The age of 21 marks the traditional coming-of-age celebration when the lucky youth finally gets the key to the door. This year marks the 21st Jerusalem International Book Fair—although the key to this biennial fair has been in the hands of the international publishing community for 40 years, ever since the first fair in 1963. The times, however, are very different. In 1963, Israel's capital was a small, sleepy provincial backwater town of less than 200,000 people at the dead end of the road from Tel Aviv, divided into two by a concrete barrier that separated Israeli and Jordanian Jerusalem, with Arab legionnaires peering down from the Old City walls into the new, Jewish city. All this changed with the unification of Jerusalem in 1967, and over the past three decades or so, the city has blossomed into a thriving cultural, academic and civic center approaching nearly 700,000 inhabitants—Jews, Muslims and Christians.
This year the fair is being held June 23—27 in the International Convention Center, after radical worldwide changes, beginning with the attacks of September 11. One reason for shifting from the fair's usual time in the spring was to avoid scheduling clashes with the Bologna and London fairs, but another reason was a calculated decision to try to avoid the war in Iraq. The decision paid off: the short war happily eliminated a situation that would have prevented people from coming. Israelis have put away their gas masks (very few people had even bothered to dust them off) and are busy getting on with everyday life—but only up to a point. Unfortunately, the Palestinian intifada is still with us, although as we write, there is a tangible optimism in the air, with the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas as the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.
Zev Birger, chairman of the book fair since 1983, expresses great relief. "A few months ago, problems that seemed insurmountable are now far simpler with the end of hostilities in Iraq," he says. "The streets of Jerusalem are thronged with people again, and preparations for other events such as the Israel Festival and the Jerusalem Film Festival are also proceeding at full speed." Birger emphasizes that while some overseas participants may have been discouraged by the current political situation, all the major publishing countries will still be represented. Birger and his close associates—Yoel Makov, deputy director; Hila Nir, assistant to the director; and Rebecca Munish, responsible for overseas participants and events—are working around the clock on the final touches. Still, serious thinking was devoted to the date. There were even some people who thought that the fair should be postponed or canceled this year. But the consensus was to continue—even if there will be an inevitable reduction in the number of stands and overseas visitors. Entrance to the fair for the public is free, as it was for the first time at the last fair.
Nevertheless, Makov has one regret: "We had hoped to be able to bring in our neighbors to a regional fair. Moroccan, Jordanian, Egyptian and Palestinian publishers have all participated in the past. Unfortunately, the political situation does not allow this, but maybe it will by the next fair in 2005."
Welcoming the Fellows
The event that many people consider to be the most innovative and interesting of the fair is the Editorial Fellows Program. The program hosts some 30 prominent young people working in senior editorial positions for an intensive week of joint activities that includes networking, seminars, meetings with international publishers and writers and sightseeing, and it has become one of the most sought-after programs of its kind. Selection committees in the U.S., continental Europe, Britain and Israel make the final recommendations from the hundreds who apply. Since the program's inauguration in 1985, about 225 editors have participated.
The editors this year will be coming from Brazil, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Holland, India, Israel, Italy, Norway, the U.K. and the U.S. The American contingent consists of Tracey Carns (Overlook Press), Darcy Falkenhagen (Arcade), Mitch Hoffman (Dutton), Sandra Bark (Warner), Sean MacDonald (Riverhead), Phillip Rappaport (Bantam) and Gideon Weil (Harper). Over the 20 years, the bonds and contacts forged between the editors have created a powerful world-encompassing network of influential publishing leaders.
The last fair, in May 2001, saw the inauguration of the JIBF Literary Agents Fellowship Program. Sponsored by HarperCollins, this program was attended the first time by eight agents from four countries. This year, 13 agents from Australia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S. will participate in the events of the Editorial Fellows program and, like them, will also have an opportunity to tour the country. The American agents this year are Julie Barer, Bill Clegg, Jane Dystel, Daniel Greenberg, Karin Schulze and Irene Skolnick.
