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Brazil shatters stereotypes at Geneva Book Fair

Brazilian writer Paolo Coelho is one of the giants of Portuguese literature visiting the Geneva bookshow

(Keystone Archive)

There's more to Brazil than samba and soccer, as visitors to this year's Geneva Book Fair will discover.

After Portugal, Germany and Spain, it is the turn of a non-European country to be guest of honour in Geneva. It also means that, for a second year running, Switzerland's sizeable Portuguese-speaking community have a reason for visiting one of the biggest cultural events in the country.

"Every year we invite a country, we ask it to show off not only its authors and publishing industry, but also its entire culture, which in Brazil's case is vast," says Robert Junod, a member of the fair's organising committee.

Rich literature

Even so, being given pride of place at a highbrow cultural event like this allows Brazil the chance to shatter a few popular stereotypes: "It's an extraordinary opportunity to show that there's more to Brazil than samba and soccer. We also have a rich literature," says Maria Luca de Seixas Corrèa, a Councillor at the Brazilian embassy.

The fair will give visitors a chance to discover both the classic and contemporary in Brazilian literature, as well as the opportunity to meet some of its best exponents.

One of the most famous, Paolo Coelho, will be coming to the fair, as will the former Brazilian president, José Sarney, himself a novelist. Two poets, Augusto de Campos and Décio Pignatari, will be meeting with the Swiss writer, Eugen Gomringer, with whom they founded the Concrete Poetry movement 50 years ago.

Illiteracy

If this proves how rich contemporary Brazilian literature is, it is also true that a large proportion of the country's population remain illiterate. For this reason, the organisers have also decided to make known their efforts to combat this problem

"Government and non-governmental organisations will be showing what is being done to reduce the rate of illiteracy and to help native Brazilians develop their own literature," Seixas Corrèa told swissinfo.

The Book Fair hosts one major art exhibition each year, and this time it is the turn of the post-impressionist, Félix Vallotton, born in Lausanne, but naturalised French.

Rather than his increasingly well-known paintings, it is his earlier work as an engraver, illustrator and cartoonist that is the subject of this exhibition, a period that gives us not only a witty, satirical insight into turn of the century Parisian society, but also intriguing clues on how his career as a painter would develop.

Also planned is a celebration of the popular novelist Frédéric Dard, better known as San Antonio and one of the best-selling French authors of the second half of the 20th Century. The writer had close links with Switzerland, spending the last 30 years of his life in canton Fribourg.

Parallel fairs

As well as the book fair, which has innumerable exhibitions and visiting publishing houses, there are a number of other events running in parallel - an education fair, a multimedia fair, a music fair, a film festival and the Europ'Art showcase for contemporary art.

Many critics complain about the sheer size of the fair - or rather fairs - saying that it sometimes hard to find a common denominator. It is also impossible to see everything. But that not really the point.

"Books are open to all influences and all disciplines. And this is not Paris: the population of the Geneva area is not that great, so there is a clear interest in showing things other that the book," Junod says.

"But the book, reading and writing remain central to what we do, and we will continue to promote them," he adds.

by Roy Probert


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