The Frankfurt Book Fair is the biggest book fair in the literary world. Publishers, agents, authors and readers from all over the world come to the five day event. It is a place for business, readings, culture and discussion. This year 300,000 visitors came to the book fair.
During the event there are many literature prizes given to international authors. The LiBeraturpreis is an honour for women writers from Asia, Africa and Latin America who are writing about freedom. Canadian writer Madeleine Thien won the LiBeraturpreis 2015 at the international book fair in Frankfurt for her book Dogs at the Perimeter. It is a haunting novel about the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s in Cambodia.
The novel is set in Canada and describes the lives of four protagonists who have to deal with their memories of the violence in Cambodia. One of them is Jamie, a medical researcher in Montreal. When her friend and mentor, a neurologist, vanishes, her own life unravels. She leaves her husband and child and moves into the apartment of her friend. She finds out the fragments of his past that intersect with her own upbringing in Cambodia.
Thien said that to understand the history of Canada, people have to understand the history of many countries. “It’s not only the rich who have many homes,” she said on stage after accepting the award.
Thien grew up in Vancouver; her parents are from China and Malaysia. As a child she grew up in an environment where many things were left unsaid.
The LiBeraturpreis jury said that Thien won the prize because she brings the past and the present together. Escape and expulsion are burning issues today.
Earlier the book fair started with Indian-British author Salman Rushdie, who came to the opening press conference and gave a speech about human rights and literature. He said that without the freedom of speech there is no freedom at all.
He also said that one of the tasks of literature is to question family, religion and politics. Doing so makes it dangerous for those who want to control the world, he told the audience.
Because of the controversial novel he published in 1988, called The Satanic Verses, Rushdie had to live underground. The Iranian government backed a fatwa, which is a judgment under the Islamic law, against Rushdie in 1989 that still remains. Because of his appearance publishers from Iran refused to attend the book fair.
Rushdie just published a new book, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, which is a novel about the way we live now, inspired by 2000 years of storytelling tradition.
Indonesia is also a country with a long story-telling tradition. That country was the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015 Guest of Honour. It presented itself under the motto 17,000 Islands of Imagination. Visitors could learn about Indonesian authors and that in that country reading is a luxury for some people, since not everyone can afford to buy books.