27 Jun 2023

Cultures condensed in a warehouse

A book fair is a hub for like-minded people, by Alex Banciu

I identify as a reader. I read books, articles, comics, you name it. And, as a reader, I’m drawn to a book fair like bees to honey. My trip to Bookfest, the largest book fair in Romania, makes total sense. I remember how I used to go to book fairs in high school. I didn’t have the same knowledge or cultural repertoire that I have now, but I still went for the books. I looked around, checked the covers and titles of the books, and looked at the publisher. I preferred some publishers over others, it had to do with their type of books. However, this time when I was at Bookfest, the whole experience was drastically different. I grew up in Romania, but I came to the Netherlands to study. I am now based in the Netherlands, and I’m part of the CELA team, helping in communications. Moving on, this is the moment I have to expand on the story, so I will do my best to condense all the cultural offerings at the bookfair into a short text.

I’m leaving the hotel to go to the bus station. The same bus that takes me to the airport also stops at the venue, highly convenient. The city is getting heated, probably because of all the cars and the emission gases; the greenhouse effect at its finest. At least the bus has a/c. I reach the venue but there is still some walking distance to the fair. It all takes place in this giant warehouse, and as soon as I enter, I am overwhelmed by the number of book stalls, the buzzing of the people. Mostly, I get overwhelmed by all the knowledge contained in those books. I would need several lives to be able to read all those books. I walk across the venue, trying to find something that speaks to me. It doesn’t take long and I reach one of my favourite publishers. I buy several titles without hesitation. How often will I come back to Romania? This is my chance to snatch some good texts and bring them back with me to the Netherlands. Left to my own devices, I would stroll around the fair and have an inner monologue about the reading experience. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone there. It wasn’t about the books, as it was more about the people; translators, in particular.

The translators visiting the fair happened to be amazing people, too. Why wouldn’t they be? I was listening to their captivating discussions. The topics range from how do you find platforms to publish your translated texts, to how to pitch a book to a publisher and close the deal. I realised that their practice, translating, is but a part of their work. They have to be their own agents as well. And they have to know how to pitch, and sometimes, scout writers to translate. They’re putting in a lot of effort. However, that still doesn’t guarantee a liveable job. Many of them are involved in different projects at once. I think society underestimates translators. They are the ones that create bridges between various cultures and languages that could not be more different from one another. There’s almost something romantic about a translator, as this pioneer; creating connections where there were none before. The seriousness of the discussions is interrupted by some light jokes. All the restaurants we ate at had fantastic food.

We had one full day of rehearsals, performances and panel talks. The translators were representatives of different languages, including Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Czech. It’s hard to express what it feels to be in the same place with people who have casual conversations in two or three languages. It feels almost surreal, and it certainly confuses your brain, but at the same time it all feels alright. It all makes sense. I think this shows what a European identity looks like: a plurality of languages and cultures. Fact which makes translators all the more valuable. Right? Actually, being a translator guarantees a stable job as does being an artist (a bit harsh). They always have to be on the lookout, and it was quite interesting to see how they would pitch themselves to a publisher. The pitching event was a revealing moment because I could see how hard it is to convince a publisher to hire you for translating a text. Publishing houses in general want to have something that would be appealing to the public and it would sell in bookstores. How do you combine your creative energy with the wishes of the market? I haven’t got the answer for that.

Alas, the day for departure has come. Time to leave Bucharest behind and head North-West. It was a short visit, but truly enriching. I leave feeling gratitude. I was given this opportunity, and I learned quite a lot from it. I met plenty of people too, my network is expanding, and so is my knowledge. When you’re surrounded by great books and people, you just have the epiphany that the world has so much more to offer, and the journey never stops.

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