“This festival is not exclusively about books,” organizers of the 17th International Book Festival say. It is more likely a festival of combined arts. Film screenings, theater performances and a number of exhibitions are available to the public every year.
The spring parade of the Hungarian book industry, in honor of the anniversary of Shakespeare’s and Cervantes’ death and in the spirit of the World Book and Copyright Day took place again at Budapest’s Millenaris Park. This year’s book fair presented more than 50,000 different titles, hosting authors from 25 countries, including this year’s Guest Country, Israel. “This was the first time we have introduced an Arabic country, Saudi Arabia, to present itself in Budapest, while other first-time exhibitors were Brazil and Vietnam,” says Eszter Szabó Deputy Manager at the MKKE Festival Office. As requested by the Book Festival’s visitors, opening hours were extended until 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Sunday and until 8 p.m. on Saturday, and according to Zentai, they’ll “keep to this habit in future.”
The Book Festival, opened by Constitutional Court President Péter Paczolay and Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Aliza Bin-Noun, has grown to a significant cultural event in recent years. “In fact, it’s considered as the 20th biggest book festival in the world,” Szabó notes, adding that this year, 60,000 people visited the fest. ”Writers, poets, scientists, artists and politicians are usually present at the four-day-long series of events. This year’s programs included book-signing, a variety of concerts and a professional trade forum for the Hungarian book industry where major actors of the book production process such as paper-mills, printing houses, publishers and booksellers held joint meetings to discuss current trends and the possible measures for overcoming the crisis. “This is the largest professional forum of the Hungarian language book market,” the Deputy Manager continues. “And truly, there were urgent issues to observe. In addition to the impact of the crisis, we have looked deeply into problems like the state body fighting piracy and promoting the protection of intellectual property that will assess the possibilities of joint actions against the illegal copying of university text books and science books,” she adds. “It was also high time for a professional discussion on business opportunities related to electronic books, digital books and e-book readers and to report on the latest developments.” In the meantime, the Librarians’ Club held discussions on ‘the development of library services,’ ‘Hungarian and universal cultural heritage and its protection,’ and, most importantly, ‘developing reading culture and making children regular readers.’
Celebrating a decade of existance, the European First Novel Festival was again held, traditionally introducing talented young authors. “This event is a joint effort of 17 EU-member countries and we are proud that we brought the most successful, European first novel authors to Budapest,” Szabó says. “Slovak writer Michaela Rosova (Headlong), Portuguese writer Ricardo Adolfo (Lots Happened to Me After I Died), Slovenian writer Natasa Kramberger (Heaven in Brambles) and Polish writer Malgorzata Rejmer (Toximia), to mention a few names, sat down for a roundtable discussion to summarize their experiences that concluded in an optimistic, but “every start is difficult” sort of mood.” Hungary was represented at these talks by Viktor Horvath, whose first novel ‘Turkish Mirror’ depicts 16th-century Hungary under Turkish occupation and is praised as the best Hungarian historical novel of the past decades.
Israel in Spotlight
After the successful guest of Honor presentations of the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Canada, China and Romania, this year, the focus was on Israel. Exhibitors brought some 500 English, Hebrew and Hungarian language volumes to Budapest to present a cross-section of its literature to Hungarian readers. “There are few nations in the world whose life is more influenced by books than Israel, the birthplace of the Bible, ‘the book of books’,” Paczolay said at the opening ceremony. One of the country’s most famous authors, Amos Oz was present at the event as the festival’s honorary guest. He received the Budapest Grand Prize for his novels and public efforts to pave the way for peace between Palestinians and Jews and for the independent statehood of both nations. (One of his works had been translated even into Arabic and had gained popularity in Lebanon.) “For hundreds of years, the two cultures have been married to each other, not always happily, but the marriage has spiritual children,” Oz said. “Hebrew is a learned language for about half of Israel’s 7 million citizens, but it creates a common identity for people who have come from different cultures and different parts of the world.” He also noted that “we are at the forefront in terms of the amount of literature we read,” referring to the UNESCO data, which state that Israelis purchase more books per capita than citizens of any other country in the world, only Iceland may be an exception. Oz presented his new book ‘Rhyming Life and Death,’ published in Hungarian for this very occasion.