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Geneva speaks volumes to bookworms

Geneva is a place for young and old to enjoy the world of books.

Italy, the Rhône-Alpes region of France and Napoleon in Egypt are the highlights of this year’s Geneva International Book Fair, which opened on Wednesday.

Writers, publishers, journalists, and a host of buyers and onlookers will be on hand at one of Switzerland’s major annual cultural events.

As one of the guests of honour at the fair, Italy will be in Geneva in force, with more than 5,000 titles and 35 publishing houses present.

But while Italy is looking forward to the fair with much enthusiasm, there is also disappointment about the state of the Italian language in Switzerland.

“Our delight at attending is clouded by the [poor] state of the Italian language in Swiss universities,” comments Luisa Pavesio, one of the people in charge of the Italian stand.

Right and wrong

Some people have complained that the Geneva book fair has become a vast machine that cares more about money than literature. But they are right and wrong at the same time.

A book fair, whether in Geneva or elsewhere is literature and business, and is both private and public.

Pierre-Marcel Favre, the founder and director of the fair, objects strongly to the complaint.

“The criticism is ridiculous and it’s only the opinion of one in 1,000 or 10,000. It doesn’t interest me. The exhibitors are loyal and the visitors are loyal. That’s the main thing,” Favre said.

The Rhône-Alpes region will underline at the show that it is one of the richest publishing areas of France and is developing relations intensely with both Switzerland and North Italy, ignoring country borders.

Main attraction

As always, there are numerous exhibitions at the fair.

The main attraction, entitled “Bonaparte and Egypt”, deals with the gigantic encyclopaedia published after Bonaparte’s adventure to Egypt, containing more than 20 volumes.

One set is owned by Geneva’s public and university library.

The book fair also runs a host of parallel events including Europ’ART, a student fair, a music fair and one that has become a favourite – the alternative village.

“The fundamentals were put in place during the first five years, which helped unite different aspects of culture,” Favre believes.

But the Geneva book fair continues to evolve, with this year marking the second time that Africa will play a major role. This year’s theme devoted to the continent is entitled: Africa: literature, women and women characters in literature.

Regrettable departure

“You can almost say that this [African fair] compensates for the departure of some German-language Swiss… a departure which we regret,” Favre told swissinfo.

Two years ago, a rival book fair opened in the northern city of Basel at the same time as Geneva. The advent of Buchbasel sparked a war of words between the two venues,with the Basel show stealing some of Geneva’s business.

“Yes, that’s true, as far as exhibitors are concerned. We lost a certain number of square metres we have to admit. But what can you do?” asks Favre.


The 19th Geneva International Book Fair takes place at the Palexpo exhibition halls from April 27 to May 1.

A host of other mini fairs are taking place at the same time – a student fair, music fair, the African book, press and culture fair and the alternative village.

There are many exhibitions within the fair, in particular Bonaparte and Egypt which shows the scientific and cultural discoveries of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign.

The Basel book fair Buchbasel takes place May 6–8.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR