Blogging the Mauritius Book Fair

The Mauritius Book Fair, Port Louis

Today was the opening of the 10th Festival du Livres in Mauritius. This is the only book fair I know that’s always held out-of-doors: the weather is so good on this Indian Ocean island (20° S) that the festival is held in tents on the Port Louis waterfront. I’m in Port Louis on a project for a newspaper publisher, but I was able to spend some time at the fair earlier today. Here are a few bits and pieces:

  • The fair has very much of an educational bias. This is common to many developing market bookfairs, in fact the first two days of this fair are specifically targetted to preschool, primary and secondary students.

  • One of the most active and eclectic publishers I met was Osman Publishing, started by Shafick Osman, formerly Director of Editions of the Indian Ocean (EOI). (And I used to work for a publisher called Editions du Pacifique.) Said Shafick in an interview “We have, to date, nearly twenty publications. We are mostly interested in dictionaries, atlases and references books. We do textbooks and supplementary education books on a case-by-case basis.” Their first publication was a co-edition French dictionary with Collins.

  • I purchased their excellent School Atlas of Mauritius, a well-printed 56pp in full colour, with excellent thematic maps, for a mere Rp 200. Other titles available from Osman at the Fair included Dictionnaire Trilingue Illustré Créole mauricien - Français - Anglais (ISBN 978-99949-31-21-7) and Chagossians-Orphans of the World/Orphelins de la Terre, a photobook by Jameel Peerally.

  • Mauritius is going digital in its own way. PC penetration is low (around 30%), but smartphone penetration is rising quickly. (I was able to get a 1GB prepaid data-roaming micro-SIM for my iPhone in about 10 minutes, and for around 25S$.) For many Mauritians, the internet is Facebook, and Facebook on a mobile screen, as Facebook usage among internet users is higher here than in almost any country in the world.

  • Digital books have not really come to Mauritius. However commentators around the Fair believe that e-book usage is rising, particularly among affluent Mauritians. Two out of every three people I met this week were sporting their iPads, including the editor of a newspaper in Madagascar. I will miss a relevant public seminar to be held on 10th May, "L’Impact du numérique sur la culture", which will consider (among other things) the "bibliothèque illimitée" offered via e-books.

  • I did not meet, but will look out for, Shenaz Patel, novelist and translator who is responsible for the translated editions of Tintin that I purchased on my last trip (Bato Likorn So Sékré and Trézor Rakam Ti-Rouz: I’ll leave you to figure out the English or French equivalents). Translation is an important activity in itself for Patel, "a bridge, a way to promote cultural dialogue", and in the case of the Tintin translations, an effort within an ongoing development of language, in this case Créole orthography. (Kreol Morisyen is only this year officially in the syllabus of Mauritian primary schools.)

  • The book fair was opened by Mauritius’ acting President, Mrs. Monique Agnes Ohsan Bellepeau. (Which is a beau nom.)

  • In addition to the main publishers and booksellers, cultural groups were out in force, including a large booth manned by Ahmadi Muslims, a religious group who clearly believe in the power of publishing, and the China Cultural Institute, which despite the promise and scale of Chinese investment in Africa displayed only a rather ancient stock of children’s books, a few political titles (Mao Zedong: Man, Not God), and, for some reason, stacks of recent copies of China Vogue.

A fascinating fair in all… I wish I had time to explore further…