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The Cairo Book Fair 2023: Nonfiction in the Spotlight Amid Price Changes

Nonfiction is among this year’s trends at the 54th Cairo International Book Fair

In addition to a surge in demand for historical and non-fiction books, this year’s Cairo International Book Fair 2023 comes with uncertainty as to whether prices will increase.

It has already been announced that publishers plan to reduce the price of books significantly, no less than 50 percent for some titles and much more for others. This is due to a tripling in paper prices in less than six months as a result of the currency devaluation.

 “We want to maximise our reach to as many readers with limited budgets as possible,” said Yehiya Fekri of Al-Maraya. Big publishers, including Al-Shorouk, Al-Massraiya Al-Lebananiya and Al-Karma, have promised very big discounts on as many titles as possible and special packages for titles that were put out for the book fairs of the past two years.

However, the pricing issue is no less controversial than that of the genre. The dominance of fiction for over 20 years, which allowed many talented novelists to make an imprint on the contemporary Egyptian and Arab literature scene, is being challenged.

Nonfiction, both old and new, is gaining in popularity this year. Abdallah Sakr, director of publishing at Al-Mahroussa argued that the limited number of new titles of some branches of non-fiction, “particularly theory,” and the parallel interest of readers prompted his publishing house to gather, revise and reprint the three volumes of prominent 20th century intellectual Louis Awad, Tarikh alfekr almasry (“History of Egyptian Intellect”).

“Those are three big volumes that we worked on for three consecutive years as they were originally published by different publishers at some considerable intervals,” Sakr said.

 

Sherif Bakr, of Al-Arabi, said that there is a “definite interest in philosophy.” This is why, he added, Al-Arabi decided to publish Arabic translations of titles like Philosophy and Football and Socrates on Sneakers, which he expects to do very well in this year’s book fair.

They had embraced the dominance of fiction over the past two decades. However, she added, this year more than last year, non-fiction is gaining ground. “I am not sure where this is coming from because there has always been some really interesting titles coming up in the non-fiction space but it might be a post pandemic thing with people looking for titles that offers some answers to questions they thought about during the pandemic,” she said.

For this year’s book fair, Al-Massriyah Al-Lebnaniyah is offering several non-fiction titles including Ezzat Al-Kamhawi’s Al-Tahi Yaktol Walkateb Yantaher (“The Cook Kills and the Author Commits Suicide”) which is a literary reflection on life and the works of prominent authors and the legacy of some important cooks.

History is also getting a lot of attention this year. With an introduction from Khaled Azzab, a prominent researcher, Al-Massriyah Al-Lebenaniyah is putting out a new edition of Mohamed Farid’s late 19th century Tarikh Al-Dawla Alaliyah Alothmaniyah (“History of the Sublime Ottoman State”) and an Arabic translation of Stanley Lane Paul’s Saladin and the Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

However, this passion for history is not just a new development that goes hand-in-hand with this year’s renewed interest in non-fiction. According to several publishing houses, this desire for alternative narratives of history has been going on for well over a decade.

Al-Karma has been involved in several reprints of history books. For this year, it is putting out a new edition of Souliman Fayyad’s Al-Wagh Al-Akhar Llkhelafa Al-Islamiyah (“The Other Face of Islamic Khalifat”) that challenges the dominant incomplete narratives of almost strictly prosperous Islamic rule to shed light on the images of coercion and discrimination that some faced under the rule of Muslim Khalifas. Another walk in the history lane comes from Al-Karma with Helmy Al-Namnam’s title Yaom Honein – Qiraa Tarikhiya (A History Take on the Battle of Honein). This books promises to be controversial as it addresses an often marginalised battle that Muslims, under the Prophet Muhammad, had to go through in a preemptive tactic.

Al-Shorouk, which had previously dedicated an entire series to modern and contemporary history, is also coming in with the most recent title of Mohamed Aboul-Ghar’s Al-Filaq Al-Masry (“The Egyptian Legion”). Typical of the history volumes written by Aboul-Ghar, this book offers a lengthy research work that documents the forced conscription of Egyptian men from villages all across the country to work with the British army during World War I. It details the incredible socio-economic and political consequences that contributed to the start of the 1919 Revolution that called for the independence of Egypt from the British occupation. In a sense, this book could well be part of the rich set of volumes that Al-Shorouk has been putting out for four consecutive years in a bid to re-visit the 1919 Revolution.

Al-Arabi, for its part, is putting out a series of history books under the title of “Papers from History.”

“This project is the labour of years of hard work and it includes some translated titles and some titles written in Arabic,” said Bakr. Of these papers there is Mozakerat Aila Massiyhiya bayn Al-Qahira waRas Ghareb (“Memoires of a Christian Family Between Cairo and Ras Ghareb”) by Iliyah Mahfouz Bashir. The book tracks the history of the family of a man who was born to a Christian family in the 1930s in Ras Gharb, next to the Red Sea, where the father was working for an oil company before he retired and dragged the entire family to Cairo.

Meawhile, Al-Shorouk is putting out what promises to be one of the most interesting titles of the book fair, Albert Arie -Mozkerat Yahoudi Masry (“Albert Arie – the Memoires of an Egyptian Jew”). The memoires of Arie, who passed away in the spring of last year at the age of 92, offer an incredible insight on the history of Egyptian Jewry in Egypt before and after the 1948 War, including the national affinity that some, including Arie himself, held to the country. It also offers an image of life in Egypt, specifically in Cairo, where Aries was born and lived all his life.

 

On Cairo, Al-Shorouk is also putting out its Wassat Albald – Maware Elhekayat (“Downtown – Beyond the Stories”), an essential collection of photos that documents the architectural splendor of Cairo. Meanwhile, Al-Ain is putting out Al-Qahera Waomranha (“The urban History of Cairo”) by Nezar Al-Sayyad, a prominent Egyptian-American architectural historian.

Source: Ahram Online

 

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