Moscow International Book Fair: All Colours of Literature
September 11, 2013The Moscow International Book Fair opened on Wednesday last week under a rainy Moscow sky which added to the ghostly melancholy of the gilded Soviet statues in the All-Russian Exhibition Centre where it took place. The fair is the most representative and the largest book forum in Russia. Starting at the end of the Soviet era, Russian publishers considerthe MIBF to be the most significant event of the year. They participate in the fair to establish new contacts and develop their old ones, to sell or purchase books and rights for publications and to explore the book market. It is a professional event and participation in the fair is an integral part of keeping abreast of the book market.
If the grey skies and the Moscow streets were washed of all colour, inside the exhibition it was a different story. The stands were vibrant and colourful, particularly those of the Children’s publishers. There were the many high tech displays of the electronic book publishers, local publishing firms from the Russian east, smaller vanity publishing stands and religious publishers. Various Svengali types were promoting their messianic messages, there were faith healers, evolution deniers and political parties were also using the venue as a platform to campaign for the Mayoral elections that were up and coming.
In Exhibition Hall 75 the two key publishers AST and EKSMO displayed their dominance of the Russian book market with their large stands immediately in front of the entrance to Hall A. It was at these stands that the key interviews and panel debates were held throughout the 3 days of the exhibition.
On the opening day some key writers appeared to promote their latest works. Most notably was Ludmilla Ulitskaya who summed up the results of the project “After the Great Victory” In which she had gathered and edited a selection of reminiscences from ordinary citizens who had survived the travails and hardships of the 2nd World War.Theyhad gone on to document the post war years up to the death of Stalin. She presented the book which was the result of the project, entitled “Detstvo 45-53: a zavtra budet schastye” (Childhood 45-53: And Tomorrow We’ll All Be Happy.) The book, she claimed, was particularly significant now as it comes at atime when the Russian government seems to want to exonerate the figure of Stalin and these moving accounts of life at the time will provide a very necessary antidote to this tendency. Audience members that had read the book, expressed their thanks to Uitskaya for the way the book had evoked memories from their own childhoods.
Continuing with this political theme came Sergei Sharganov and Zakhar Prilepin, who were discussing Shargunov’s book “1993” “From Revolt to Revolt: 20 Years After the October Events of 1993” A book which examines the political situation in Russia from the viewpoint of the foiled military coup of 1993 in which Yeltsin ordered the shelling of parliament and in so doing, heralded the end of a true return to democracy for Russia. His book argues that this was the event that was to determine the tenor of the Putin presidency.
Alexander Arkhangelsky also came to promote his new novel ”Museum of the Revolution” which similarly offers a critical spin on the Putin years and beyond. Set in the near futureit is a reflection on Russian history and its influence on the present, and vice versa, viewed through the microcosm of a power struggle in a museum estate.
The real literary heavy weight Andrey Bitov appeared later in the afternoon, promoting the re-publication of his classic quadrilogy of novels “The Empire of Four Dimensions” which includes the seminal “The Pushkin House”. A blistering, post-modernist foray into the Petersburg text and the political and personal tensions of a literary academic in 70’s Leningrad. Written in 1972, the novel was not published in Russia until 1988.
To coincide with the opening of the fair, the Book of the Year awards were held in the evening in the delightful newly-refurbished theatre in the Hermitage Gardens. Awards were handed out to writers including Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Alexander Arkhangelsky. Yevtushenko won Book of the Year for “A Poet in Russia Is More Than a Poet. Ten Centuries of Russian Poetry”, a five-volume anthology (Only one volume has appeared thus far). Arkhangelsky won Prose of the Year for his novel “Museum of the Revolution” (See the review on this site) and the “Poet” series of books from Leninzdat won the Poetry award. A full list of winners is available on the site of the Russian Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communication, which organizes the awards and the book fair.
This year’s entertainment included ballet, elaborate hand theatre, a volley of Tenors and a musician playing Rock music on an electric balailaika. This rather incongruous mix reflected rather perfectly the eclecticism and variety of the contemporary Russian book market.
By Simon Knapper
Ludmilla Ulitskaya is talking about the project “After the Great Victory”
Andrey Bitov is discussing “The Empire of Four Dimensions”
Alexander Arkhangelsky (far right) at the panel discussion on monopolization of the Russian book market. Left to right: Oleg Novikov, CEO at Eksmo Publiher, Tatyana Larina, Managing Director at Amital Bookseller, Alexander Alperovitch, CEO CleverMedia Group
Sergei Sharganov and Zakhar Prilepin