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Culture

Frankfurt Book Fair Hits Trendy Note

It's not just for bookworms anymore: With Asterix comics and the latest Wim Wenders film sharing the spotlight alongside Nobel prize winners, the Frankfurt book fair is rocking and rolling like never before.

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Reading till you drop

The world's most important book fair officially opens to visitors in Frankfurt on Wednesday with the creator of the Asterix comics rubbing shoulders with writers considered the moral conscience of South Korea.

After the Arab world last year, South Korea is the guest of honour at the 57th annual Frankfurt Book Fair and has brought 62 authors to Germany to introduce them to the western public.

"Korea is an unknown country in Europe. Korean culture is overshadowed by Japan and China," said Hwang Chi-Woo, the author acting as director of the guest of honour delegation.

He said his aim was simply to get Europeans to talk about his country's writing and to understand its quiet understatement, which he compared to "the light that softens everything."

A divided country

Korea Gastland der Frankfurter Buchmesse 2005 Enter

South Korea is the guest of honor

For many of the visiting authors it is also a quest to inform the West of the political plight of the Korean peninsula, which was cut in two along the 38th latitude in 1948, and their longing for reunification with the communist north.

"We are all homeless. I am not from the north or the south, I have no identity apart from the Korean language," the country's most-read author, Hwang Sok-yong, told the Berlin-based daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

Hwang, who spent five years in prison for an unauthorised visit to North Korea to promote dialogue between artists from the two states, said the heavily-guarded border between Korea's two halves seemed like a hangover from an era the rest of the world is forgetting.

"It all looks like a museum depicting the Cold War - it looks like make-believe," Hwang said.

Lost without translation

Buchmesse Frankfurt arabische Bücher

Frankfurt book fair focused on Arabic literature last year

The lack of German translations of Korean works has made for a two-year race against time to get some 100 titles ready for the book fair.

According to the festival spokeswoman Caroline Vogel, it proved to be an impossible deadline.

"It is very difficult because there are not enough translations and there are not enough translators. It is literature and not everybody can translate literature," Vogel said.

"But it is always like this. Last year it was the same problem for Arab authors, and I think the Koreans have managed almost 80 translations."

At a kiosk near you

Asterix

Asterix is in lofty company at the world's most important book fair

Asterix creator Albert Uderzo, on the other hand, does not have any problems getting his work translated.

Two and half million translations of the latest title in the legendary French comic strip series about two Gauls' adventures in the Roman empire went on sale in Germany on Friday.

The Germans have a love affair with Asterix rivalled only by the French, to the point at which some readers forget what nationality the heroes are. The release in Germany coincided with that in France.

Uderzo will put in at least three public appearances at Frankfurt, Vogel said, including a live Internet chat with eight of his translators to which fans can "listen in."

The most exhibitors ever

Frankfurt remains the biggest book forum for English language publishers, surpassing even the London Book Fair. This year will have the most exhibitors yet with 7,000 expected.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood, a pioneer of Canadian women's writing

Publishers are bringing out feminist writer Margaret Atwood alongside top-selling English authors Nick Hornby and Ken Follet, as well as controversial Turkish author Ohran Pamuk. Pamuk's seventh novel, "Snow," which tells of a surreal homecoming amid a wave of suicides prompted by a ban on the Muslim headscarf, has earned him comparisons with German modernist master Franz Kafka.

Also coming to the fair is the Dutch poet, novelist and playwright Cees Nooteboom, who has frequently been mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Literature Prize.

Echoes from Sweden

This year, the world's most prestigious literary award went to British playwright Harold Pinter, who is published in Germany by Rowohlt, the same publishing house that struck it lucky last year when Austria's Elfriede Jelinek won the Nobel prize.

Some 240,000 copies of her novels and plays sold within days of the announcement of the Swedish Academy's decision last year, which is why Rowohlt is expected to prepare for a Pinter rush in Frankfurt.

Wim Wenders The Soul of a Man

Wim Wenders' latest film will be screened during the book fair

If the book fair keeps growing, Vogel said it is not because the book market itself is getting bigger, but because it is moving with the times and adding innovative categories to the event.

This year will see an antique book fair and a new section on magazines, while German director Wim Wenders is coming for a screening of his latest film "Don't Come Knocking" in the cinema section.

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