What stories are Filipinos going to tell at the Frankfurt Book Fair?

Published October 16, 2021, 8:30 PM

by Carol RH Malasig

After moving online last year, the Olympics of the publishing world returns, bringing in thousands of publishers and authors to Frankfurt from Oct. 20 to 24. It’s going to be the Philippines’ sixth consecutive year of participation.

BLIBLIOPHILES DREAM Frankfurt book fair 2017 (AFP)

I’ve long been jealous of publishing industries in Europe and the US. How stories coming from the West are often so easily embraced by readers across the globe. After all, stories have a way of lifting up a country’s image and make for a great cultural diplomacy vehicle. One need not follow #BookTok to know that there’s a huge population of readers among Millennials and Gen Z. How long will it take for Filipino stories to make it into the mainstream? Not too long now, I hope.

Back when we were living in Berlin, it was hard not to notice the number of expos Germany hosted in a year, pre-pandemic. From the world’s biggest travel fair (ITB Berlin), the most popular food fair (Anuga Köln), and even the Olympics of the publishing world—the Frankfurter Buchmesse (Frankfurt Book Fair). Such events brought the country a lot of tourism and revenue with the book fair garnering a great reputation for launching books and authors into international bestseller stardom. After moving online last year, the world’s largest and oldest book fair is coming back to the physical world and bringing in thousands of publishers and authors to Frankfurt from Oct. 20 to 24.

And it’s going to be the Philippines’ sixth consecutive year of participation.

The right time for climate fiction

National Book Development Board executive director Charisse Tugade is confident that this year’s stories from the Philippines will do well at the fair. “We have our own story to tell,” she said, as an assurance that our stories need not change too much to be widely accepted. “We look at global themes but our stories are different. They just need a platform.”

This year, a story tackling the effects of climate change is headlining the Philippines’ book delegation. Remains by Daryll Delgado brings the reader to Tacloban, right after it was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). The book features spliced recollections of the book’s narrator, Ann, following the destruction and death of about 10,000 people.

A common criticism thrown at Filipino literature is that it’s completely unrelatable to non-Filipinos. That, however, has changed in the last few years, especially with the emergence of climate fiction as a genre. The effects of climate change, which used to be felt by only a handful of less-developed nations, are starting to creep up on the rest of the world. In July, Germany experienced its worst flooding in 100 years. Scenes that looked reminiscent of supertyphoons in the tropics showed houses in the Rhine region being swept away by raging floods. Just last month, Hurricane Ida submerged huge parts of New York in floodwater, even halting operations of their subway.

The NBDB says due to the demand for international titles, only one in every 24 books sold in our local bookstores is written by a Filipino author. Not that we’re short of good writers as we have some of the best storytellers.

While expected, it still caught developed countries and their citizens by surprise. Discussions and worries over climate change are finally getting louder. With the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) happening in Glasgow just a few days after the book fair, stories tackling its effects from hard-hit countries like the Philippines are expected to gain more attention.

Sigwa, a climate fiction anthology from the Philippines will feature 17 stories from the genre. Meanwhile, the Philippines is also making history with the first non-fungible token (NFT) drop at the book fair with a graphic story by fictionist Yvette Tan and design studio Team Manila who also conceptualized the Philippine booth for the fair. The NFT will tell the story of a creature from our own mythology—the bakunawa. Following the success of Trese on Netflix, there’s also a lot of excitement over the graphic novels Komiket is bringing to the fair.

Increasing our cultural footprint

The last time the Frankfurter Buchmesse had a Southeast Asian country as the guest of honor was in 2015. The Philippines is gunning for the spot in 2025, which would make Filipino publishing the highlight of the fair and giving the country a chance to showcase different facets of its heritage.

Culture advocate Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda is leading the charge, admitting to be quite unrelenting in the talks to secure the spot for the Philippines. “One has to be relentless in the pursuit of passion,” she said about her discussions with the book fair’s president, Jürgen Boos.

But before the world gets to appreciate our stories, the love must first come from Filipinos themselves. The NBDB says due to the demand for international titles, only one in every 24 books sold in our local bookstores is written by a Filipino author.

Not that we’re short of good writers as we have some of the best storytellers. This has been proven time and time again. In the past few years, I’ve personally enjoyed Miguel Syjuco’s Illustrado, AA Patawaran’s Manila Was a Long Time Ago and Hai[Na]Ku, and most recently, cozy mystery Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala. Yes, I too, am guilty of picking up more foreign authors during trips to bookstores. But it’s never too late to change that. Let’s create a demand for our authors. The world will follow once they see how much we enjoy our own stories.

 
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