Monday, 23 March 2015


The Paris Book Fair advertises its guest of honour.
The aroma of Brazilian cooking, the poetry of the Portuguese language, and a spirit of protest pervaded this year’s Paris Book Fair, March 20 - 23.

Billed as “un pays plein de voix” (a country full of voice), Brazil was the guest of honour, with 48 writers invited. The world-renowned Paulo Coelho was supposed to be the star of this lineup, but he couldn’t fit Paris into his busy schedule, according to the Fair’s organizers, so others kept the words going.

Ana Paula Maia (photo: M. Correa)
These included Bernardo Carvalho, considered one of Brazil’s best contemporary authors, and the emerging writers Tatiana Salem Levy - author of the acclaimed novel A Chave de Casa - and Ana Paula Maia, who began her career with “short pulp fiction” on the Internet and now has numerous fans.

Maia's French publisher, Paula Anacaona of Anacaona Editions, told SWAN that the young Brazilian author gives voice to those who normally have no presence in literature - a slaughterhouse employee, a worker at a crematorium. 

At the Fair, Maia and her peers discussed topics ranging from the depiction of urban violence to dealing with memory and displacement. 

But food was also a part of the experience at the Brazilian pavillion, as chefs gave workshops on the country’s cuisine, presenting appetizing-looking concoctions alongside their cookbooks.

The smell of food intermingled with sounds of protest when, on the second day of the Fair, French writers demonstrated to highlight the dangers that all in the profession are facing: work insecurity, "derisory" income, and unfavourable state regulation, among other issues.

“No writers, no books,” the protesters warned via their placards.

Still, during the four days of the Fair, book lovers filled rows of sturdy white plastic chairs as they listened to the invited Brazilian authors as well as writers from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere.

Writers from France's overseas territories.
The African presence has continued to grow, and the huge pavilion featuring “Livres et auteurs du Bassin du Congo” (Books and Writers of the Congo Basin) acts as a magnet for a broad cross-section of visitors.

African and Caribbean authors participated too in readings and debates at the pavillions of publishers from French overseas territories including Mayotte, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Saint Martin.

Guadeloupe’s Editions Jasor presented several writers including playwright Gerty Dambury, and the Guadeloupe Region’s Culture Service promoted its upcoming Caribbean Writers Congress, taking place on the island April 15 to 18.

Dominique Hubert
“We’ll have writers from all over the Caribbean, speaking French, Spanish, English, and showing the richness of the region’s literature,” said spokesperson Dominique Hubert. (SWAN will have a special report on the biennial Congress in April.)

Another highlight of the fair has been discovering off-beat, independent publishers that produce strikingly original books, both in format and content.

La Cheminante, a French publishing house headed by Sylvie Darreau, has launched a Harlem Renaissance collection, for instance, that emphasizes the links between African American writers and the Diaspora.

Beautifully produced, the layout of the books tells as much of a story as the words. Even the font and size of the page numbers are meant to evoke certain feelings among readers.

Darreau and Boum
La Cheminante also publishes French-based African writers such as Hemley Boum, who presented her third novel Les maquisards (The guerillas) on March 22. Through a family saga, the book shines light on little-known aspects of the fight for Cameroon's independence.

This year the Fair additionally launched a “Talented Indies” programme, “starring” up and coming French-speaking publishers from cities such as Algers, Brussels, Marseille, Casablanca, Geneva and Tunis.

"This is  a space where we can come together, and we need that more and more, in light of all the incidents that have taken place since the beginning of the year," said Darreau, referring to attacks in France, Tunisia and other countries.