Fantasy and business, the two paths of Hungarian literature in German lands
I don't know about you, but I have never thought of books and reading as a business. Reading means moments of peace and quiet, a time for reflection, a time to let your imagination soar, to nestle into an armchair, take refuge from the world, and bury yourself in the pages of a book.
Thus, one might well imagine an international book fair as a sanctuary for reading, where everything revolves around authors and readers. Curious visitors wander from stall to stall, browsing the books and publications which have come out in the languages they know, and the staff is on hand to answer questions and even offer recommendations. Authors give readings and hold book signings, giving readers a chance to meet in person the people who wrote the works which have captured their imaginations.
This was what the 2021 Vienna Book Fair looked like, where attendance had not fallen nearly as dramatically as one might have expected, given the pandemic. This event, modest and cozy but meeting the exacting standards of the profession, welcomed roughly two-thirds the number of visitors of the last book fair. To catch the interest of the Viennese audience, the Petőfi Cultural Fund and the Donau Lounge organized the Hungarian stand and the presentations on and readings from Hungarian works. With no less than five programs, the Hungarian events were among the most popular. Miklós Mészöly’s novel Az első száz év (“The First Hundred Years”) was presented at the Collegium Hungaricum, and the Donau Lounge stage at the fair featured Noémi Kiss’ Balaton, Endre Kukorelly’s TündérVölgy avagy Az emberi szív rejtelmeiről (“FairyVale or Thoughts on the Mysteries of the Human Heart”), Anna Terék’s Halott nők (“Dead Women”), and Géza Szőcs’ Ha polip szuszog Kolozsvárott (“If an Octopus Breathes in Kolozsvár”).
All well and good, but does one ever pause to consider how a story becomes a book, or how fantasy is transformed into a reality? As visitors to the Frankfurt Book Fair this October saw, an armchair or settee next to a full bookshelf can be used not only for reading, but also for doing business. Even the most engaging story will never become a book unless someone edits it, sends it to the printers, and gets it onto the shelves in the bookstores. And the most promising deals for the best books are done at the Frankfurt Book Fair, a kind of citadel in the world of publishing and distribution.
As one sees at a glance, the fair's location is the perfect place for this purpose, with a maze of stands representing different nations and publishers in cavernous buildings of several stories. The people at the stands line their shelves works by the most outstanding contemporary authors, and then, during a meeting or discussion, they casually hand the work they are discussing to their negotiation partner.
Of course, while the main focus is unquestionably business, ordinary bookworms are still allowed into the book fair, though not on the first days, only over the weekend. By this time, the business deals have taken a bit of a backseat, and alongside the enthusiastic readers, one now finds the gradually iconic figures of the fair, the cosplayers. It was hardly surprising to see Eyes of Sauron, hobbits, Manga characters, and heroes from video games at the Hungarian stand organized by the Petőfi Cultural Fund and the Association of Hungarian Publishers and Booksellers, which was considered the shiny jewel of the event.
The main program organized by the Hungarian exhibitors took place on Saturday evening in the Steigenberger Hof. The all-female performance, a presentation of the aforementioned work by Anna Terék and Anne-Marie Kenessey’s Flügelnüsse und Schädelklopfer, was held in front of a full house, the disagreeable weather and the complexity of the process of organizing a bookfair during a pandemic notwithstanding.
Anna Flóra Cseri