Some 164 authors from 47 countries in 185 events: Berlin’s International Literature Festival (ILB, Sep 4-15) is the cacophonous antidote to reading alone in your room. We combed through the intimidating programme of the 13th edition – here are our picks.
Fiction gets freaky
Achtung! The ILB’s focus is definitely international, but don’t go forgetting your local grounding – Berlin is still in Germany, and the actual lingua franca of this city often features into the events. Expect German or dual language readings featuring local actors alongside the author – and some translation during discussions.
Blurred lines and innovations in form provide plentiful fodder for the experimentally minded. Cases in point include Columbia professor, Jonathan Franzen baiter and soon-to-be American Academy fellow Ben Marcus’ tinkerings with the mechanics of communication in the aptly titled “Ben Marcus Leads us into the Depths of Existence and Language” – a preview of his forthcoming short story collection, Leaving the Sea (Sep 7, 9pm – English/ German).
Also worth a look are Indian poet/novelist Jeet Thayil’s hypnotic meanderings around the backstreets of a heroin-riddled Bombay in “Tales from Rashid’s Opium Den” (Sep 14, 9pm – English/German), Booker-longlisted Mohsin Hamid’s masterclass in voice (Sep 11, 7:30pm – English/German) and the literary ghost tour that is Spanish author Enrique Vila Matas’ Dublinesque (Sep 13, 9pm – Spanish/ German).
More than words
Video games get their own spotlight in a German-language-only series marked Computer Games: Literature of the Future? (Sep 8, from 11am).
The very same day, graphic novels get the once-over with an array of talent. Atak, Flix, Kati Rickenbach, Brecht Vandenbroucke and Ville Tietäväinen (Sep 8, 11am-10pm – English only) are among the line-up – the latter being proof that a Finnish-language-only approach to releases doesn’t stop you from becoming a global success.
An exhibition and manifesto launch, Comics of Berlin, Pictures of a City (Sep 3, opening 8pm) runs alongside the festival, with snapshots of Berlin adding a welcome dose of local context.
Cultures of copulation
From the personal to the revolutionary, women’s experiences of sex have come a long way in literature. The eternal act moves out of the bedroom with three very different cultures of copulation thanks to Booker prize winner Anne Enright’s examination of relationships following the collapse of the Irish economy (Sep 7, 7:30pm –English/German), writer, academic and former mistress Katherine Angel’s confessional Unmastered (Sep 11, 6pm – English/German) and former Al Jazeera anchor Shereen El Feki’s provocative findings on women and sex in the Arab world (Sep 13, 9pm – English with some German translation).
Identity beyond borders
Writers from across the world are more intent than ever to expose the complex relationship between geography and identity. For the Congolese author and critic Alain Mabanckou (Sep 5, 7pm, Bookstore Zadig – in English), a bar counter becomes a world stage; for Cuban translator/novelist José Manuel Prieto (Sep 12, 9pm – English/German), an American taxi is the setting for a history lesson on the Cuban Revolution and for the Bosnian-American National Book Award finalist Aleksandar Hemon (Sep 11, 9pm – English/German), a memoir is a simultaneous love letter to Sarajevo and Chicago.
The standout is the model-photographer- literary sensation Taiye Selasi – whose expanded treatise on Afropolitanism (and ILB opening speech) “African Literature Doesn’t Exist” (Sep 4, 6pm – in English with simultaneous German translation) provides a revised meaning to the well-worn pun “all the world’s a page”.
Former Pakistani militant turned journalist Ahmed Rashid explores the fraught and complicated political situation in Afghanistan (Sep 5, 7:30pm – English/German) and Pakistan (Sep 6, 7:30pm – English/German).
Closer to home, good old Berlin makes an appearance in the past and future. A special night for Ernst Haffner’s forgotten 1930s novel Blutsbrüder, recovered from decades of obscurity following its committal to the Bebelplatz flames, promises to be a festival highlight (Sep 6, 6pm – German) and a host of new expat voices step up to the plate courtesy of local journal SAND and their eighth issue launch (Sep 11, 8pm, King Kong Klub – English).
The old masters…
If all of this sounds like frighteningly unfamiliar terrain, fear not. The dynamic duo of lit superstar Salman Rushdie and the usually reclusive Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee are on hand to add a dose of old-guard gravitas to proceedings, with each headliner commanding two talks apiece that are sure to be sold out. Rushdie explores his fiction from Midnight’s Children to the Mistress of Florence (Sep 14, 6pm – English/German) and his latest memoir, Joseph Anton (Sep 15, 11:30am – English/German).
For Coetzee fans, the writer will read (but won’t be answering questions) from The Childhood of Jesus (Sep 9, 7:30pm – English/German) and discuss his correspondence with Paul Auster (Sep 10, 9pm – English/German).
Events, unless otherwise stated, take place at the Festspiel Haus (Schaperstr. 24, Wilmersdorf, U-Bhf Uhlandstr.). Tickets to individual events range from €4-16, opening night tickets cost €12 and a pass for the entire festival is €80.
Originally published in Issue #119, September 2013.