We talked to Zsuzsanna Szabó, the head of the Balassi Institute's Publishing Hungary programme about the recent Frankfurt Book Fair, Krakow Book Fair and the Conrad Festival.
The Frankfurt Book Fair, which is considered the most important showcase for Hungarian literature in translation – especially in German – began on 19th October and ended on the 23rd; we always have high expectations of it. Five Hungarian writers were there to represent the country: Ferenc Barnás, László Darvasi, András Forgách, Gergely Péterfy and Zoltán Böszörményi. The Fair ended a few days ago. So what news? How were these Hungarian writers received?
This year, the Frankfurt Book Fair drew a record number of visitors (277,000), more than half of whom (142,000) were from the industry. Our authors were featured on the International Stage in Hall 5 and the Lesezelt. László Darvasi was in conversation with an old supporter and admirer of his, Katharina Raabéval, an editor at Suhrkamp, in front of a good crowd. Lerke von Saalfeld, who writes for the Stuttgarter Zeitung, predicted a good deal of success for Gergely Péterfy's novel A kitömött barbár on the German market. András Forgách's novel – which is being made into a film – will be published next year by one of the most important German publishers, Fische Verlag. The conversation with him was intended as an introduction for the German audience. Zoltán Böszörményi's was quizzed by his translator, Hans-Henning Paetzke, about what it's like to be a refugee, and the general feeling of vulnerability we feel as humans, in connection with his recently published novel Regál (Mitteldeutscher Verlag). Ferenc Barnás' second book Another Death (Másik halá) was published in 2016, and I'm sure it will have the same sort of success as his previous work, The Ninth (A kilencedik).
Gergely Péterfy , Lerke von Saalfeld and Éva Zádor – Photo: Facebook
Looking at the stands and programmes, what did you find most worthy of attention? What's most relevant to Hungarian readers? Was there anything sensational this year, any new discoveries, surprises?
The country stands in the international hall placed particular attention on spreading the word about, and popularizing, the various programmes supporting translation and books in their respective nations. Both Publishing Hungary and the Petőfi Irodalmi Museum's Books and Translation Office were in pride of place on the Hungarian stand this year. One of the biggest sensations of the fair was, without doubt, David Hockney's 35-kg book, SUMO, which was published by Taschen. Hockney himself was present at the launch.
What conclusions did you come away with? How did the Hungarian stand do – are there lessons to learn? Are you satisfied?
The most important thing we learned is that we have to rethink the design of the stand completely for next year, and we also have to redefine the functional workings of the Hungarian stand. It would be nice if we could have a part of the stand that would afford the authors a place both to present themselves and sign books. The MKKE will clearly consult with the publishers as well on this issue.
Géza Röhrig at Conrad Festival– Photo: Facebook
The Frankfurt Book Fair only just ended and you're already in Krakow, at the Book Fair there and at the Conrad Festival. Which writers are representing Hungary and what were your expectations going into it?
The Conrad Festical is the most important literary festival in Central and Eastern Europe. The guest of honour in 2016 was the Hungarian Géza Röhrig, alongside such internationally well-known authors as Richard Flanagen, Michael Cunningham, and Eleanor Catton, a young author from New-Zealand. Almost 200 people turned out for the conversation between Géza Röhrig and the Festival's programme director. Anna Butrym, who was interpreting, received the prize for the best interpreter at the festical for her efforts. There were also nearly a hundred people for the conversation between Krisztina Tóth and the Polish author Joanna Bator in the National Museum in Krakow (where an exhibition on the golden age of Hungarian painting – 1896-1936 – has just opened) about her work, Vonalkód és Pixel. On Saturday evening, there was a memorial evening for the recently deceased greats of Hungarian literature in the Synagogue in Krakow. Péter Esterházy was remembered by his translator, Teresa Worowska, Imre Kertész by János Háy, Sándor Csoóri by Géza Röhrig, Oláh János by Kovács István, and Szilárd Borbély by Gábor Németh. We also presented a number of works at the fair: János Háy's A bogyósgyümölcskertész fia, Lajos Grendel's Einstein harangjai, Géza Röhrig's A Rebbe tollatépett papagája, Attila Szalai's Szepsi Csombor Márton utazásai as well as Gyula Csics 1956 diary, with the help of the authors.
Szilárd Borbély's The Dispossessed (Nincstelenek) and Sándor Márai's poems were introduced by Gábor Németh and Teresa Worowska, respectively. There was also a book launch in the very atmospheric Alkímia bar for András Cserna-Szabó and Benedek Darida's Nagy macskajajkönyv (how to cook hung-over), which was accompanied by some communal cooking and a chance to taste some authentic Hungarian soup. At the gala evening of the Conrad Festival, Géza Röhrig gave the closing speech in both English and Polish – to the delight and surprise of the locals!
Géza Röhrig at Conrad Festival– Photo: Facebook
You spend the entire year going from one literary event to another, so youhave quite a broad frame of reference. What do you think are the fundamental differences between Frankfurt and Krakow, and how do we compare in this sense with the Budapest International Book Fair?
Frankfurt is the biggest publishing event in the world. It's not only a fair – in fact, it is primarily a place to meet, a forum for business, where everybody whr in Germany is the Leipzig Fair, where Hungary features every year, with a rango's anybody in the publishing world is present. The most important book faie of excellent programmes and authors. We're also planning to be the guests of honour at Leipzig soon. The Krakow and Budapest Fairs are primarily for the local publishers, though both bill themselves as international and both have more than 20 years of pedigree. In my experience, a significant fair doesn't seem to have been able to come into being in Central and Eastern Europe, neither in Prague or Warsaw or Krakow, or even Bratislava. One of the biggest fairs in the region is the Belgrade fair, but that is not ahead of the others I just mentioned in an international context. I think that the Krakow way, of organizing the Fair and the Conrad Festival at the same time, helps the standing of both events.
Does the traditional friendship between Hungarians and Poles still exists, when it comes to literature in the 21st century? How interested are Polish readers at the moment in contemporary Hungarian writing?
Yes, it absolutely does exist, and this year it's given extra momentum by the 60th anniversary of the 1956 revolution in Hungary and the Hungarian Cultural Season in Poland, which started in May and lasts till the end of 2017. Polish readers are interested in Hungarian literature, and the finest proof of this is that more and more Polish publishers are publishing Hungarian authors. The Hungarian stand at the Krakow Fair had more than 50 books published in the past few years, and we hope that number will grow by another 20 next year; we also hope that Polish publishers will start publishing newer contemporary or classic writers as well as the Hungarian writers the Polish public is already familiar with: Márai, Kertész, Spiró, Háy or Grendel.
The interview was originally published at Litera.
Translated by: Mark Baczoni