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Gov’t: ‘No political bias’ in Paris Book Fair list

The Moebius strip design of the Argentine pavilion at the Paris Book Fair.

Argentine culture official defends selection of writers after French media allegations

National Director of the Cultural Industries programme within the Ministry of Culture Rodolfo Hamawi yesterday said the list of writers invited to the Paris Book Fair was made “by taking into consideration the literary and editorial quality above all other matter and without political bias.”

Hamawi rejected the idea that Argentina’s representatives to the famous French exhibition — taking place in Paris from March 21 to 24 — had been selected according to their political leaning, an allegation printed by French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur in a story whose headline read “Book fair: Argentine opposition writers won’t go to Paris.”

Speaking to reporters, the official laid the blame of “this disheartening demolition operation that attempts to blow up this important cultural action” at the door of “authors who weren’t invited and whose actions disparage the invited writers; don’t tell me that authors such as Quino, Claudia Piñeiro, Juan Sasturain, Martín Kohan and Ricardo Piglia are pro-government, this idea doesn’t withstand the slightest analysis.”

“The 48-author list was agreed upon with the Paris Book Fair’s organizers,” Hamawi said, adding that the Fair’s General Commissioner Bertrand Morisset publicly endorsed the “list agreed upon between both countries and consisting of representatives of all genres, with both well known and new authors, which goes to show the extensive reach of Argentine culture.”

The original list included 30 writers, Hamawi said, but “Argentina and France agreed on extending it to 48, given the richness of our publishing environment: more than 26,000 titles were printed in 2013, of which 60 percent representing Argentine authors.”

While some complaints circulated locally around the Paris Book Fair list, the article published by Le Nouvel Observateur on Wednesday moves the debate overseas. While quoting several writers who weren’t included on the list, the prominent French weekly says: “But it is obvious that the list is favouring the government’s allies: we can find on it all the members of the ‘Open Letter,’ a group of pro-Kirchner authors. French editors are amazed by the absence of certain writers. Editions du Seuil find the absence of author Rodrigo Fresan absolutely ‘flabbergasting.’” However, Nouvel Observateur is also quoting Morisset as saying: “These are lies! There hasn’t been any kind of pressure or political choice. Moreover, this local bickering doesn’t concern us.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, invited writers show their support for the list. “This list is very varied, it’s impossible to invite everybody,” author Ana María Shúa says, while Fernanda García Lao, one of the young authors who will attend the Paris Book Fair, appraised the turmoil: “It’s interesting, this is how the majority learned that many of us even existed. Hopefully they won’t stop here and try to push their limits by reading us as well.”

The literary marathon of the Paris Book Fair takes place at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre. During four intense days, more than 1,200 publishers and 4,500 authors are expected in Paris, while the book fair’s agenda boasts 500 lectures and meetings, 45 countries and 200,000 readers. Argentina attends this year as the guest of honour and intends to impress with a 500-square-metre pavilion which is designed as a Moebius strip signifying the infinite possibilities of reading a book.

Herald staff with Télam

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