It was a whirlwind week for the 45 Jerusalem editorial and agent fellows attending the 25th Jerusalem International Book Fair, most of whom were visiting Israel for the first time. The week was filled with trips--Masada, the Dead Sea, holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City, Yad Vashem Holocaust museum--and for the first time, a half day trip to Tel Aviv that included a visit to Dinnered Zmora Bitan, one of Israel's largest publishing houses.
There were also many panels (not surprisingly, two on e-books and digital issues) and sessions that involved publishing icons--Antoine Gallimard head of France's major publishing company celebrating 100 years was a keynote speaker for the group. There was also lots of opportunities to meet with and hear from bestselling and award-winning international and Israeli authors with crowds up to 1,500 at the Literary Cafe programs that featured one on one interviews between international and Israeli authors such as Ian McEwan with Meir Shalev, Umberto Eco with A.B. Yehoshua.
But the key ingredient to the fellowship program's huge success over the years (launched in 1985 for editors and 2001 for agents), was all the time the group spent together both in scheduled activities and late evenings at hotel bars and lobbies having fun and discussing books and literature. Like their predecessors, the class of 2011 forged strong relationships that would lead to doing business together, sharing ideas and having close colleagues worldwide. None would disagree with the assessment by U.S. fellow Jenna Johnson, a senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who noted: "The fair and its alumni program were just as everyone described--a combination of unique experiences and true fellowship that makes not just for a memorable trip but also for real connections in the future. We have all enjoyed becoming familiar with everyone's tastes and specialties and hearing their insights. I am sure these exchanges will continue and grow into further overlap in the books we publish."
Some of the exchanges occurred Wednesday morning at the International and Israeli Editorial Buzz panel with five editors pitching very different books. Maggie Doyle, a 2003 fellow and foreign acquisition editor of Editions Laffont in France, waxed enthusiastically about an essay, The Eternal Return of Fascism by Rob Riemen. She described the writing as "elegant and erudite" and said the author believes all democracies hold the seeds of fascism. Yael Hadass, general manager of Schocken Publishing in Israel and the fourth generation to head the family company, presented Drug Wars by biographer/historian Antony David, a book commissioned in English, because of "its international appeal." It tells the story of the generic drug company Teva through the life of its CEO, Eli Hurvitz, who transformed a small family business into $16 billion in annual sales worldwide.
Eric Oey, head of Periplus/Tuttle in Singapore and a 1997 fellow, talked about a new coffeetable book on Japanese Zen Gardens. Jacqueline Smit, publisher of Orlando, a new imprint from AW Bruna in The Netherlands and a 2003 fellow, was excited about a debut novel, When God was a Rabbit that she has already sold in eight countries. She also mentioned a title from another publisher--Jessica Durlacher's The Hero, a contemporary novel about violence and revenge; it had a first printing by Diogenes in Germany of 50,000 copies. Rana Werbin, head of Hebrew Literature at Yediot Books in Tel Aviv, chose to talk about a major nonfiction book, The Mossad by Michael Bar Zohar and Nissim Mishal, based on extensive research; it's a bestseller that has already sold 96,000 copies in Israel.
The Jerusalem Fair is a major opportunity for nonfellows publishers and agents to get exposure for their books. Israeli literary agent Dorothy G. Harman, is the agent for Drug Wars and has other books by Antony David in various stages of completion. David is finishing a book on 94-year old Ruth Dayan, widow of Moshe Dayan, who was born in Israel when it was part of the Ottoman Empire; working title is A Woman of Complete Beauty. Another book by David is The Angel Of Tel Aviv about Yossi Vardi, high-tech entrepreneur, and whom Jane Friedman, according to Harman, calls the "guru" of the new media.
Regulars at international fairs and always at JIBF are Peter and Martine Halban who run the independent British company called Peter Halban. They were looking to sell rights to The Reluctant Mullah, a debut novel by Anglo/Pakistan writer Sagheer Afzal; in its third printing in London, the plot hinges on a young man who has to find a bride in 30 days or submit to an arranged marriage.
The key figure at this biennial event is executive director Zev Birger who has run every fair since 1983. At an alumini/VIP luncheon and on behalf of the attendees, Eva Cossee of Uitgeverij Cossee in the Netherlands and a 1993 fellow, presented Birger with a small statue that represented friendship and love and a collection for a children's charity that his deceased wife was involved with. He was very touched and told PW that he was very proud of the more than 300 editorial fellows and 100 agent fellows over the years that are the backbone of the fair and key players in the book business. His goal from his early years as director was not to compete with Frankfurt and London but to make the Jerusalem event "a unique, literary experience."
Last October he announced that it was his last Frankfurt Fair and now he says he is planning to step down from running the Jerusalem fair. He has said that before, "but that was when I was younger." If another director is chosen he would certainly help in any way that was necessary. Birger is a young 83 and said with a twinkle in his eyes, "I'm planning to resign but a man never knows until he hits 120 years.'