Sharjah was the main attraction on the opening day of the Seoul International Book Fair.
The emirate is this year’s guest of honour at the fair, which is running until Sunday at the Coex Convention & Exhibition Centre in the South Korean capital.
Under the mantle, Sharjah will represent the UAE's publishing industry through a string of stands across the grounds, as well as hosting an expansive programme of discussions and panel sessions.
The festivities began today with a high profile visit by South Korean first lady Kim Keon Hee, who was greeted at the pavilion by Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, chairwoman of the Sharjah Book Authority and UAE Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Abdulla Saif Ali Slayem Al Nuaimi.
The first lady was given a tour of the pavilion and was shown some of the literary works and visual pieces from a variety of the emirate’s cultural organisations, including the House of Wisdom, Sharjah Museums Authority and Dr Sultan Al Qasimi Centre.
In the book fair’s official opening ceremony, Kim’s address noted Sharjah’s guest of honour programme for its “creative initiatives, cultural, artistic and literary events.”
Highlights include Wednesday's appearance of Emirati writer and International Prize for Arabic Fiction nominee Sultan Ameemi, who will shed light on the characteristics of Emirati poetry.
The following day, Emirates Publishers Association chairman Abdullah Al Kaabi will take part in a panel session on the dynamism of the Arab publishing market.
Sharjah's programme wraps up with a Saturday symposium featuring Emirati and South Korean critics discussing literary works from their respective homelands.
“Sharjah and South Korea share a common experience in investing in culture to create a flourishing cultural scene that inspires the world and contributes to socioeconomic progress,” Sheikha Bodour said.
“For over five decades, the emirate has built a cultural environment centred around books and reading, based on its belief in the key role of books in developing nations and societies, particularly the younger generations.
“Sharjah’s openness to other cultures and peoples and our committed efforts to promote dialogue and understanding stems from this very belief in the positive influence of books and literature.
Speaking to The National from the Sharjah Pavilion, ambassador Al Nuaimi explains the emirate’s participation is part of the UAE's greater ambition of facilitating cultural exchange with the world.
“And I would say that Sharjah is a pioneer in this field,” he said. “It's presence today with this rich programme and reception communicates an important message about the UAE’s deep interest and care for culture.”
Spotted amid the dignitaries in the pavilion was the Man Booker Prize winner Yann Martel, whose 2001 novel Life of PI was adapted into an Oscar-winning film eleven years later.
The Canadian author tells The National of fond memories from a previous UAE visit as a guest of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2010.
“I found the UAE very interesting because it represented the modern aspect of the Arab world in that it is very forward looking, open and cosmopolitan,” he says.
“I hope I can return because I do need to visit that House of Wisdom in Sharjah which I only read about in a booklet. It's a wonderful achievement because it really links back to the Middle East’s place in the silk route and how it was a conduit between Asia and Europe.
“Not only did it benefit from that, but the Renaissance started thanks to things that were brought along the silk route.”
Also in Seoul was Dubai Abulhoul, the Emirati author behind a series of Arabic children's books inspired by Emirati folklore.
With an Italian translation of the series launched at the 2022 Bologna Children’s Book Fair, she is hopeful a Korean deal will bear fruit at the Seoul event.
Speaking ahead of her Friday panel session on the richness of Emirati and Korean folk stories, Abulhoul says both cultures have a lot in common.
“This deep sense of history and a legacy and respect of tradition is very common in Asian and Middle Eastern communities,” she says.
“It's not just this sense of family values, it's more like we are very proud and acknowledge our history.”