Frankfurt book fair: Atwood and Brown to star at politically charged event – The Guardian

Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown and Nicholas Sparks are among the big name authors descending on Frankfurt this week as the world’s oldest book fair glams up for the Instagram generation.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is set to formally open the fair with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Tuesday, accompanied by a who’s who of the French literary scene, as part of the country’s turn as the trade fair’s annual guest of honour.

After last year’s fair focused on ways for publishers to tap into new technologies such as virtual reality and 3D printing, organisers are going back to basics this year, putting the spotlight back on writers and their readers.

“There’s a desire to see authors, to experience them in real life,” the fair’s spokeswoman Katja Böhne told reporters ahead of the five-day event, expected to attract more than 270,000 visitors.

“The book is more alive than ever,” Böhne said, describing a growing trend of fans queueing to see their favourite author in a “pop concert-like” atmosphere.

Canadian writer Atwood, whose 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is now a successful TV show, will be among the top draws in Frankfurt where she will be presented with the German book trade’s “peace prize” for her prescient body of work.

Fairgoers are also expected to jostle for a glimpse of US romance novelist Nicholas Sparks, whose hits include The Notebook and Message in a Bottle, while historical thriller writer Ken Follett, Irish novelist Cecelia Ahern, and Paula Hawkins of The Girl on the Train fame will likewise draw readers hoping for an autograph or a selfie.

On Saturday, Brown presents his new thriller Origin – the latest instalment in the bestselling Da Vinci Code series – in front of an audience of 1,800.

“An event like this, that attracts nearly 2,000 people, we couldn’t have done that in the past,” said the fair’s director, Juergen Boos, adding that he planned to “massively expand” on the concept in the coming years.

“Our industry simply has to think about image as well. We have to make our business more glamorous,” he said.

Guest nation France will lead by example, bringing more than 180 writers to Germany, including some of the world’s best-known French-language authors.

The lineup includes serial provocateur Michel Houellebecq, enfant terrible Édouard Louis, acclaimed Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou and Moroccan-born Leïla Slimani.

Macron and Merkel’s joint appearance comes as the French leader seeks to strengthen the two countries’ partnership in his push for European reforms.

“The presence of Chancellor Merkel and President Macron at the opening of the Frankfurter Buchmesse symbolises the close relationship between Germany and France and their commitment to a strong, unified Europe,” said Boos.

This year’s fair will also be politically charged in other ways. Organisers plan to highlight concerns about freedom of expression in Turkey, where several German nationals have been detained in what Germany described as politically motivated cases that have strained ties between Ankara and Berlin.

The former editor-in-chief of Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, Can Dündar, who faces imprisonment in Turkey, will speak about writing in exile, while supporters of Germany’s jailed Die Welt correspondent Deniz Yücel will stage events calling for his release under the banner FreeDeniz.

The Frankfurt book fair is the world’s largest publishing event, bringing together more than 7,000 exhibitors from more than 100 countries.

It dates back to the middle ages, having first taken place shortly after the Gutenberg printing press was invented in nearby Mainz.

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