A walk around the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

The National, April 2016

Abu Dhabi International Book Fair returns on Wednesday for its 26th edition, with its usual mix of books, excited publishers, hopeful booksellers, international authors and industry experts. Run by the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, this year’s event spotlights Italy as the country of honour, featuring some of the most famous contemporary Italian authors. With a comprehensive cultural and professional programme, creative workshops for children and even a cookery strand, there truly is something for everyone.

A taste of Italy

With the special focus of this year’s fair on Italy, it comes as no surprise that some of the biggest names in Italian publishing will be in the capital. They don’t come much bigger than guest of honour Donato Carrisi, the country’s best-selling thriller writer in translation. Four books of his grimy Italian noir have been translated into English – the latest, The Hunter of the Dark, had him compared to Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo.

Perhaps a little less easy to define is Nicola Lagioia, who last year won Italy’s top literary award, the Strega Prize, for Ferocity. His latest translation into English, Bringing It All Back Home, was a grab-­bag of influen­ces and took in plenty of enjoy­able 1980s touchstones including Michael Jackson and the Nasa space-shuttle programme.

Another Strega prize winner coming to Abu Dhabi is Melania Mazzucco, who won in 2003 for Vita, the brilliant story of young Italian immigrants who move to New York. Subsequently translated into English, it kick-started a fruitful literary career.

Fantasy and thrillers

Fellow Italian Valerio Massimo Manfredi is at the other end of his career, after selling more than 12 million art- and history-laden thrillers. English speakers will recognise his work from the film adaptation The Last Legion, a Roman epic starring Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley that had its world premiere in Abu Dhabi in 2007.

Licia Troisi is a best-selling Italian fantasy author, whose Chronicles of the Overworld series was recently translated into English.

Regional authors

Writers from the Arab world are also well represented. Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Sudanese writer Hammour Ziada’s novel The Longing of the Dervish was translated into English last year. He is joined by Moroccan novelist Anis Arrafai – who took part in Ipaf’s prestigious Nadwa writing workshop. The 2010 Ipaf chairman, Taleb Al Refal, will also be talking about his humanitarian-tinged writing.

Fadia Ahmed Al Faqir arrives at the fair as one of the most widely read Jordanian writers. Her five novels – with brilliantly drawn snapshots of Jordanian life – earned her a worldwide readership. And it will be interesting to hear what Mohammed Khan – one of the most famous Arab film directors – has to say about the indigenous film industry.

Creativity Corner

This strand of the fair, with workshops, events and performances, runs across five disciplines: arts and crafts, theatre, inner peace, science and smart learning.

In the theatre strand, Italian company Circus Dimidimitri will perform acrobatics and create a “human orchestra”. There’s also the chance to go on an interactive musical journey in Pathways and learn about the power of reading in The Arabic Alphabet: A Play.

Inner Peace

As the name suggests, the Inner Peace section focuses on how we can best look after ourselves. Dutch actress Adda van Zanden will explore how voice and breath coaching can unlock communication skills, while Hanns Joachim Ries will show how classical piano can be an effective meditation aid.

Storytelling and science

The Art and Craft zone, run by London’s Art at Kite Studios, will focus on ways in which cardboard, wood, plastics, metals and fabrics can be intriguing tools for storytelling.

Abu Dhabi’s Applied Technology High School and Secondary Technical School will run the Smart Learning strand, with a wide-ranging programme of workshops that take in robotics, solar energy and hydrogen-fuel technology. (Any session that features Lego gets our vote.)

Finally, European company Nutty Scientists bring hovercraft, balloon-powered cars and, er, slime to enthral children up to 12 years old with mad science.

Black Box Cinema

The fair also has a short-film strand featuring 18 films. The standout is Ave Maria by British-­Palestinian director Basil Khalil – a 15-minute comedy following a Jewish settler family forced to seek the help of a group of nuns when their car breaks down besides a remote convent. The film was nominated for an Oscar this year in the Best Live Action Short category.

There are also four films from UAE-based filmmakers: Omar Adam’s Five is a heartbreaking essay on mortality, which won the Egyptian filmmaker the top prize at Arab Film Studios Awards last year. Made of Clay, by Emirati Fayssal bin Sahli, looks at a boy’s dream to be a stop-motion artist, while Cross the Line, from Khaled bin Shahli, takes on similar themes, as a young cosplay designer tries to break away from his controlling father.

Emirati Amena Al Nowais’s Omnia is a harrowing documentary about female genital mutilation that won several awards, including Best Picture at last year’s Arab Film Studio Documentary competition.

On the business side

Abu Dhabi International Book Fair coaxes plenty of authors to the nation’s capital. But it is also a place for publishing-­industry professionals from around the world to discuss new books, developments, technologies and, perhaps, most importantly, the intricacies of the Middle East market and translation scene.

With the UAE’s Year of Reading initiative underpinning the fair, it’s interesting to note that Nathan Hull, chief business development officer at Mofibo, will be one of the most high-profile guests. Mofibo, after all, is a huge e-book and audiobook subscription service – much like a Spotify for books.

Sticking with technology, Ala’ Alsallal from Jamalon will talk about working for the largest online bookstore in the Middle East, while Clint Beharry from the Harmony Institute will discuss how technology can help stories change the world.

Turning to more traditional forms of communication, Alexandra Buchler, from Literature Across Frontiers, will talk about translating Arabic novels into English, as will Chip Rossetti, managing editor of the Library of Arabic Literature book series.

The fair’s Italian focus continues in the professional programme, with guest of honour Maria Luisa Borsarelli discussing publisher De Agostini’s wide-ranging global business, and her role as international rights manager.

Illustrator’s Corner

Celebrating the work of cartoonists, graphic designers and artists, this section of the fair takes in everything from how to draw the human form to manga.

Dubai-based David Macedo will talk about the process of creating a children’s book starting from the initial sketches all the way through to the finished product. His current project is a series of books, UAE, My Homeland, about an Emirati child.

German manga artist Inga Steinmetz will host a workshop to teach people how to draw in this distinctive Japanese comic-book style.

Award-winning Italian author/artist Alessandro Sanna will showcase how “live painting” works, with the use of an iPad and projections.

There will also be a fascinating discussion by Nassma Al Bahrani, production manager of Cartoon Network Studios Arabia, on how artwork is produced for animation.

• The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is from Wednesday, April 27, until May 3 at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. For details, visit www.adbookfair.com

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