where the writers are
The Elephant avoids fairs.

    International authors headline annual book fairFour-day Book World is expected to draw tens of thousands

By Lisette Allen


Bibliophiles take note: Svět knihy (Book World), Prague's annual book fair, kicks off May 13. Authors from across the globe will descend on the Golden City, eager to give readings, participate in panel discussions and, of course, sign copies of books for fans.

Similar events in London and Frankfurt may be more important to industry insiders, but Svět knihy still pulls in the crowds: 35,000 people attended last year's event. "The focus is different," says Dana Kalinová, the festival director. "It's more than just a business fair: We have a large number of events aimed at the general public, which is what makes us special."    

The program features literary heavyweights such as the Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska and Austrian-born Josef Winkler, winner of the prestigious Georg Büchner Prize, alongside those writing in a more populist vein.

The biggest name on the festival bill, Sarah Waters, has built her career by bridging the gap between both worlds.

Svět knihy 2010
The 16th International Book Fair and Literary Festival
Where: Výstaviště Exhibition Grounds, Holešovice, Prague 7
When: May 13-May 16
Theme: Polish literature, including authors Lidia Amejko, Lukasz Debski, Marek Krajewski and Wisława Szymborska, among others

Waters' first novel, the bawdy Sapphic coming-of-age tale Tipping the Velvet, became the publishing crossover sensation of the late 1990s, proof that, as long as sex sells, a little girl-on-girl action can't hurt sales. However, Waters is more than just a poster girl for queer lit. Each of her five novels has been nominated for major literary awards including the Man Booker and the Orange prizes.

"She has become one of the most important contemporary British writers," says Eva Slámová, editor-in-chief of Argo, the publishing house responsible for bringing out three of Waters' novels in Czech translation. "Her writing is very accessible to a wide audience, interesting in terms of plot and history."

Slámová said the invitation to Prague came out of a discussion the two had in London last year:

"We knew we would publish Tipping the Velvet and Sarah talked about The Little Stranger - I read it the weekend it came out and then bought the rights the following Monday. It was so clear that I wanted to publish this novel."  

Simon Mawer, author of Booker-nominated The Glass Room, inspired by the Turgendhat Villa in Brno and the fortunes of the Jewish family who commissioned it, will also be attending the event. Mawer will spend a week giving readings in towns across the Czech Republic including Pardubice and Plzeň before making it to Prague May 14.

"My visit will also give me an opportunity to meet up with the people who are interested in making a feature film of The Glass Room," Mawer told The Prague Post via e-mail.

Other writers attending include Peter Demetz, emeritus professor of German studies at Yale, who experienced the Nazi occupation of Prague as a teenager, when his interests were "politics, girls, movies and jazz." He subsequently went on to write a dramatic account of his life as a Jew under the Protectorate titled Prague in Danger.

Given the book fair's apparent focus on promoting intercultural harmony, it may seem somewhat puzzling that Stephen Clarke, who made his name with the self-published word-of-mouth hit, A Year in the Merde - a hilarious examination of the longstanding love-hate relationship between Britain and France - received an invitation. His latest book, 1000 Years of Annoying the French, may be nonfiction but continues in the same apparently lucrative vein as his In the Merde series. Clarke, however, strenuously denies his work is xenophobic: "The French love my books and tell me I am spot on with my jokes."

Polish literature is specifically featured at this year's event.

"Poland is interesting with its deeply rooted tradition interacting with dynamic modernizing processes," said Maciej Ruczaj of the Polish Institute in Prague.

Touring writers may not attract the same amount of groupies as their rock-star counterparts, but that's not to say life on the road doesn't have its compensations.

 "I love traveling, I love giving readings, and I love the Czech attitude to literature; they relish exchanging ideas," Clarke says. "For some reason, book tours are always more fun in beer-producing countries."