BY SARA PARETSKY
I went to the Frankfurt book fair this year. It's the oldest book fair in the world, goes back to around 1200, when books were written by hand, and now it's the biggest scrum on the planet. Living in Chicago, I'm used to McCormick Place, but the Buchmesse buildings could swallow McCormick Place and come back for seconds.
There are 400,000 books on display at the fair, ranging from Ich Nicht to A History of Heat Transfer, and they cheered me up and depressed me at the same time--depressed me because when you see so much in print, you think, why bother adding to the heap? What is your little ant-like voice trying to accomplish, anyway. But they cheered me because they gave me the illusion that the book is a robust "delivery vehicle" for stories and ideas, despite people getting Jane Austen on their Blackberries.
I met book wholesalers from around the world, and they, too, are in love with the word on the page. I learned that in India and South Africa, English continues to be an important language of literature, but that in Lebanon, it's French. Lebanon has its own big book fair every fall; it takes place just about now, and the French writers who come are crucial for the fair's success. Two weeks ago the French government withdrew all French writers from the fair. They think it is all too likely that the U.S. will start bombing Iran at any moment and if that's the case, no one in the Middle East will be safe.
The Lebanese wholesaler was distraught. She has already lost a grandmother and a brother in the bombings of the last decades, from Israel, from Hamas, from Syria. "You don't know what it's like, to be lying in a cellar, not knowing where your family is, not knowing if you'll have a home to return to when the bombs stop falling," she said, and she's right. "You don't know what it feels like, the uncertainty, not knowing if each day you can live your life, or if the planes and the bombs will come again."
She challenged me to find a way to stop the madness, stop my country from dropping more bombs, this time on Iran. I wish I could. I've called the White House and sent my e-mails to Senators and to Dick Cheney. Tell me what else I can do to stop them.
By the way, Ich Nicht is the memoir of the Fest family, who own Frankfurt's main newspaper. They stood up to the Nazi regime for twelve years. The book details all the meannesses they suffered as a result, including loss of the newspaper, and the stress on the family for opposing Hitler, but it also shows how one person can stay moral in the midst of insanity. No one in America wants to publish it.
Chicago November 2007