The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

I am grateful for the opportunity to sit on a comfortable couch. My feet ache from walking through the massive exhibition space of the 24th Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The room is purpose-built to resemble a luxurious study. Carved chairs, elaborate chandeliers reflecting light off a golden disc in the ceiling, a dark wooden floor covered with an intricately designed carpet, enormous bunches of cheerful flowers and an eclectic array of bric-a-brac create a rich, yet intimate atmosphere.Book Fair 1

I gratefully accept a glass of mint tea served in a clear hour-glass cup. The light reflects off the transparent green glass of the saucer, enhancing the colour of the liquid. The constant stream of hospitality is faultless. Arabic coffee, ice-cold water, a variety of fingerfoods, and Omani halwa served in delicate glass cups with tiny golden spoons appear at regular intervals.

Questions form rhythmic monologues. The author listens intently, smiles, and answers. His words create musical phrases, rising and falling passionately. Iraqi novelist, Ahmed Saadawi, winner of the seventh edition of the International Prize for Arab Fiction has the audience enthralled.

A regular stream of cameramen, as well as photographers enter the room, peer through a single black eye at the author and audience, capture a fleeting moment in time, and quietly retreat. I busy myself with jotting down thoughts and impressions, soaking up the atmosphere, and enjoying the musical lilt of words bouncing through the air.

After a hearty applause, the elegantly dressed women start to mill around in smaller groups, talking and laughing, while a faint perfume trail follows in their wake. “Perhaps I should start making an effort to learn Arabic”, I think, while quietly slipping out to rejoin the noise of the exhibition hall.

*          *          *

Ahmed Saadawi’s prize includes US$50,000 and a guaranteed English translation of his award-winning novel, Frankenstein in Baghdad. Its blend of fact and fantasy, according to Saadawi, is very much present in the many discussions that surrounds the Iraqi conflict today.

*          *          *

With over a 1000 Arab and International publishers from 50 countries that exhibited half a million titles at this year’s Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, it is considered to be one of the region’s best book fairs.