Abu Dhabi book fair cel­e­brates Poland’s his­toric links with the re­gion

Cap­i­tal’s lit­er­a­ture fes­ti­val also presents dance, cook­ing and all things Pol­ish. Melissa Gron­lund re­ports

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE -

Not many peo­ple know, but the first writ­ten men­tion of Poland – its cities of Krakow and Gniezno – was in Ara­bic.

“An Arab mer­chant from Cor­doba, back in the be­gin­ning of the 10th cen­tury, went on a jour­ney to the Slav coun­tries,” says Jakub Slawek, deputy head of mis­sion for the Em­bassy of the Repub­lic of Poland, him­self a flu­ent Arab speaker.

“Those cou­ple of sen­tences are the first de­scrip­tion of our towns, of our eat­ing habits, of our mil­i­tary, of our so­cial cus­toms, and they were writ­ten in Ara­bic.”

Poland, which cel­e­brates the 100th an­niver­sary of its in­de­pen­dence, is the guest of hon­our at the 2018 Abu Dhabi In­ter­na­tional Book Fair, pre­sented by the Depart­ment of Cul­ture and Tourism.

Pol­ish au­thors, trans­la­tors and pub­lish­ers – as well as chefs and dancers – will par­tic­i­pate in events through­out the week of the fair.

The book fair en­com­passes 1,350 ex­hibitors from more than 60 coun­tries, and has es­tab­lished it­self as a ma­jor site for pub­lish­ers and au­thors, who take part in the sem­i­nars, lec­tures and net­work­ing events.

Abu Dhabi’s fair is unique in the pro­vi­sions it makes for chil­dren. The cook­ing sec­tion of the fair fea­tures chefs from a wide range of coun­tries, such as Poland, Swe­den, Morocco, and In­dia, and it of­fers chil­dren’s cook­ing classes in the morn­ing. In the “Sea of Tales” pro­gramme, there are pup­pet shows, Emi­rati and Pol­ish folk story read­ings, and even work­shops on tra­di­tional Pol­ish danc­ing.

The Poland-UAE part­ner­ship of­fers po­ten­tial for dis­cov­ery for both na­tions. Slawek notes that Poland re­cently had been more fo­cused on Mid­dle East coun­tries such as Al­ge­ria, Tu­nisia, and Syria, with which they had stronger links dur­ing the 20th cen­tury, when they were all under com­mu­nist gov­ern­ments. “That was based on a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion, whether we liked it or not,” Slawek says. “Af­ter 1989, we started to re­dis­cover the Gulf.”

“I think that our Emi­rati friends would be amazed to dis­cover how much is be­ing done in Arab and Is­lamic stud­ies in Poland,” he says. “There are three uni­ver­si­ties that of­fer not only Ara­bic-lan­guage cour­ses, but Arab and Is­lamic cour­ses at MA and PhD level.”

For the UAE’s side, the Abu Dhabi Book Fair is part of the com­mit­ment to cul­ture and learn­ing as cen­tre­pieces of the coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment that was em­bod­ied by Sheikh Zayed – who is hon­oured this year as Per­son­al­ity of the Year. It is the Year of Zayed in the UAE, which com­mem­o­rates an­other cen­te­nary: that of its Found­ing Fa­ther’s birth.

The book fair has a strong pres­ence of Ara­bic-lan­guage lit­er­a­ture, from Emi­rati au­thors and pub­lish­ers, Ara­bic fig­ures who are based in the re­gion and those trav­el­ling to Abu Dhabi from the re­gion. Through the Kal­ima Trans­la­tion Project, it also helps make for­eign lit­er­a­ture ac­ces­si­ble to Ara­bic read­ers; this year the Kal­ima project presents 25 new books of lit­er­a­ture, trans­lated from French, English and Ger­man. And as Saif Ghobash, di­rec­tor gen­eral of DCT, men­tioned in his writ­ten re­marks, it has been in­stru­men­tal in cre­at­ing a pub­lish­ing in­dus­try in the coun­try. Abu Dhabi In­ter­na­tional Book Fair takes place from April 25 to May 1 at the Abu Dhabi Na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre. The fair opens on April 25 at 11am, and will be open to the pub­lic from 9am to 10pm daily, ex­cept on Fri­day, when the tim­ings will be 4pm to 10pm

Saif Ghobash, di­rec­tor gen­eral of Abu Dhabi Depart­ment of Tourism and Cul­ture, with Robert Rostek, Poland’s am­bas­sador, at an Abu Dhabi In­ter­na­tional Book Fair press con­fer­ence

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