Poet Inas Abassi was at this year’s Tunis International Book Fair, which suffered from an overlap with the powerful Sharjah International Book Fair (Nov. 7-17) and from ongoing political and economic struggles. Nonetheless:
By Inas Abassi
The 29th session of Tunisian book fair was a special session this year. It was held from the 2nd to 11th of November in in “Kram Exhibition Palace.” This was a catch-up session, as last April’s book fair was postponed due to security concerns following the January 14 revolution.
This year, Egypt was the guest of honor, which meant there were big opportunities for Tunisian readers to attend Egyptian conferences and seminars. Egyptian official cultural institutions like the National Center for Translation and The Supreme Council of Culture also had a large presence.
On the other hand, Tunisian literature was the present-absentee! There were only a few new books and names, and these mostly turned around the revolution, reflections and feelings from street, and analysis from new writers about Ben Ali’s time. There were also many old titles about modern history of Tunisia (the independence and the after-independence).
As usual, Dar al Janoub and Dar Muhammad Ali and Dar Ceres (publishing in French) were the stars of the book fair. The showcased their classics as well as new titles by new novelists such KIF KIF, by Youssef Albahri, and Adam’s Mistress by Moncef Louhaibi, and others. Dar Muhammad Ali’s character studies and historical books was a good choice, especially those dealing with periods like early 20th century Tunisia, as well as the Battle of Bizerte.
But, in my opinion, the pearl of this session from Tunisian book fair was the Morocco suite. With a large area and a wide variety of titles in all fields, Tunisian lovers of books were numerous there. For instance, the complete works of Mohammed Choukri, and the overall work of Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid were there, plus a various collections, such as Toubkal.
There were many daily activities on the program. The audience varied from few persons (for poetry events and presentations of some new Tunisian novels) to crowded events (Alhalaba events and children’s-book readings).
In total, we can say that this session was successful considering the general atmosphere (a political mess plus the economy’s problems), plus the timing! Unfortunately, this session was scheduled at a time that overlapped the Sharjah International Book Fair. Perhaps this was the reason for some imperfections, such as the small number of Arabic publishing houses which participated. Many houses are weren’t present, while others chose to participate with a limited area and limited titles. For instance, Egypt’s Dar el Shorouk participated with a limited range of titles including classics from Egyptian literature.
Inas Abassi has published two prize-winning books of poetry, Secrets of the Wind (2004) and Archive of the Blind (2007), as well as Tales of the Korean Scheherezade. Abassi has published her poetry, writing and translations in newspapers, magazines and websites in Britain, Jordan, UAE and Lebanon. You can find her work in English translation in Banipal 39: Modern Tunisian Literature, trans. Allison Blecker.