Tuesday, 28 March 2017


Long lines of people waiting to speak to an author. Children sitting on the floor immersed in their reading. An African Nobel Prize laureate giving his views on subjects ranging from literature to retirement. A presidential candidate surrounded by throngs of reporters and young people. Books and writers from all over the world.

Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka at Paris Livre.
(Photo: McKenzie)
The sense of excitement at the 2017 Paris Book Fair (Livre Paris) demonstrated once more that books are still important to a great number of people. During the four-day event, March 24-27, some sessions were so crowded that visitors found it difficult to move from stand to stand.

The interest shown by readers and high-profile visitors such as French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was good news for the event's organizers, as well as for the publishers from 50 countries and the nearly 3,000 authors attending the Fair.

“It’s a great opportunity to connect with readers,” said Rodney Saint-Éloi, a Canada-based Haitian poet, publisher and founder of the company Mémoire d’Encrier.

He said he had been coming to the Fair since 1989 and that it had grown in diversity, which was contributing to its “richness”.

An expanded African Literature pavilion, for instance, hosted a wide range of events, with participants who included Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. Along with the interviews of authors, the discussions included topics about women’s intellectual work to achieve change, diaspora writing, and the issue of translation of African languages.

Canada-based Haitian publisher Rodney Saint-Eloi.
(Photo: McKenzie)
Translation, in fact, was a significant theme of the Fair, which is one of the world’s leading events for literature in French.

Saint-Éloi said that throughout the Caribbean, for example, much more needs to be done to make books accessible in the region’s languages: French, English, Spanish, Dutch and different Creoles.

“What’s really lacking is translation, and for this we have to change the previous routes,” he told SWAN. “The islands need to speak to one another directly without passing through former colonial administrations.”

Saint-Éloi said he hoped to see a multi-island space for Caribbean writing in future editions of international book fairs. Traditionally, France’s overseas departments and territories have had their own pavilion, which includes writers from Martinique and Guadeloupe, but several visitors were on the lookout for a “pan-Caribbean” stand this year.

Canadian author Tristan Malavoy.
(Photo: McKenzie)
Many of the books by Haitian as well as French-speaking African writers were on sale at Canada’s Québec pavilion, where Saint-Éloi displayed works from his publishing house.

Acclaimed Haitian-Canadian writer Dany Laferrière, who writes in French and was elected to the Académie française in 2013, was on hand to present his novels and range of children’s books, but the stand equally highlighted new voices in Canadian fiction. These included Vietnamese author Caro Vu and the multi-talented Tristan Malavoy, who signed copies of his award-winning book Le Nid de Pierres (The Nest of Stones).

“The fair is a very rich, if overwhelming, experience,” Malavoy said. “The range of literature and the number of visitors really create an impact that’s unforgettable.”

This year, Morocco was the Fair's guest of honour, and writers from the North African country had their books on display in a strikingly designed ivory-coloured pavilion, next to a restaurant set up under a traditional tent featuring Moroccan furniture and implements: round brass tables, wooden stools, silver teapots. Visitors could eat tajine or couscous and sip mint tea while they read the books they’d bought.

One of the literary stars was naturally Moroccan-French writer Leila Slimani, who won the prestigious Goncourt prize in 2016 for her novel Chanson douce. She livened up a discussion with her views on women's rights and other subjects. The perennial attraction of the Fair, however, is not only the chance to meet the famous, but also to discover new books and writers. Along with the Moroccan pavilion, this was particularly true of the large section devoted to independent publishers from the Ile-de-France region that includes Paris.

The pavilion housed about 100 small publishers this year, offering novels translated from Yiddish, beautifully bound poetry collections, Brazilian stories translated into French, and books about relevant subjects written in new ways.

Independent publisher Plein Jour, for instance, showcased a book titled Nous avons arpenté un chemin caillouteux (We've traversed rocky terrain), which recounts the true story of five members of the Black Liberation Army who hijacked a plane flying from Detroit to Miami in 1972 with 82 passengers on board.

The plane landed in Miami, where the hostages were released. But the hijackers, accompanied by their children, carried on to Algeria, after ransom money was “delivered” to the aircraft. The perpetrators (including Jean and Melvin McNair) were arrested and later released in Algeria, and some made it to France where they continued living, after various court cases that highlighted the dehumanizing aspects of racism in the United States and the factors that pushed them to act.

Author Sylvain Pattieu, a French historian, novelist and lecturer, tells this story in an original manner, with short passages mixing fact and imagination and showing the effects of the hijacking on the lives of those involved. The book was one of several unexpected discoveries at this year’s increasingly varied Livre Paris. (SWAN)