Geneva Book Fair comes of age

The 2004 Geneva book fair opens its doors on Wednesday Keystone

This year’s International Book Fair in Geneva promises to take visitors on a literary journey around the world and beyond with an exhibition entitled “The Magical Universe of Jules Verne”.

This content was published on April 28, 2004 - 08:15

The annual event, which opens on Wednesday, will also feature Switzerland’s first-ever African Book Fair, as well as works from Chile.

“This is our 18th exhibition and we feel that the diversity of topics really reflects the fact that it has come of age,” said the event’s president, Pierre-Marcel Favre.

“We’ve scoured the globe in search of culturally diverse attractions and I think the combination of Chilean and African authors, along with the Verne exhibition, will make the programme especially innovative and interesting,” Favre told swissinfo.

Sneak preview

The Verne exhibition is one of the first major events of its kind to be staged ahead of the 100th anniversary of the French writer’s death next year.

Widely considered the father of modern science fiction, Verne is the most translated author in the world – surpassing even Shakespeare.

“The enthusiasm surrounding the anniversary encouraged us to organise an event in advance,” explained the exhibition organiser, Eric Weissenberg.

“There will be a lot of hype surrounding Verne in 2005, so we’re hoping to attract members of the public who are looking forward to next year’s events.”

Fantasy and reality

Based in Geneva, Weissenberg owns one of the world’s largest collections of Verne memorabilia, including 19th century theatrical posters and objects, illustrations drawn by the author himself, books, photographs and engravings.

In lending much of his collection to the exhibition, Weissenberg says he hopes to dispel popular misconceptions about the celebrated author’s work.

“I would like to preserve the traditional image of Verne as the father of science fiction and as an imaginative author who dreamt of technology and the future,” he explained.

“But I’d also like to show the public that he wanted his fiction to be based on true scientific principles… Only after he laid down scientific arguments was he able to let his imagination take flight,” Weissenberg added.

African experience

Besides Verne, the organisers of the Geneva event also hope to highlight the work of African artists and authors at the first African Book Fair to be held in Switzerland.

Supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the exhibition aims to give African authors better exposure in Europe and to “present a positive image of the realities of life in Africa”.

A wide range of written and artistic works – including novels, online publications, newspapers, paintings and sculptures – will be on display during the five-day event.

Many African authors and artists have also been invited to share their experiences with the public.

Romanticised vision

“It’s very important to give Africans an opportunity to talk about their reality, problems and hopes for the future,” said Sandra Coulibaly Leroy of the International Francophone Organisation.

“This is an attempt to show Africa as it’s seen through the eyes of its sons and daughters,” she added.

“Personally, I’m fed up with the way Western writers tend to romanticise our reality and portray Africa as a continent of painted dancers, baobab trees and lion kings.”

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

Some 120,000 visitors are expected to attend the International Book Fair, which runs from April 28 until May 2 at Geneva’s Palexpo exhibition hall.

The fair features around 500 stands representing some 1,000 French, German and English-language publishing houses.

Around 300 authors from Chile, Africa and dozens of other countries are expected to give public presentations throughout the event.

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