Miller Takes the Prize
Israel's premier literary award is the Jerusalem Prize. The prize, worth $10,000 but carrying prestige well beyond its monetary value, is awarded at each biennial fair on the theme, "The Freedom of the Individual in Society." This year, the judges (Prof. Avishai Braverman, president of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev; Prof. Dwora Gilula of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem; and the writer Aharon Appelfeld) have awarded the prize to Arthur Miller. In awarding the prize (the third American laureate running), the judges wrote, "Arthur Miller is one of the most prominent playwrights of the 20th century. Drama researchers place him within the pantheon of the greatest American playwrights... [the prize is awarded] for the creative works he has written over the years and his efforts on behalf of the common good." The prize will be awarded by the mayor of Jerusalem at a special ceremony during the fair. (Who the mayor will be is another matter—as we write, Jerusalem is in the midst of an election campaign, the results of which will be known only a few days before the fair.)
In a new event this year, the fair is hosting, together with the Jerusalem Foundation, an eminent group of writers, who will participate in the fair's events in addition to an intensive program of their own, including meetings with their Israeli counterparts. The writers are Erri de Lucca, Italy; Steffan Mensching, Germany; Lidia Jorge, Portugal; Bernard and Eliette Abecassis, France; and Norman Manea, Robert Littell and David Rieff, U.S. The overall theme of the visit is "Writing in the Eye of Conflict," and it is hoped that each writer will record his or her impressions in essay or book form once they return home.
A regular event at the book fair is the presentation of the Friends of Jerusalem Award to honor publishing people who have devoted themselves in one way or another to the Jerusalem Book Fair. This year's award will be given to Peter Mayer, publisher of Overlook Press, and Rosario Carpinelli, editorial director of the trade and paperback division of Rizzoli. Carpinelli was one of the editorial fellows in 1987 and is the second alumnus of this program to receive the award.
The State of the Trade
The serious financial problems affecting publishers worldwide have not bypassed Israel. On the contrary, the situation here is exacerbated by the continued economic crisis in the country as a result of the intifada. Zvika Reich, a publishing consultant and advisor to many Israeli writers (he is also the author of Publishing: A Comprehensive Guide—the only Hebrew handbook for publishing), compares the state of the industry to a tree in the desert: "Publishers here must strike deep roots in order to survive, including mergers and joint operations to combat the serious economic situation." His examples, numbering among them some of the country's leading publishers, include the joint publishing operations of Keter with Hed Artzi (previously Ma'ariv); Sifriat Poalim and Hakibbutz Hameuchad; Kinneret and Zmora Bitan; Tsomet Sefarim (see below); and others.
Publishers and booksellers who cater to the tourist trade are particularly affected as the country has been bereft of overseas tourists for the past two years. Tamar Reich and her brothers, Motti and Yoram Binstock, owners of the Tamir chain of Jerusalem-based bookstores, maintain that although there is no discernible drop in the number of books being sold (there are publishers who dispute this), profit margins have been seriously affected. Reich attributes this especially to the merger of two well-known bookstore chains together with the Kinneret-Zmora-Bitan publishing house, under the name Tsomet Sefarim (literally "Book Junction").
Although Tsomet has only some 30 branches throughout the country as opposed to the more than 150 of the Steimatzky chain, Tsomet's aggressive sales policy and almost immediate discounting of newly published books has created a very competitive—almost cutthroat—situation, which is felt throughout the market, especially when the shelf life of books in Israel is usually no more than two to three weeks. Another current trend is to offer a second book free or for as little as 20 shekels (about $4). This presents a serious problem for publishers and booksellers alike. However, some local publishers have refused to go along and will not sell books to Tsomet.
Eri Steimatzky, with 150 shops in 77 Israeli towns and others in Los Angeles and London, remains far and away the dominant factor in the Israeli bookselling world. He, too, is undergoing a difficult period, although he agrees that there has been an increase in the sale of Hebrew books. A relatively new development for the Steimatzky chain is its expansion into distributing other Israeli publishers, notably the bestselling books by Ram Oren, Irit Linor and others under Oren's Keshet imprint. Other publishers distributed are Pecker for business books, Itav and Sapir for dictionaries and Arieh Nir, formerly of Ma'ariv/Hed Artzi. Steimatzky will be pursuing new publishing ideas at the fair to add to its current ones, which include the Michelin Green Guides, a new series of educational books for young children in partnership with Matach, a publishing arm of the Open University, as well as an ever-expanding range of encyclopedias, dictionaries and cookbooks.
Probably the most important event in the Israeli bookselling year is the 40-year-old Hebrew Book Week. This event, which has the nature of a family-oriented, open-air book festival—cum-bazaar, is usually held at the end of May or the beginning of June, and there was no clash with the International Book Fair when it was held in March or April. This year, with the fair shifted to June, Shay Hausman of Carta, in his fifth term as chairman of the Israel Book Publishers' Association, believes many Israeli publishers are concerned about the proximity of the two events.
