Turkey - literature full of controversy shines at Book Fair
Oct 12, 2008, 18:27 GMT
Frankfurt - The Frankfurt Book Fair, an annual five-day session of book-publishing negotiations, opens in Germany this Wednesday with Turkey in the limelight as a special guest.
World book publishing is a slow-growth industry at the best of times. The threat of a global recession is bringing more jitters to a sector that is already being scorched by the spread of free knowledge on the internet.
In the booths at the fair in Frankfurt, publishers from over 100 nations will be talking one another into translating everything from history textbooks to pet care guides. Others will be trying to talk their peers into buying rights to new editions.
Many are also likely to stop by the stands displaying e-book readers, such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader, and either marvel or shudder at these 250-gram electronic devices, which may one day replace paper books.
The fair's other role, as a magnet for German book lovers keen to see this autumn's new books all in one place, explains why Turkey has leaped at the invitation to showcase its writers and put on a display of culture.
Turkey's 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Orhan Pamuk, and Turkish President Abdullah Gul will address a fair launch party on Tuesday night.
The publicity campaign will be a chance to break a German mindset that associates Turkey with poor immigrants and instead promote Turkey as a land of high culture - or more exactly, cultures, in the plural.
A council of Turkish book publishers and writers chose colourful cultural diversity as its theme, running the risk of criticism at home from nationalists, who perceive a danger to Turkey from pluralism.
Muge Gursoy Sokmen, co-chair of the organizing committee, said in an interview earlier this year that the plan was to highlight the little-known 'layers' woven in with Turkic origins in the country's culture today.
'You'll see how it includes Arab or Armenian or Byzantine roots too,' said Sokmen, who is a leftist Istanbul publisher.
Among 300 Turkish authors and translators, whose trips to Frankfurt are being funded by the organizing committee, are five Kurdish writers, including Seyhmus Diken, who is active in Kurdish politics, and a female writer, Lal Lales.
Two ethnic Armenian women are also in the line-up: Jaklin Celik and Karin Karakasli. Their articles have appeared in Agos, the newspaper of journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered by a nationalist last year.
Bringing all that diversity to Frankfurt has been anything but easy.
Along the way, 20 invited Turkish writers declared a boycott of the Frankfurt Book Fair, claiming its real purpose was to glorify the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islam- inspired Justice and Development Party (AKP) party.
Leyla Erbil, a woman novelist, said, 'I protest at the AKP taking advantage of writers.'
The organizing committee said in reply that the government funding for the publicity campaign came with no strings attached, and that writers would be free to criticize Ankara as much as they liked in Frankfurt.
Others protested at plans for Gul to appear on a dais with Nobel winner Pamuk, who is reviled by many Turkish nationalists.
Turkish Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay chided the critics this week, saying in the Turkish Daily News that they should be proud of Pamuk, who had 'kindly accepted' the invitation.
Pamuk is generally publicity shy.
There have also been complaints that the campaign gives scant representation to religious viewpoints from a nation which is seen as being on the cutting edge of efforts to reconcile Islam and liberal democracy.
The Timas publishing house, which prints many books for devout readers, expressed dismay that it was not offered a booth in the government-subsidized stand at the book fair.
Turkey's cultural ferment, where conservative secularists, leftists and Islamists sometimes disagree violently, is not just a literary topic, but often world news.
At Frankfurt, the test will be whether all those competing currents can unite around a pro-Turkey message.
The stakes are high, since Germans' ambivalence towards local Turks and German centre-right parties' hostility to Ankara are key stumbling blocks obstructing Turkey's ambitions to join the European Union.
To backstop the cultural campaign, Turkish tourism authorities have billboarded German cities with vacation advertisements tied in to the Book Fair campaign, reminding Germans of Turkey's scenic beauties.
The Book Fair will feature 7,050 publishers from around the globe and will last until Sunday.
Events during the week will include Monday's annual announcement of the German Book Prize for the year's best novel in German, and Sunday's handover to the German sculptor Anselm Kiefer of the German Book Trade Peace Prize.