By Olivia Snaije
This year France will be the cultural focus at this year’s Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which runs from March 15-20.
Although France has always had a good relationship with the Emirate, Britain has traditionally had closer ties due to it colonial influence. Over the past several years, however, besides the opening of a French military base on the banks of the Strait of Hormuz in 2009, and Air France recently increasing the number of flights to Abu Dhabi, the French government has made a tremendous effort to become culturally implanted in the region. With the Sorbonne University already running classes since 2006, the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2013 or 2014 is highly anticipated. It makes sense, then, that France makes its entrance at the book fair, in a region where English is far more common.
The program offers a variety of perspectives on French cultural life, including a series of presentations by author who are above all Francophone, if not entirely culturally French. It’s a signal that France is beginning to officially recognize and embrace the cultural wealth in its Francophone writers.
Goncourt prize winner Patrick Chamoiseau, who lives in his native Martinique, will be present, as will Venus-Khoury Ghata, the Lebanese-born poet, writer and literary critic, who has lived in France for over 25 years. Chamoiseau once said, when speaking about the question of language:
“It seems to me that today generations of children have put into perspective the question of language and that language has distanced itself from the notion of identity; language no longer defines a culture . . . one can have with the same language, different cultural and anthropological realities . . . ”
And Venus Khoury-Ghata has said, “I’ve now lived in France as long as in Lebanon but I’m not cured of my Orient.”
With reference to France’s colonial past, no French program could be complete without the presence of Algerian writers and indeed two Algerian poets, Inaam Bioud and Lazhari Labter, will talking about writing bilingual poetry. Labter, who studied French literature, will also be presenting a children’s book he wrote with French author and schoolteacher Nadia Roman entitled Kalimagier, a picture book that presents words borrowed in both Arabic and French from each language.
Even if they are not officially included in the French program, there is bound to be some crossover with France when North African authors such as the Tunisian Habib Selmi, who has lived in France since 1983, take part in discussions.
Kenizé Mourad, raised in France but of Turkish (and royal) heritage will be in Abu Dhabi to promote her new novel about a Muslim revolutionary woman in India who stood up to the British in the 19th century.
Abu Dhabi is restoring one of France’s largest royal palaces, the Chateau de Fontainebleau, and interest may run high in a round table discussion on the impressive two-volume, 10-kilo plus book on Versailles with the main author and former director of the Chateau de Versailles, Pierre Arizzoli-Clémentel, hosted by Philip Jodidio, former editor of “Connaissance des Arts” magazine and the author of over 80 books on art and architecture.
Jodidio will also host a discussion on the Louvre Abu Dhabi and its plans for the future. The participants are yet to be announced.
The Sorbonne is bringing over one of its philosophy professors, the award winning writer Vincent Delecroix to speak about philosophy and religion, the university is also organizing talks on French literature and its history. Finally, there will be a talk on the history of Franco-Arabic linguistic exchanges, as well as actors reciting Moliere.