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Books in Berlin

September 10, 2009

For the next two weeks, Germany is to be the focus of the literary world as it welcomes authors from all corners of the world to the 9th International Berlin Literary Festival.

International Literature Festival logo
Literature from the Arabic world is the focus of this year's festival

Germany is a renowned venue for literature festivals and book fairs. The annual Frankfurt Book Fair is the largest is the world where publishers meet to negotiate publishing rights and fees. The Leipzig Book Fair is a more low-key affair, instead choosing to emphasize the link between the author and reader.

The Berlin Literature Festival has likewise developed its own unique flavor. It is a festival the whole world is invited to, where Middle Eastern poets rub shoulders with Indian short story writers, and novelists from European countries converse with their contemporaries from the Far East.

But German authors are also invited from Sept. 9-20, although only a third of the 200 authors present are home-grown. The rest will be arriving from abroad to present a selection of prose and poetry from their respective countries.

A chance to discover Arabic literature

An exterior view of the festival's venue, the Haus der Berliner Festspiele
The Haus der Berliner Festspiele will be attracting 200 authors from around the worldImage: Burkhard Peter

The focus this year is on literature from the Arabic world. The event's organizers hope to shed light on a part of the world which has been the subject of hot political debate, but one which those in the West know little about.

Within this framework, the festival will be showcasing the work of the region's premier authors. The winner of the International Prize for Arab Fiction, Youssef Zieden, will be reading excerpts from his novel "Azazil." In this award-winning work, the Egyptian author deals with the difficult subject of violence and intolerance in Christianity during the fifth century.

The reception of Arabic literature in Deutschland is the subject of debate in the round of discussions entitled "What comes across?" And the question is perhaps justified considering that the 40 authors invited to attend are known only among select circles of literary experts. Responsible is the lack of translated texts, with even the bestsellers from the Arabic world remaining in their original language.

By raising awareness for Arabic literature, organizer Ulrich Schreiber envisages the festival's 38 events as being a "landmark in the literary communication with the Arabic word."

Authors from around the world will be reading their work to visitorsImage: DW

Inner reflections

Aside from its obvious literary theme, the festival also encompasses a political and social dimension, which the organizers hope will provide insights and trigger discussion. This is where "Reflections" takes center stage. Launched in 2002 to commemorative the anniversary of 9/11, the program is an international forum to promote the exchange of ideas. The panel discusses a range of provocative topics from the political, cultural and economic spheres.

There will be, for example, a discussion exploring the first months of Barack Obama's presidency. The effects of globalization on the city of Mumbai are also on the agenda, together with an investigation into the spread of mafia influence in Germany.

The festival is also not afraid to hold a mirror up to the literary world itself. The event "Who decides what we read? The power of literary prizes" investigates the role of literary awards and poses the question to what extent they really influence readers. Attempting to answer these questions is a panel consisting of various perspectives. Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer accompanies Irish and British bestselling authors Colum McCann and Hanif Kureishi.

Poetry slam

Promising to provide both excitement and humor is "International Slam!", a unique mixture of poetry, storytelling, comedy, rap, song, and dance.

Returning for its eighth outing, the event entails the participants either reading or reciting poetry in an entertaining way, the winner of which is decided by the applause received from the audience.

Author: Heiner Kiessel (as)

Editor: Kate Bowen