Greek books get a warm reception at the 20th Liber Fair in Barcelona

BARCELONA – The Greek contingent looked good at the 20th Liber Book Fair in Barcelona, with an attractive stand, some unexpectedly lively discussion and a great party. Liber opened to the public on October 2, one day after the official inauguration by Portuguese Culture Minister Pedro Roseta and his Spanish counterpart Pilar de Castillo. The Greek presence at the fair was a joint effort by the Panhellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers (POEB), the National Book Center (EKEBI), the Greek Culture Ministry (YPPO), the European Translation Center (EKEMEL) and the Hellenic Society of Authors. Together with Portugal, this year’s guest of honor, and Poland, Greece was one of three countries with a national stand at Liber 2002. As the first official Greek participation in a Spanish book fair, it was productive. «We’ve taken the first step,» Maria Rousaki of EKEBI told Kathimerini English Edition, «and others will follow. We’ve set up a network of writers and publishers.» Rousaki, assigned the task of assembling the project in record time, put her publicity machine into top gear, generating healthy audiences for the presentations which were in a venue at some distance from the main exhibition halls, and attracting more than 200 people to the party at Cafe Salammbo. Making first impressions count at the fair was the handsome, well-laid-out Greek stand designed by Giorgos Psomadakis, Maria Marinou and Elli Pangalou. A cheerful team of Spanish translators and interpreters welcomed visitors to the central info point, which was flanked by a compact exhibition of Greek books translated into Spanish, a small cafe and meeting area. On the official agenda were three presentations of Greek writers and the party, all of which made their mark. Sparks flew on Wednesday evening at the first presentation of writers whose work has been or is being translated into Spanish, enlivening what initially promised to be a worthy but staid event. Vicente Fernandez Gonzalez, translator, professor of Modern Greek at Malaga University and EKEMEL adviser, made an introduction to modern Greek prose and presented Ioanna Karystiani’s «Little England,» while critic Angel Vivas did the honors for Rhea Galanaki’s «Eleni, or Nobody» and Lena Divani’s «The Women of Her Life,» with readings by Natividad Galvez, translator and head of the Cervantes Institute in Athens. The fun began when the writers took issue with some of the presenters’ comments, and the participants engaged in a bracing disagreement about just how cosmopolitan or inward-looking Greek literature is and should be, why prominent Greek women habitually claim not to be feminists and much more. Thursday’s presentation, where critic Ramon Irigoyen presented «The Message» by Filippos Drakontaidis with readings by writer Alfonso Silvan, while academic, poet and publisher Pere Gimferrer and translator Cristina Serna presented Pavlos Matesis’s «O Palios ton Imeron» with readings by Silvan, was quieter but thought-provoking. Drakontaidis, who has renounced most of his earlier works and rewritten the six books he thinks are worth keeping, admitted to a «horror» or «fear» at the thought of writing another novel. Matesis spoke briefly, claiming to be a «slave» to his characters, for whom he had created «a kind of Elysian Fields, where they roam about at their will, going from one story into the next.» The presentations closed Friday with writer Pedro Zarraluki introducing Dimitris Kalokyris and writers Luis Sepulveda and Alicia Gimenez Barret introducing Petros Markaris. Both writers have had numerous titles translated into Spanish. Zarraluki’s Cafe Salammbo, a book lovers’ haunt that awards its own annual literary prize, was the perfect location for the Greek bash Thursday night. Writers, translators, publishers, teachers and students met for wine, tapas and conversation, making initial contacts that Rousaki believes will bear fruit in the future. The successful Greek presence at Liber 2002 was very much a concerted effort. EKEMEL, with its expertise and valuable connections, made a major contribution up front and behind the scenes. The Spanish women who staffed the Greek Info Point at Liber were all graduate or final-year students of translation and interpreting at Malaga University, who had also attended EKEMEL’s intensive course in Greek to Spanish literary translation this summer in Athens. «That course was an initiative of Vicente (Fernandez Gonzales),» EKEMEL Director Catherine Velissaris told Kathimerini English Edition, «and the students also translated the Greek into Spanish for the fair.» Velissaris sees the fair as a positive first step toward the Spanish market. POEB had representatives on hand to field inquiries from publishers and agents, while Klaiti Sotiriadou, newly appointed foreign affairs delegate for the Hellenic Society of Authors, was there as part of the society’s recent reinvention of itself as more outgoing. «Our website – – is now available in English, and this autumn we’ll be putting out a quarterly magazine,» she said. Liber – popular, lively and forward-looking An annual fair which alternates venues between Madrid and Barcelona, Liber attracts strong participation from Spanish-speaking book professionals the world over with an estimated 10,000 visitors in 2002. Participants came from 20 countries and included representatives of around 800 publishers and book-related companies, as well as 500 local and foreign buyers. In addition to bringing buyers and sellers together, the fair hosted discussions of sector-related issues (such as new technologies, piracy and copyright) and a number of parallel cultural events. What strikes the visitor from Greece is the involvement of public organizations in publishing. Not only do the governments of Spain’s autonomous regions support publishing in general, but they and other public bodies are often major publishers themselves, their output representing 12.5 percent of the total number of books produced locally. The Greek effort to penetrate this market makes sense, since Spain has a healthy publishing industry – the fifth largest in the world and the third largest in Europe after Britain and Germany. Getting a share of that is a reasonable ambition.