In times of war and crisis, the international literary industry comes together for the 75th Frankfurt Book Fair. Which political debates are in the foreground? How is the industry doing in its anniversary year? What challenges do new technologies such as artificial intelligence bring? And what is the guest country Slovenia bringing to the world’s largest book show?

Terror in the anniversary year

The conflict in the Middle East is a big topic at the book fair. For 75 years, Frankfurt has been “a marketplace of words, writings and readings for democratic exchange and mutual understanding,” said Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth (Greens). The attack on women, men and children in Israel is “an attack on humanity. We deeply condemn this terror and stand with Israel in full sadness and pain.” Book fair director Juergen Boos condemned Hamas’ attack on Israel: “Our sympathy goes out to the people whose relatives were victims of this excess of violence and to all people in Israel and Palestine who are suffering from the war.” The controversial postponement of an honor to the Palestinian author Adania Shibli caused discussions right at the start of the trade fair.

Pandemonium at the opening

There was a commotion over this issue at the opening ceremony on Tuesday evening. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek said in his speech that he – like all of his previous speakers – condemned Hamas’ terrorist attacks on the Israeli population. But he emphasized that you also have to listen to the Palestinians and take their background into account if you want to understand the conflict.

The Hessian anti-Semitism commissioner Uwe Becker loudly contradicted Zizek and temporarily left the hall, as did several other guests. Becker accused Zizek of putting Hamas’ crimes into perspective. Book fair director Jurgen Boos was audibly touched. He was grateful for the opposition from the audience, but he was also happy that they were able to hear the speech to the end. “It’s important that we listen to each other.”

The situation of the book industry

In addition to political topics, it will also be about the book industry itself. More and more publishers are reaching their economic limits, says the head of the German Book Trade Association, Karin Schmidt-Friderichs. Although sales increased by four percent in the first nine months of this year, 1.1 percent fewer books were sold than in the same period last year and 7.4 percent fewer than before the pandemic.

Small, independent publishers in particular are important for the diversity of the book market. “Politics and society must ask themselves: What is a diverse book industry worth to us?” The Börsenverein therefore calls for “structural publishing support”. But good literature also needs “visibility”, which is why literary programs should not disappear from the programs of TV and radio stations.

Guest of honor Slovenia

The most unusual sight in the host country pavilion is the view. Almost all guest countries of honor so far have closed the huge window front to the inner courtyard – the Slovenians let the outside world in. The presentation itself seems a bit lost. Long rows of shelves present books from and about Slovenia. Stacked foam blocks invite you to sit. To create a pleasant scent, real rosemary sticks grow from the foam. “We want you to read,” said Katja Stergar, director of the Slovenian Book Agency, “and we want you to enjoy it.”

Some of the better-known Slovenian authors are presented separately, such as the children’s author Helena Kraljic, whose station you can swing on. An artificial intelligence writes sonnets on screens on behalf of Vuk Cosic. Clouds made of lace made by the artist Eva Petric hang from the ceiling. Some of the individual pieces come from the world’s oldest lace factory in Slovenia, others Petric collected from all over the world in order to “unite them into a work of art that connects cultures.”

Politics and AI in focus

In times of crises, war and climate change, the trade fair organizers want to focus on the most pressing political and social issues. A panel discussion with the topic “Concerned about Israel” was postponed at short notice on Wednesday. Afterwards, things continue politically with the event “Hope for Russia – Somebody, somehow, sometime?”

The climate activist and co-founder of the “Last Generation”, Lea Bonasera, is also a guest in Frankfurt. Also expected are former Femen activist Zana Ramadani and artificial intelligence (AI) expert Mina Saidze. Chat GPT and other systems will shape many conversations in the aisles and podiums of this trade fair. This involves, among other things, questions of copyright. “Everything that an AI is currently writing and designing,” says Stock Exchange Association President Schmidt-Friderichs, is done on the basis of “data theft.”

Highest security level for superstar Rushdie

The British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie is expected at the book fair this weekend. Then there is the highest level of security. The 76-year-old, who was seriously injured in an assassination attempt last summer, will receive the Peace Prize on Sunday in the Paulskirche. He received the award “for his indomitability, his affirmation of life and, above all, for improving the world with his joy in storytelling,” says Schmidt-Friderichs.

The attack last summer came more than 30 years after Iran’s former revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for the author’s murder over Rushdie’s 1989 novel “The Satanic Verses.” Rushdie is now writing a book about the attack.

Frankfurt book fair