By IRINA ECHARRY
HAVANA TIMES, February 23 – Not much was missing at the 18th Edition of the Cuba International Book Fair that concluded its Havana portion on Sunday. Just the rain, which on other occasions had us running for cover to the hot pavilions and then walking on wet, dirty grounds.
The population was able to attend in mass to the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress, reportedly some 400,000 strong over ten days. Many dozens of buses were used to transport people round-trip from the Capitolio building across Havana Bay, barely 10 minutes away.
Some people don’t like this venue for the event, but I believe it has the perfect conditions due to its spacious grounds, even when each time we see less green.
When I went to have a snack I had brought on the first day, I looked hard for a patch of grass to sit down and rest like in past years, but I couldn’t find it. In its place was white dust with little pebbles and some large potted plants.
Suddenly I thought that perhaps my recollection was a passage of a book I had read and that there had never been such grass. It’s no surprise in a place where the sun beats down with such severity.
Once again it was very reassuring to see so many people of all ages buying books, seeking unknown places and real or fiction characters of the past or the future.
It was a good idea this year to also sell the books being presented at the fair at many different bookstores in the city. Even with those additional sales points, sometimes there were large agglomerations at the special bus stops, sometimes approaching desperation, as if going to the fair was an urgent need.
The reality is that beyond the books, many people go to the fair for a day’s outing, to eat, drink and enjoy themselves. It’s not everybody that is interested in having contact with the writers at the book presentations at the several halls, or listening to poetry at the place where readings take place, a space that remains almost empty although the statistics show very high numbers of visitors to the fairgrounds.
A popular idea has been publishing lots of textbooks and making them available to the general population. Students of careers such as medicine, law and others are benefited with specialized texts, as well as titles of universal culture: for example The Golden Bough by James Georges Frazer, which despite being in much demand hadn’t been printed in Cuba since 1972.
Another was Everyday Life in Babylon and Assyria by Geroges Contenau, as well as classics of children’s literature that this year filled the stands of the book stalls. While the prices have risen, the majority of books printed by Cuban publishers are still accessible.
Not everybody looks at the fair with the same eyes. Despite there being many books, many authors, many guests, much public, and varied options for all tastes, not all writers feel represented.
Publication in Cuba is a delicate topic. To publish you must win a contest or have some publisher be interested in a work. The two variants are difficult, and a jury’s eyes are not always willing to bypass the works of their friends or better known authors to publish someone new. Besides, there’s the censorship (of any kind) and the economic problems the country faces.
When all those factors are joined the possibilities are limited for young (or not so young) writers that don’t know anyone powerful in the publishing world.
My hope is that this situation improves with time and that intransigence abandons us like the rain that didn’t fall on this year’s book fair, making the event something that unites each and every writer living on this miraculous island, profuse with talents still to become known.
The Cuba International Book Fair now moves to 16 other Cuban cities and will run through March 8th.
Click on the thumbnails to see all the photos in the International Book Fair 2009 gallery