Book Fair: Guest of Honor Slovenia with “the densest density of poets”

The entire country has fewer inhabitants than Berlin and the number of authors is also manageable.

Book Fair: Guest of Honor Slovenia with “the densest density of poets”

The entire country has fewer inhabitants than Berlin and the number of authors is also manageable. Slovenia, the small country between the Alps and the Adriatic, is virtually invisible on the literary map - for now. Slovenia wants to enter the world stage as guest of honor at the 75th Frankfurt Book Fair.

The most prominent name and driving force of the guest country appearance is a philosopher: Slavoj Zizek. Poetry is particularly important in Slovenia; his country is "the country with the highest concentration of poets," says the Slovenian author, translator, editor and publisher Ales Steger, who has published a literary "Instruction Manual for Slovenia".

Simone Bühler, who is responsible for the guest of honor program at the book fair, knows that 65 German-speaking publishers have Slovenian titles in their program at the book fair. 75 authors, translators, publishers and illustrators from Slovenia want to travel to Frankfurt.

Independent since 1991

Slovenia is about the same size as Hesse and has around two million inhabitants. Formerly part of socialist Yugoslavia, the country arrived in the West after independence in 1991, is a member of the EU and NATO and pays in euros. The growing number of tourists come primarily because of nature: there are mountains and sea, karst landscapes and caves. In addition to the capital Ljubljana, the Triglav National Park is a visitor magnet. Sandwiched between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia has been shaped by various cultural influences. “Nowhere else can you find so much Europe in such a small area,” writes Ales Steger.

The motto of the guest country appearance is “Honeycombs of Words”. There are rare bees in Slovenia that only occur there, explains Miha Kovac, the curator of the guest country appearance. They are just as “simple but resilient” as the Slovenians. And they flew out into the world, collected the best from other countries and used it to make their special local honey. Like in literature.

According to Kovac, 3,500 books are published in Slovenian every year. For comparison: In Germany there are more than 50,000. Other things are also fundamentally different: According to Kovac, there are only 75 bookstores in the whole of Slovenia, 50 of which belong to a chain, but 280 are public libraries. If there is no library nearby, the “Biblio Bus” comes by once or twice a week.

To date, Slovenian authors have only been marginally represented in the German market. In preparation for the guest country appearance, around 600 books were translated from Slovenian into foreign languages ​​between 2019 and 2022, according to translator Amalija Macek - almost three times as many as usual. About a fifth of these - more than 100 - are translations into German. “Quality is more important than quantity,” says Macek.

Slovenians love poetry

The fact that Slovenian authors are so little known is due to two factors, says Katja Stergar, director of the Slovenian Book Agency: Firstly, Slovenians have a preference for poetry, which is like lead on the shelves in this country. And almost a third of the production is children's books. Translator Macek has a thesis as to how these two preferences come about: The Slovenians were under foreign rule for centuries and are rather silent people. They see literature as “a type of encrypted communication.”

The best-known name is Slavoj Zizek, the blustering philosopher-of-all-trades, who publishes a lot and is by far the most translated author in Slovenia, but not a writer in the strictest sense. He is scheduled to give the speech at the opening ceremony of the book fair on October 17th with Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “The only item on the program that cannot be planned,” says book fair spokesman Torsten Casimir.

The traditional guest of honor pavilion on the exhibition grounds will be built entirely from recycled or reusable material, as the organizers of the guest country appearance report. Each day should start with a “honey hour” and a poem. The host country also wants to bring a "poetry machine" to Frankfurt, which, when inserted, prints out poems by Slovenian authors in the original and in translation.