The 36th edition of Sharjah International Book Fair has returned with another bumper-sized programme, including panel sessions, book signings, poetry readings and cooking demonstrations.
Heralded as the world’s fourth largest book fair and held at the Expo Centre Sharjah until November 11, the fair took part in the emirate’s Flag Day celebrations on November 2. Banners and the national flag festooned the expo’s surroundings as patriotic and Emirati folk songs played throughout the afternoon on large screens.
With all the sessions and industry meetings happening inside, flag-hoisting ceremonies were held sporadically throughout the day at different halls, with sweets and Arabic gahwa (coffee) served at various book stalls.
Key literary discussions began before sunset: one of the biggest sessions of the day featured foreign correspondent Souad Mekhennet – a German national of Turkish and Moroccan decent - who arrived to launch the Arabic translation of her English-written journalism memoir I Was Told to Come Alone.
Published in June, the US and UK bestseller relayed her travels across the region in order to gain an understanding on the factors motivating terrorism and some of the societal fractures which caused the Arab Spring.
She described covering the latter as the most difficult period of her career. “As journalists covering the Arab Spring, I think a lot of us did mistakes,” she said.
“In cases we looked at one isolated thing that happened and we said the rest of the country was like that. I believe that to a certain extent that journalists turned into activists themselves. Some of us took sides, and that is wrong. At some stage during the so called Arab Spring, I said ‘wait a second, something is going wrong here and I have to be more critical towards all sides.' When you do that, and a lot of us experienced that, you get sledged from all sides and I thought that was crazy.”
Another popular session featured UK author and British royal family biographer Claudia Joseph. Discussing her latest work, Kate: The Making of a Princess, Joseph said the appeal of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (known popularly as Kate Middleton), lies in her unassuming sartorial modesty.
When asked how to achieve that princess look, she replied: “The LK Bennett nude wedges, the blue blazer by Zara, her $169 [Dh620] J Brand skinnies, and a couple of expensive items will get you closer to your desired princess look without emptying your bank account.”
Those with a sweet tooth huddled in the front row of Nicklas Estedt’s cooking demonstration in order to sample his “Stockholm style” blueberry crumble. The Swedish Michelin star chef spoke of his mission to revive the traditional cooking methods of his homeland.
“Scandinavian cooking traditions haven’t been as well preserved and passed down generations like the Italians and the French, for instance. In the 1950s electricity came into our kitchens and women stepped out of their homes to find employment,” he said.
“In the middle of it all, authentic Swedish cooking, on open fires, simple fresh ingredients and just a few pots and knives, began to disappear.”
The Sharjah International Book Fair continues until November 11 with a slew of international authors, one of which is the bestselling British author Mark Billingham, who is set to discuss his detective Tom Thorne crime series on Wednesday.
"I travelled a few times to the UAE and as a writer it has always been a fascinating experience," he said in an exclusive interview with The National today from his London home.
“The region in general is not widely understood, and authors don’t visit there a lot. So when we do come for sessions I do find that audiences are not just appreciative but fully engaged, and the discussions are always interesting. For those reasons, I am absolutely looking forward to meeting the people next week.”
The Sharjah book fair is open on Friday until 11pm at the Expo Centre. Here are some highlights:
Novelists in the shadow of the Palm Trees
Literary critic Yousef Hattini will cast his keen eye on 13 Emirati novels. He will examine their themes, characters and narrative structure to provide insight on the development of Emirati fiction over the last four decades; 6pm at Cultural Cafe.
How writers represent their countries
A trio of international writers has been assembled to discuss how they present their country to a foreign audience. A winner of some of her countries most prestigious literary prizes, Argentinian writer Elsa Osoria broke out internationally with her sixth novel My Name Is Light (2003), which was translated into 15 languages. She will be joined by Pakistani writer and blogger Bina Shah and German-based Iraqi journalist Najem Wali; 6pm at the Literature Forum.
Bridging the gap between academia and fiction
Lisa Genova is the closest thing the book fair has when it comes to Hollywood lustre this year. The American author and academic's 2007 debut work Still Alice was not only a bestseller but became a 2014 Oscar-winning film starring Julianne Moore. Genova will discuss how she blends science into her novels, which all feature a protagonist with a neurological condition; 7.15pm at the Book Forum.
How do we tell the story of migration?
British author Neel Mukherjee, whose work includes the 2014 Man Booker Award-listed The Lives of Others and this year's A State of Freedom, will look at how the Indian migrant experiences colours his novels; 8.30pm at the Book Forum.
For all sessions, go to www.sibf.com