If you are ambling along downtown Beirut’s port-front, watch your toes. The area is overrun at this time of year with hundreds of shopping trolleys being whizzed around. The cases belong to Salon du Livre Francophone goers, who are heading for the heaving Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Centre (BIEL), to stock up their shelves with the best book deals.
Now in its 20th year, the book fair has become one of the largest in the francophone world – third only behind Paris and Montreal – where frenzied book sales accompany a week long programme of round-tables, author talks and youth workshops. Among the 60 exhibitors this year, Lebanese publishers are the most numerous – a sign that print media is alive and well in the country.
As well as the announcement of the prestigious Choix de l’Orient prize, this year the fair offers up one of the biggest selections of French-language books to date. Among the authors on the guest list is Najwa Bakarat, a local Beiruti and founder of the pioneering Motaraf, a permanent workshop which receives young and aspiring writers of all ages and from all Arab countries.