Book Fair creates more zeal among writers than readers: GH Habib

G. H. Habib

Writer-translator GH Habib has made a name for himself as a translator of world literary gems. Habib, who teaches at English department of Chittagong University, with his flair for what many call cultural mediation, has translated into Bangla a series of works by writers who still presides over the world literature. Habib’s debut translation appeared in February 1988. Over the years, 25 of his works saw the light of the day, much to the delight of the Bengali readers.

Recently, he spoke with New Age about his literary works published at the Amar Ekushey Book Fair, shared his thoughts on Amar Ekushey Book Fair and more.

New Age: How many of your literary works have been published this year? How do you feel about them?

G H Habib: So far, three of my literary works have come out at the Amar Ekushey Book Fair 2022. The books are, namely, Rosa Luxemburger Jiban, Chitabagher Dhol and Shabdamuler Sandhane.

Rosa Luxemburger Jiban is the Bangla translation of Rosa Luxemburg by Wendy Forrest, which has been published by Kathaprokash. Joyotee-published Chitabagher Dhol is a translation of a West African folktale titled Lepoard’s Drum while Shabdomuler Sandhaney—published by Chandrabindu Prakashan—is a collection of etymologies of some English words translated into Bangla.

Surely, this is an occasion for joy, particularly to see Rosa Luxemburger Jibon in print, as she — despite being a very significant figure in the history of the socialist movement and having the guts to not only question both Marx and Lenin, but also to oppose the First World War when German left and nationalism all around were craving for it — is rarely talked about here. Anyway, books published earlier are also available at the book fair, and they are, among others, Nihsangatar Eksha Bachhar and Golaper Naam, which are translations of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, respectively, both published by Baatighar. Besides these, Sofir Jagat and Foundation, which are translations of Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder and Foundation by Isaac Asimov, respectively, both published by Samhati, etc.

New Age: Amar Ekushey Book Fair, usually, creates a vibe among the readers. The presence of readers and writers make the fair a lively one. What would you suggest for making the fair even livelier?

G H Habib: Interestingly, nowadays it seems to me that the book fair creates a vibe more among the writers than among the readers. The former, in fact a majority of it, very eagerly look forward to getting their books published during or a little before the book fair. And the readers, though many of them buy books online and off-line all the year round, look forward to visiting the book fair arranged by Bangla Academy in February, not only to buy books, but also to meet the writers and the editors, spend time with their own friends surrounded by books. As the writers, they look forward to bringing their books in February, that is, during the one-month-long Amar Ekushey Book Fair, as most of the publishers do not bring out books all the year round rather publish them in February. The seasonal writers, writers who eye the book fair with a kind of opportunity to proclaim themselves as authors, contact publishers willing to promote vanity publishing. And all this makes the publishing arena electric.

New Age: The Amar Ekushey Book Fair is just not a book-fair per se. It is the source of income of hundreds of people involved in publishing-business—from proof-reading to book-binding. We would like to hear your thoughts.

G H Habib: You are absolutely right. And that is why I am in favor of conducting a month-long book fair, as long as the present disarray in publication sector of ours exists. The sale in general of our native books now mainly depends on this month-long book fair and online orders, as the volumes are not adequately showcased and sold in most of the bookshops of the country. And selling the books during the book fair over the counter and through online orders ensures the return of a substantial portion of the money invested by the publishers that eludes them if sold through other bookshops, since these bookshops, fondly or erroneously called ‘libraries’ here are very much reluctant to pay the publishers back even if the books are sold.

New Age: Usually, we observe that books published for the Ekushey Book Fair do not get sold during the rest of the year. Under this circumstance, what would you suggest for making the books available to the readers throughout the year?

G H Habib: I have already written and spoken about this on different platforms. We need an all compassing reading culture to be created and an effective library system built along with direct government support for the publishing sector. National Book Center can come up with policies and programs to this effect, with state-sponsored book fairs arranged all the year round across the country. It can also remove anomalies in government’s book purchase process, ensuring patronage of good books.

New Age: Do you see any impact of Covid on the sales of books in the fair?

G H Habib: Not this year at least. So far, the book fair is a huge success in terms of sale. The loss incurred in the past year has been greatly compensated I think. The only fear is that of inclement weather that this time of the year is soon to.

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