Geneva opens page on world of books

The fair caters for all generations and cultures

The 20th International Book and Press Fair opened for business in Geneva on Thursday, with around 300 exhibitors expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors.

This content was published on April 27, 2006 - 14:20

The star attractions at the fair, which runs until May 1, include Algeria, Africa and the French region of Franche-Comté.

For the past 20 years the Geneva book fair has been a spring fixture, surviving the advent of a rival event in Basel three years ago that drew away many Swiss-German exhibitors.

This year's main highlights at the Palexpo exhibition centre are artist Marc Chagall and countries of the South. The main exhibition, "Chagall and women", features around 120 lithographs and etchings and a dozen paintings by the Russian-born painter, focusing on the importance of the female form in his work.

The South is represented in the third African Book Fair, which is once again supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The guest country this time around is Algeria.

"Algeria is a large country... scarcely an hour's flight from here, that is often overlooked," said Pierre-Marcel Favre, president and founder of the Geneva book fair.

"It is relatively isolated, lacks tourism, and yet is a magnificent country with great authors. This is an opportunity to discover the country, its culture and its writers."

Favre says he is happy to be putting the spotlight on the state of the written word – both books and media – in Muslim countries but is keen to downplay its significance. However, he expects this and the controversy of the Mohammed cartoons to be the subject of much debate at the fair.

"The caricatures will definitely come up," he said. "It's worth recalling that the fair is a hotbed for a whole range of issues. That said, there seems little point in going over the same polemic once again."

Gap in the market

Favre, a publisher from canton Vaud, set up the book fair in 1987 to fill what he says was a yawning gap in the Swiss market.

"We have an unbelievably high readership in western Switzerland. For such a small region, we have 15 daily newspapers – and back in 1987 there were 17 or 18. There are magnificent libraries and around 100 publishers in French-speaking Switzerland," he said.

"Looking back over history, we [the Swiss] were the second to print the Bible, after the Germans, and there is a strong literary tradition here. In short, there was a hole to be filled, and I filled it."

The durability of the book fair is a clear mark of its success. But are there any brick walls that Favre has come up against?

"Walls are there to be demolished or broken through. From time to time, people erect new ones but they tend not to stand the test of time, apart from the Great Wall of China. You have to break down walls, and that's what we've done. We have faced obstacles, like everyone else, but they've never been insurmountable."

swissinfo, Bernard Léchot in Geneva

Key facts

The 20th International Book and Press Fair runs from April 27 to May 1.
It takes place at Geneva's Palexpo, near the city's airport.
Highlights this year include Algeria and the Franche-Comté.
Among the exhibitions are: "100 years of Robert Hainard", "100 years of nature in Geneva" and "Swiss Press Photo 2005".

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In brief

Publisher Pierre-Marcel Favre launched the Geneva International Book and Press Fair in 1987. Today the fair attracts around 300 exhibitors and between 110,000 and 130,000 visitors a year.

In 2003 a rival event, entitled "Buchbasel", was launched in German-speaking Basel, which hurt the multilingual dimension of the Geneva book fair.

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