Opening day of Abu Dhabi International Book Fair: gaming, pavilions and a Mission to Mars

The annual event returns with author discussions and book stands big and small

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The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is off to a furious start.

Being held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre until Sunday, the annual event hasn't followed the slow-boil pattern usually seen at book fairs.

By noon the halls were teaming with school students, authors, government officials, diplomats and a Nobel laureate.

Guido Imbens, the Dutch-American winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for Economics, was spotted wandering the halls with a tote bag and admiring pavilions big and small.

Speaking of these structures, the German section befits the country’s standing as the book fair’s guest of honour for the second consecutive year.

What to expect inside

Located in Hall 8, it is the first pavilion you see upon entering the red carpeted VIP guests' entrance.

The 400-square-metre space has a mini three-tiered amphitheatre and ample meeting spaces where 34 German publishers are on hand to showcase their titles and hopefully land some deals for translations and regional distribution.

Visitors can also play a game of foosball in the German pavilion at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Antonie Robertson / The National

Willing these cultural ambassadors is the German ambassador to the UAE himself, Ernst Peter Fischer, who officially opened Germany's participation at the book fair.

“We are back with a bigger and better stand,” he says. “We have been part of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair each year since 2008, so we are regular and happy guests and customers.

“I think it is meaningful and important that Abu Dhabi is presenting itself as a centre of literature and reading. From that flows ideas, discussion and debate.”

Networking among publishers

Admiring the pageantry from his cosy stand is Qassim Al Tarras, the general manager of Syria’s Pioneers Publishing House.

“I have been coming here to the Abu Dhabi Book Fair since 2008 and the first few days are always exciting,” he says.

“You see old and new faces and it makes you motivated to do a good job.”

Al Tarras’s stand maybe a cubbyhole in comparison to the German pavilion, but he is confident his innovative catalogue will attract its fair share of book lovers.

His secret weapon, he says, is a well-stocked shelf of Arabic translations of Turkish novels, including works by bestselling author Sule Yuksel Senler.

“This is a field that I have been getting into over the past few years and the potential is great. This is because the Arabic and Turkish cultures are not so different when it comes to tradition and family.

“So if you are an Arab reader, you don’t feel like you are making too much of a mental leap when identifying with the plot.”

Gamification comes to the Abu Dhabi Book Fair

With the weekdays normally dedicated to school groups aged 16 and above, educational pavilions are where most of the action is during the mornings and early afternoons.

The Mission to Mars exhibition at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Antonie Robertson / The National

An eye-catching exhibition is dedicated to the UAE Space Agency’s Mission to Mars and includes a medium-sized replica of the red planet that changes colour.

The Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge also introduced a technological element to its programming this year.

A shower of Arabic letters in a futuristic font is suspended above, as students undertake quizzes, presented in the form of computer games, to identify a favourite genre.

"We do believe that there is no such thing as a young person who dislikes reading, it only means they haven't found the right book yet," event experience manager Dana Alyazeedi tells The National.

"We have introduced gamification to the book fair for the first time in that they can have an interactive experience that they can enjoy.

“We just want to encourage kids to read and we want to help them figure out where to begin that book journey and hopefully make that journey of discovery fun and exciting.”

At the interactive pavilion dedicated to the book fair's Cultural Personality of the Year, Taher Hussein, the deep voice of the 20th-century author wafts from the speakers with a message of encouragement for all involved in the book fair.

We need "more people who love knowledge for the sake of knowledge and discovery ... I think that will preserve the important role of arts and culture".

More information on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is available at adbookfair.com

Updated: May 24, 2022, 5:15 AM
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