Hausman maintains that this, plus the economic downturn and the increased use of videoconferencing and e-mails, which to some extent has vitiated the need for international book fairs, may affect on the number of Israeli publishers attending the fair. But he himself is a firm believer in the paramount importance of personal contacts and is confident that those publishers who are involved with the buying and selling of projects and rights will certainly be at the fair in force. As far as overseas publishers are concerned, Hausman stresses that "Israel is a colorful and lively country living at a high level of intensity. As a result, it is a constant source of new and original ideas developed by a highly motivated and creative people."
What to Look For
Ioram Melcer, one of the country's more distinguished literary critics and a novelist and translator, maintains that despite—or perhaps because of—the situation, people are actually reading more. Interestingly, he believes that there is a trend among Israel writers away from more superficial literature to a richer, more aesthetic level of writing, often based on a dialogue with 3,000 years of Jewish history, and the exploration of a perceived breakdown of the Israeli mythos. "Is the dream over?" is the question that writers ask themselves in investigating what Melcer calls "the DNA of Zionism."
The country's best-known writers have all produced new books in the last year. These include Amos Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness; A.B. Yehoshua's The Liberating Bride; Aharon Appelfeld's Love, All of a Sudden; Meir Shalev's Fontanelle; and David Grossman's In Another Life.
Other new books that Melcer strongly recommends to overseas publishers, by authors who may be a little less known, include Human Parts by Orly Castel-Blum; The Sign of the Lotus by Dan Tsalka; Sweetie by Eli Schreiber, a man who has written some 12 novels but is not very well known even to the Israeli public; Most of the Nights by Benny Mer; That Is the Man by Yitzhak Laor; Black Girl by Sammy Bardugo; and especially Flashes by Nurit Govrin—a book that Melcer describes as "one of the finest novels written in Israel in this generation." Modesty might have prevented him from adding to the list his own Love of Zion, which won critical acclaim when it came out last year.
There are only a handful of literary agencies active in Israel, of which two, the Pikarski Agency (run by Ilana Pikarski) and the agency run by the Israel Book Publishers' Association (directed by Shoshana Grajower) represent publishers abroad and deal only with incoming rights. The publicly owned Institute for Translation of Hebrew Literature concentrates on selling rights in Hebrew literature; while the privately owned Harris/Elon Agency, which represents the foreign rights of local authors, has an extensive representation of overseas publishers and acts as subagent for other literary agencies. At the fair, agents Deborah Harris and Ines Austern will be representing the Harris/Elon authors, while Efrat Lev will be talking to publishers seeking representation in Israel. Long-time Harris authors include David Grossman, Meir Shalev, Batya Gur and Sami Michael. All of their recent books have been sold in the U.S., but rights in some languages are still available.
Among new writers Harris is enthusiastically promoting are Asaph Gavron and his novel Moving, a wry and witty story about Israeli moving companies in New York City; Gabi Nitzan's Badolina, which sold more than 130,000 copies in Hebrew; as well as two Arab writers. One is Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer whose first book, Strangers in the House, about life under Israeli occupation, was published in 2002 by Steerforth and recently in paperback by Penguin. His second book, When the Bulbul Stopped Singing, about the siege of Ramallah, his hometown, last year, is now being completed. Sayed Kashua, a 28-year-old Israeli-Arab journalist from the town of Tira, has written an autobiographical novel, Dancing Arabs, based on his life growing up in Israel. Matt Rees, the Welsh-born correspondent in Israel for Time magazine for the last six years, has written an observer's account of the internecine struggles—not of the Israelis with the Palestinians, but rather of each group within itself. All the above writers, as well as her veteran authors, will be at Deborah Harris's customary party for editors, agents and writers held in her garden.
Nilli Cohen, director of the Institute for Translation of Hebrew Literature, agrees that the economic crisis in publishing worldwide has affected the institute, but she sees its task as working for the long term and believes that the immediate situation is less crucial. She will be at the Agents Center; and particularly emphasizes Orly Castel-Blum's Human Parts (mentioned above by Melcer), which will be published by Godine in the U.S. and Key Porter in Canada in September. Other books worth speaking to her about include Infiltration by Yehoshua Kenaz, The Last Jew by Yoram Kaniuk, A Good Place for the Night by Savyon Leibrecht and an anthology of short stories, The Bus Driver Wanted to Be God by Etgar Keret. This book is exceptional as an Arabic edition has just been published by the Palestinian publisher, Ogarit, in Ramallah.
