these publishers are active, with 10 or so publishing in French.
Organized by the Lebanese syndicate of book importers and backed by the French embassy, this year’s fair will pay homage to Algerian-born French author Albert Camus and will host a number of important French and Francophone authors such as Laurent Gaudé, David Foenkinoss, Robert Solé, and Yasmina Khadra.
Lebanese authors living abroad or in Lebanon will also be present such as Elias Khoury, Joumana Haddad, Hassan Daoud, George Corm and British-Lebanese spy novelist Percy Kemp. French publisher Editions Denoël will present Paris-based Lebanese artist Lamia Ziadé’s memoirs of her childhood during the civil war in a pop illustrated form.
Although the civil war and ensuing political instability have greatly hindered the book industry, Lebanon remains the most dynamic Middle Eastern country in the sector. Piracy is a primary concern though, affecting an estimated 40% of books, with some pirated books appearing on the market before the official launch of the original. This crucial topic is notably absent from the fair’s line-up of conferences, which include subjects such as translation, digital books, what the image of Lebanon is in France, Palestine and the influence of the 1,001 Nights.
For further context, see our coverage of Lebanon’s last year’s dueling Francophone and Arabic-language book fairs here.