Letter from Jerusalem: Life swapping in Israel

AT THE annual Frankfurt Bookfair, publishers from the world over glide around the endlessly repeating halls as if in a deoxygenised spaceship. The biennial Jerusalem equivalent, sited on a hill at the Binyaney Ha'ooma conference hall, is like a garden-centre on a busy bank holiday. Few expect to buy (or sell) much in the way of rights - except, perhaps, the Germans. Indeed, this year the fair had a distinctly Germanic flavour. In Frankfurt, they are the hosts; in Jerusalem, they are guests. With the remarkable city outside baking under hot spring sun, they were here to meet the world.

The fair has as a whole has its irritations. Being asked by a security boy at the exhibitors' entrance whether you have a gun is a most surprising question at a bookfair. Then there is the lack of phones and watering holes; the Hilton next door for such necessities is a ghastly alternative. And why, at the 'Israel Discount Bank Stand', does the corridor narrow to 2ft, so that in a hurry all you do is trip over a jam of baby prams brought in in vast quantities by the worthy Israeli public?

But this is Israel and, lest we forget, Israel is a Mediterranean country of pedantic security, teeming family life, and as much chaos as any Latin nation. For which reasons, you might think, book-business must be low on the agenda.

Not for the Germans, it isn't. Israel in spring seems to offer respite from the problems of their reunified recession-hit country. Certainly, for publishers, the pneumatic trade fair in Germany's financial centre in October has become an overblown babel encouraging Europeans and Americans to yell at one another for a week, then party on conglomerate expenses. You're German and you want to talk books? Go to Israel every two years.

As many as 165 German publishers were represented at this year's Jerusalem fair, a high number when compared to those from Britain, France or the United States. Why so many? Zev Birger, the Lithuanian-born chairman of the fair, who spent a year in Dachau before illegally emigrating to Eretz Israel, says: 'First, the Germans were losing ground in Israel in the sales of their own books, and from the point of view of translation from German to Hebrew. Second, there are more and more Israeli authors getting known in Germany.'

Fair enough, though this might be more symptomatic of modern German business acumen in the trading of foreign rights than of any special fix on Israel. Compared to Britain, German publishers' flair for works in translation in general is very impressive. But there are deep ties, in any case, between German and Yiddish, and this should not be forgotten in any monitoring of the German-Israeli coupling. Modern history has, of course, seen Yiddish firetorched from its origins and left the relationship pitted with apocalyptic fall-out. Though it would be churlish to suggest that beneath the German eagerness to do bookish business in the land of the Jews lies a drive towards conscience-salving for the Holocaust, this year's fair opened, pertinently, at the end of Holocaust Day.

At the inaugural ceremony, Gerhard Kurtze, chairman of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, reminded the audience that the Nazis had driven Jewish literary culture out of Germany, that the past 'cannot be forgotten'. During another speech, we stood in silence in memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, whose 50th anniversary fell the following day.

As if this weren't enough, the Jerusalem Prize, a literary honour bestowed under the auspices of the fair, went to novelist Stefan Heym - the first German to win. He is also Jewish, and from the East, and had reached 80 a few days before, so could safely be said to carry around with him the burden of the 20th-century Germano-Jewish conundrum better than any speech or textbook. However, among some of the German publishers at the fair it was suggested seditiously that Heym wasn't up to the mark. He's written a lot (his The Wandering Jew and The King David Report are great books), but is not well known outside Germany. Moreover, Heym barely matches the calibre of previous prizewinners such as V S Naipaul and Sir Isaiah Berlin.

I put this carping down to traditional German tactlessness. Just before the prizegiving, on the balcony of the King David Hotel two young men strolled over and asked me where I was from. London, I said. And you? Bavaria, they said, adding, 'We, the best of Bavaria here, in the best of Israel.'

Still, wherever you're from, Jerusalem somehow reminds you of who you are. If you're one of the young European or American editors sent to the fair on the now much-acclaimed fellowship programme (sponsored this year by the Holtzbrinck Group - um, German again), there is more to be had than Frankfurt-style rights-swapping. You mix at all levels, and learn about one another.

Take Fink's, Jerusalem's most renowned after-hours dive. Late one night, in the middle of bookfair week, you could find a loud group of foreigners swallowing scotch and the most lethal whisky sours this side of the Jordan River. In their midst were the voluble head of Penguin, Peter Mayer (not German, though his father was), four chiefs of major European publishing houses (all right, two were German), and various other nationalities - whose common purpose was books. Literature was not necessarily the subject, but as the same Herr Kurtze had pointed out to Mr Birger, 'Books make a nice exhibit, people make a fair'.

This is the great virtue of Jerusalem. At Frankfurt, publishers do deals. In Jerusalem, under banner of books, publishers - and with them non-publishers - swap cultures.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test