Other forthcoming books Nilli Cohen will be talking up at the fair (and which will appear in the institute's special pre-Frankfurt catalogue) include a long-awaited family saga by Yehudit Katzir; a novel by Shifra Horn on the contemporary situation in Jerusalem; Rerun, a novel of love and treachery by Benny Barbash; and Yoram Kaniuk's partly autobiographical mosaic of American life, describing his 10 years in Greenwich Village in the 1950s.
Another fixture among Israel's international contacts is Yosh Gafni and his Jerusalem Publishing House, Israel's leading packager. JPH-produced and -developed books can be found under the imprints of some of the most prestigious publishers in Israel and abroad. Gafni will be showing several projects at the fair; these include the New Encyclopedia of Judaism, edited by the late Geoffrey Wigoder, Fred Skolnick and Rabbi Shmuel Himelstein, as well as an edition for young people called The Youth Encyclopedia of Judaism, both of which will be published by New York University Press. Other projects are The Encyclopedia of Peoples and Minorities of the World, edited by Prof. Amiran Gonen; The Political Atlas of the Middle East, compiled and edited by Profs. Gideon Biger and Avraham Sela; and Archaeological Sites in the Ancient World, edited by Prof. Shimon Gibson, a British-born archeologist. Gafni will have illustrated dummies of all of these to show at the fair.
Shay Hausman of Carta will be showing two important new projects. The first of these is the Historical Atlas of the Jewish People. In this volume, eight distinguished scholars trace 4,000 years of Jewish history from biblical times to the present. The book has more than 500 maps and illustrations and a forecast of world Jewish populations to the year 2050. This is the third in a series of atlases, the first two being the Historical Atlas of Islam, published in 2002, and the Historical Atlas of Christianity, published in 2001. Like the other two, this book will be published in the U.S. by Continuum. The second work is the first English translation of the Onomasticon by Eusebius of Caesarea (c. A.D. 260—339), considered a Father of Christianity. This long-awaited work, written in Greek in A.D. 324, is a record of every place name mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, arranged alphabetically, often with additional information like distances from the nearest city, populations, size, etc. The work is a vital source of information on Palestine of the fourth century. One of the great classical works of Christian theology, the book will be launched at the fair.
Keter, founded in 1958 as a translation agency for the U.S. National Science Foundation, is today one of Israel's largest publishers. It numbers among its authors Amos Oz; Aharon Appelfeld; Savyon Leibrecht; Tom Segev; Adin Steinsaltz; Gabriela Avigur-Rotem; Alona Kimhi; the thriller writers Batya Gur, Amnon Jackont, Shulamit Lapid and Uri Adelman; as well as many other local luminaries and translated writers. While many Keter authors are represented by either the Harris/Elon Agency, the Institute for Hebrew Literature or by agents overseas, authors and books that Keter's senior editor Lilit Ronen-Hemo will be promoting directly at the fair include Fish Die in Jaffa by Dan-Benaya Seri, Soul-mate by Ehud Asheri and Sherman in Winter by Amnon Dankner.
Keter's managing director Yiphtach Dekel and editor-in-chief Zvika Meir take particular pride that they are reissuing the Encyclopaedia Judaica, first published 30 years ago in 17 volumes. The jewel in the Keter crown, this was probably the most important publishing achievement in Israel's history. It is now being newly edited and updated to reflect the significant advances in Jewish scholarship and thinking during the latter part of the 20th century. The redesigned edition will be published in 2006, in print form, in 20 volumes, and electronically with Macmillan/Reference-Gale.
Toby Press, an American publisher based in Connecticut, has an active editorial office in Jerusalem and is acquiring important backlists of leading international writers, including Amos Oz, Aharon Megged and Naomi Ragen, to name a few of the Israeli writers among them. New books that publisher Matthew Miller will be offering for foreign rights include What You Need to Know About Terror by Micah Halpern and The Blessing of a Broken Heart by Sherri Mandell, whose 12-year-old son, Koby, and his friend Yosef were murdered by terrorists near their home in the Judean desert in 2001.
The doors will open as they have every two years since 1963—hopefully, despite all the vicissitudes, the Jerusalem Book Fair will again live up to its reputation as one of the most dynamic and worthwhile events in the international book trade calendar.