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Royalty played a big part in this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi launched the German editions of his two latest books – Bibi Fatima and Tale of a City volume two – at a grand dinner at the city’s Palmengarten, and the fair was officially opened by Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Mari and Crown Prince Haakon.
Norway was Guest of Honour this year and the royal couple arrived in the city on a ‘literary train’, accompanied by Norwegian authors. The Crown Princess shares His Highness Dr Sheik Sultan a love of books. She says: “I cannot imagine a life without books,” Her Highness Mette-Mari says. “Ever since I was a child, I have been read to and given the opportunity to enter a world of fantasy. The act of reading, the internal images it creates, the emotions it evokes – has made me a better, wiser and more thoughtful person.”
The dinner at the Palmengarten was both a celebration of His Highness’ long-standing support for books and a moving acknowledgement of his 40-year friendship with his eponymous German publisher George Olms.
Olms, who is 92, presented His Highness with a silver replica of a Roman bowl that was part of the Hildesheim Treasure found near Olms’ hometown. The gift, he said, was “in gratitude” for their long years of friendship, and he paid tribute to His Highness’ unwavering commitment to books, saying: “Your Highness has presented each Emirati family in Sharjah with a library comprising more than fifty books…We can only hope for such a generous gesture from the Federal Republic of Germany. But surely, we will have to wait for the post-digital age for this to happen.”
Meanwhile, out in the halls publishers and agents were perhaps glad to get away from Brexit discussions for a few days, but were all too ready for the subject to be raised by their international customers. As Zoe Nelson, foreign rights director at Janklow & Nesbit commented: “There’s a lot of schadenfreude [the word means ‘pleasure at someone else’s misfortune] around. There’s a German publisher who said to me a while ago: ‘You know, I don’t think the Brits seem so depressed right now. There is a small glimmer of light…’ Then he paused and added: ‘It’s like the glimmer of light you see before you die.’”
Nobel Prize-winning Polish author Olgar Tokarczuk spoke movingly at the opening press conference, declaring: “I believe in literature which ties people together, that highlights what people have in common, despite the differences – colour, sexual orientation, or anything which might separate us on the surface. I believe in a kind of literature which makes clear that at a deeper level, below the surface we are tied together through invisible, but existing threads. A kind of literature which talks about a lively, ever-changing world of unity, of which were a small, but not insignificant part.”
Frankfurter Buchmesse is the international publishing industry’s biggest trade fair – with over 7,500 exhibitors from 109 countries, around 285,000 visitors, over 4,000 events and some 10,000 accredited journalists and bloggers in attendance. It has had a Guest of Honour programme since 1976. In 2020 Canada will be Guest of Honour.