By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘It’s Fascinating How Diverse This Market Is’The late-day sun of an Athenian afternoon streams into the windows of Nicholas Yatromanolakis’ office, belying the week’s heart-breaking news of a devastating train collision near the city of Larissa north of the capital.
“It’s a very tragic moment,” Greece’s deputy minister of culture and sports says. The blue and white of that world-famous flag catches the soft rays behind him. “It has cast a shadow over the country.”
At this writing, Yatromanolakis’ government is reporting a death toll of at least 57 in the disaster. The head-on collision between a passenger train and a freight train reportedly involving both a station master’s wrongful instructions and an outdated railway system. Many university students were among the 350 or more passengers, some returning from Carnival celebrations. Protests following the incident have led to clashes with police in the capital.
Shaken, Yatromanolakis reminds us that the tracks at the Vale of Tempe, about an hour and 20 minutes south of Thessaloniki, are on “a very narrow path between two mountains. It’s so difficult for everyone,” he says, “and we’re entering a three-day mourning period.”
One of the most easily recognized and popular faces in Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ cabinet, Yatromanolakis pivots to Greece’s upcoming presence at Bologna Children’s Book Fair—a comparatively happy and prideful event for his country, long in the planning stages and now coming to fruition.
Alongside trade show director Elena Pasoli and Bologna Book Plus guest director Jacks Thomas, Yatromanolakis will speak at the opening of the Bologna Book Plus Greek pavilion in Hall 29, Mall 1, at 1 p.m. CET on Monday (March 6).
And he’s fluent in the particulars of the Greek publishing business, with the figures ready. “In our industry, 2021 and 2022 actually were better than 2019, pre-COVID” he says, “and in 2022, the publishing industry’s revenues were €312 million (US$331.1 million).”
A total 64 publishers are participating in the trade show, and 63 are involved with Bologna Book Plus. These numbers represent the largest Greek publishing presence in Bologna’s 60 years of operation.
Said to have some 1,500 bookstores operating today, Greece’s industry has thrived in the pandemic years, after weathering the country’s decade-long debt crisis, from which it emerged in 2018.
This doubly challenging sequence has given way to a country that’s restabilizing, with Athens earlier projecting a 1.8-percent level of growth for this year. That outlook may well be challenged by energy costs and the ramifications of Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. But analysts have hoped to see Greece return to investment grade this year as public debts decline, and upcoming elections will be closely watched.
And in this most honored of long-lived societies—Yatromanolakis talks of the “long tail” of success as a key criterion for which he’s proud of his nation’s progress. The 2018 designation of Athens as UNESCO,’s World Book Capital, he says, was certainly an energizing development, but the real proof of its value will be seen in its effects on Greeks’ reading habits over time.
‘It’s Not a Competition, Heritage vs. Contemporary’
Time is very much a factor in Yatromanolakis’ assessment of his nation’s unique cultural stance in the world—and its outlook. He’ll greet international publishing professionals at Bologna on Monday as an emissary of the contemporary Greece. And this is important to him. When asked, he goes right to the “legacy” question.
“We have very persistent and dedicated publishers. It’s not a consolidated publishing market with five big publishing houses. We have many small publishing houses, which means they curate books in a meticulous way.”Nicholas Yatromanolakis, Greek deputy minister of culture and sports
“How do we escape this?” Yatromanolakis asks.
“You wake up, you’re working, you walk in the city, you see the Acropolis. It’s there. It’s always there, right? But you also have your life and you have a modern city, you know? How do we cope with this? Is this legacy a blessing? Yes. Is it sometimes a burden? Maybe. Does it affect our daily lives? If so, how?
“We are a European country, we are a Western country, but there are still other aspects of our country that draw on other parts of the world. Even our location is interesting, our political history has been interesting for 200 years as a modern state.
“We have wonderful writers, but also wonderful illustrators” who are in touch with this dynamic of duality he’s describing. “We also have very persistent and dedicated publishers. We’re not a consolidated publishing market with five big publishing houses. We have many small publishing houses, which means they curate their books in a meticulous way. It’s a very diverse market, given its size. It’s fascinating just how diverse it is, for a ‘small language,’ let’s say.”
Immediately apparent to anyone who travels in Greece, that defining challenge of today’s Greek nation is clearly, as Yatromanolakis describes it, that evocation of its ancient cultures and the creativity and intelligence of the EU member-state it is.
The question in literature becomes whether Homeric glory is an overhang or a springboard. And this ancient-modern axis is neither an academic question, nor one quickly resolved. Greece’s book people live with it daily, as Yatromanolakis says.
