Russia takes centre stage at Geneva book fair

The fair offers a literary journey from the Russia of yesteryear to today Keystone

The 21st International Geneva Book and Press Fair opened its doors to the public on Wednesday, with Russia as the main guest of honour.

This content was published on May 2, 2007

This year's fair, which runs until May 6, has attracted around 500 exhibitors and numerous activities are planned, including an exhibition dedicated to French artist Fernand Léger.

The main spotlight will be on Russia, whose resurgent publishing industry issued more than 100,000 new titles in 2006 - a record year - of which one in five is a literary work.

Russia's tumultuous end to the 20th century created the perfect backdrop for the numerous authors who have since emerged in the post-Perestroika era.

"The crisis that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union and the implosion of communism resulted in the emergence of many new writers who have assimilated this period of destruction and included it in their writing," said journalist Guy Mettan, curator of the Russian pavilion.

"The new post-Perestroika authors are extremely good at evoking different images and emotions," he said.

The writing and language is raw, drawing on an authenticity that is based on the fact that "Russians are obsessed with real life," added Mettan.

This new wave of Russian writers marks the end of great sweeping works of social history and the return to more individualist styles "moulded by the forces of history".

"They are tough, brutal and visionary at the same time," said Mettan.

Historic links

Under the slogan "Russia: the great book voyage", the Russian pavilion will be holding a number of thematic events and exhibitions, including one named after Mikhail Shishkin's book "Russian Switzerland".

But how close are the cultural ties between both countries?

Mettan recalls François Le Fort, from Geneva, who helped reform the Russian army under Peter the Great and became the first admiral of the Russian navy.

"Since then, there have been ongoing and fairly intensive cultural exchanges between Russia and Switzerland," he said.

Many great Russian authors and intellectuals have worked and lived in Switzerland, from Dostoyevsky to Nabokov, who died in Montreux, as well as a certain Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin.

But Mettan complains that the positive image Russians have of Switzerland is not reciprocated.

Negative impression

"Switzerland remains [a] friendly [country] in the eyes of the Russians. But unfortunately the opposite is not true. In general the Swiss have a very critical and negative image of Russia," he said.

"They cannot mention the name of the Russian president Vladimir Putin without referring to his KGB past. Russia is talked about disparagingly in the media and elsewhere," the journalist added.

"The reality is richer and more complex. And one of the aims of our presence at the book fair is to try to change Swiss prejudice about Russia," Mettan continued.

But apart from focusing on Russia, the fair is also the occasion for the general public to meet some of their favourite authors and to get their latest books signed.

Other attractions include a "curtain raiser" exhibition dedicated to cubist artist Fernand Léger (1881-1955).

And like the Russian Matryoshka dolls, the book fair opens up into a variety of exhibitions and fairs of different shapes and sizes, including an African book fair, the Europ'Art event and, for the first time ever, a Japanese Manga festival.

swissinfo, based on an article in French by Bernard Léchot

In brief

The International Geneva Book Fair takes place at the Palexpo exhibition hall from May 2 to 6.

Launched by Pierre-Marcel Favre, a publisher from canton Vaud, the fair will host around 500 exhibitors and 300 authors. Last year, 115,000 visitors attended the fair.

In 2003 a rival event, entitled "Buchbasel", was launched in German-speaking Basel.

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Book fair 2007

Guests of honour
The African book fair

- Curtain raiser on Fernand Léger
- Hergé, from the imaginary to inner voyage
- Alice in Wonderland
- Buchet-Chastel's sketchbooks
- Frédérique Santal's marionettes
- Polish posters
- "Living with reading"
- Swiss Press Photo 2006

Parallel exhibitions

- Europ'Art
- Student and Education Training Fair
- Japanese Manga Festival

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