Norman Lebrecht

An Innocent at the Fair

I should, first, declare an interest or two: I attended the 31st Frankfurt Book fair as a journalist for this publication and others, as a writer whose work was being traded there, and as an incipient publisher who intended to wheel and deal with the big boys.

It was, also, my first Frankfurt. I had been warned in advance about the ambience of horse trading, but it still came as a shock to find the product being gambled on as at Newmarket, or casually disposed of as at the knacker’s yard.

Trade fairs, though, are all about products, and those producers – writers – who attended were generally there as live exhibits to complement their oversized photographs in the publishers’ stands. Morris West, for example, was to be seen briefly at the Rainbird stand, where foreign rights for his forthcoming work on the papacy were being sold. More productively, on some of the German stands, writers as diverse as the Cuban Alejo Carpentier, the Israeli humourist Ephraim Kishon, the Swiss playwright Rolf Hochuth and the exiled Russian Chess master Viktor Korchnoi spent the afternoons – when the Fair was open to the public – pressing the flesh and signing the fly-leaf.

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