“This coexistence,” he says, “is part of who we are, essentially. And it’s not a competition, heritage vs. contemporary. That’s not the point. It’s fantastic that everything can coexist in the same place.
“Three years ago, we opened the National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens. And if you go onto the terrace of the museum, you can actually see the Acropolis. You can have this conversation, you know? This dialogue, this visual connection between the two, and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, where else can I find this?’ Nowhere.”
Greece’s secret today, as Yatromanolakis says, is exactly this tension between the stunning beauty of its past and the churn of today’s national scope.
“It doesn’t mean we’re stuck in the past,” he says. “There’s a present, a future, and a past. There’s this layering, this stratification,” he says. “It’s in Athens, it’s everywhere.”
And the Bologna program doesn’t leave this signature reality behind.
One thing the Market of Honor program is doing in Bologna is “Homage to Greek Cinema,” a screening of Greek film in cooperation with Cineteca Bologna, running Sunday through March 10. It won’t only use cinematic work as a bridge between cultural references, but it also will serve “to make our presence known” beyond the trade fair at BolognaFiere. He’ll personally introduce Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2017 The Killing of a Sacred Deer on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
And the pavilion is presenting not only books but also a book-jacket design exhibition and “Best of the Best” competition, as illustration takes the floor in a special exhibition called LiteraComics: Literature in the 9th Art. Another exhibition is titled Need a Hero? An Illustrators’ Exhibition. Both of these shows are at the Greek pavilion.
A full range of events is prepared to run through Thursday, the trade show’s final day. A comprehensive listing of the Market of Honor events, including films and exhibitions is here (PDF).
‘This Modern Face of Greece’
And when you ask Yatromanolakis if he can describe the special character of Greece’s contemporary literature, he smiles and tells you, “First I have to disclose something. My father is a writer.”
Nicholas Yatromanolakis is the son of the award-winning author Yoryis Yatromanolakis (sometimes spelled Giorgos Iatromanolakes), whose best-known books include The History of a Vendetta and A Report of a Murder, both translated to English by Helen Cavanah for Dedalus Books. Widely translated and read, the father’s eloquence seems available to the son–who claims with a laugh, “I write policy papers all day”–as as the deputy minister talks about Greece’s literary personality today.
“I grew up in a very literary environment. Maybe I have a bit of a bias. We have this 2,500-year-long tradition of storytelling. But it’s also important to know that contemporary Greece does have its own voice. It’s a voice that reflects what Greece is today. The good, the bad, the ugly, the issues—personal issues and political issues that concern this generation of writers.”
Bologna’s Market of Honor program will feature authors, illustrators, and poets including Angeliki Darlasi, Christos Oikonomou, Dimitris Anastasiou, Ersi Sotiropoulos, Petros Markaris, Stergia Kavvalou, Thomas Tsalapatis, Ursula Foskolou, Vagelis Iliopoulos, Soloúp, Dimitris Sotakis, Photini Stephanidi, Kelly Matathia-Covo, and Achilleas Razis.
“Considering our size, we have a wealth of literary production in Greece,” he says. “There are many diverse voices cutting across generations, genders, origins, geographies, and genres here.”
And Nicholas Yatromanolakis is looking forward to pointing these out to Bologna’s trade visitors.
“People, maybe,” he says, “will be surprised to see this modern face of Greece.”
More from Publishing Perspectives on Greece is here, more on guest of honor programs at publishing’s trade shows and book fairs is here, Bologna Children’s Book Fair is here, more on Bologna Book Plus is here, more on rights trading in the international book publishing industry is here, our Rights Roundup series is here, more on children’s books is here, more on the Italian market is here, and more on world publishing’s trade shows and book fairs is here. More on ‘artificial intelligence’ is here.
More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing—mentioned in Nicholas Yatromanolakis’ comments relative to the Greek market’s performance—is here.
More of our coverage of the 60th anniversary edition of Bologna Children’s Book Fair:
Bologna’s 60th Edition Draws 28,894 Visitors
Hometown Hero: Bologna Illustrator Andrea Antinori Wins Big
International Women’s Day: PublisHer’s Bologna Stand
The Best Children’s Publishers Prizes of the Year at Bologna
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Elena Pasoli and Jacks Thomas on the 60th Bologna Book Fair Opening
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Nicholas Yatromanolakis on Bologna’s Market of Honor: ‘The Modern Face of Greece’
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