The “guest of honor” spot at book fairs is often controversial — in 2009, China’s honorary status at the Frankfurt Book Fair raised hackles and eyebrows, as did Saudi Arabia at Book World Prague in 2011. What does it mean to have a country honored at a fair? Is it for “bridge-building”? Other purposes?
Israel is this year’s guest of honor at the important Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL), and — asÂ HaaretzÂ reports — the state plans to “bring in the big guns”: Shimon Peres, as well as “best-selling authors A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman, Etgar Keret and Savion Librecht, Israeli theater icon Gila Almagor and even the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Prof. Ada Yonath.”
The FILÂ explained their selection of IsraelÂ by saying that, “The landscape of Israeli literature is an authentic mosaic and melting pot of trends and styles” and, according to fair chairmanÂ RaÃºl Padilla LÃ³pez,Â the fair offers Israel “the privilege and the space to conduct open dialogue and to make itself heard among people that are not familiar with its culture and to bring them closer to it.”
The only Arabic-writing participant listed on the FIL website orÂ HaaretzÂ is poet and Israeli ambassador Naim Araidi; according toÂ The Alternative News, no Palestinian citizens of Israel are participating in the delegation. Meanwhile, a number of Arab authors, writers, and critics — among them Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish, Lebanese author and publisher Samah Idris, and Jordanian authors Elias Farkouh and Hisham Bustani —Â have signed a letterÂ opposing Israel’s guest-of-honor status. A separate statement from Latin American writers and thinkers alsoÂ condemned the selection of Israel as FIL’s guest of honor. There is a copy of the statement onÂ Electronic Intifada.
The fair opens today and runs through Dec. 8.