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WRITERS' NOTES

Bologna: A City Blooming with Books

  • onNovember 14, 2014
  • Vol.16 Summer 2012
  • byKim Nam-joong

Last winter felt particularly long. There were no blossoming flowers well into March, and April brought a heavy snowfall. Perhaps because of the long winter, I found the spring flowers in Bologna all the more lovely.

Seven years ago when I attended the Bologna Children's Book Fair for the first time, I hadn’t imagined that I would ever come back. The brick buildings that looked even more faded in the early spring, the cool shadowy area in the seemingly neverending corridors of the city, and the scenery that was plain compared to the other cities in Italy—all these did not leave me with a special impression because I admit that as a visitor at that time, I was more keenly interested in wine than books.

Perhaps that was the reason why all things in Bologna looked new when I went there for the second time to attend a children’s literary event organized by LTI Korea. Although I was told by an insider that each year there’s a steady decrease in the number of participants at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the event still looked to me quite impressive in scale and capacity. Amidst it all, children’s books from Korea were quietly becoming more prominent.

In 2009, Korea was invited as the main guest country at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, at which a number of Korean artists had been the recipients of the Bologna Ragazzi Award. This year once again the Korean artist Lee Hyeon-ju was a winner of the Ragazzi Award, the Opera Prima, for Grimmie’s White Canvas, which is given to an artist for their very first published work.

On the second day in the main event hall, critic Kim Ji-eun, children’s book illustrator Kim Dong-sung, and I did a presentation on Korean children’s literature. The theme was “Mirror, Reflecting Children.” The lecture and the reading, which took place at La Sapienza University in Rome before and after the book fair, were also favorably received.

After all the events were over, I took a leisurely tour of the book fair. Encountering Korean literature amidst so many different publishing company booths, promotional banners, posters, and piles of books in numerous languages was certainly different from coming across a commercial billboard of a Korean product in a foreign city.

Rather, it was similar to viewing a fledgling departing its nest for the first time. In order to attract international readers, the children’s literature of Korea is spreading its wings. One hopes that beginning with children’s illustrated books, this will extend to children’s tales, and books for teenagers will cross the oceans and find a greater readership.

The event hall, which was filled with bestselling books from each country, might be a paradise for readers, yet it was also a vicious competitive arena of business. The walls by the entrance of the event hall were covered with business cards of up and coming illustrators, the seeds for the book fair’s future stars.

People cheerfully showed the books they brought and looked for works they would like to take back. Walking around slowly, I felt as though I was in a big garden blooming with books in a city called Bologna. Those who are like butterflies and bees, which move diligently in search of flowers, will acquire the flower pollen and honey to bring back to their home countries to build their own gardens.

Books are like that. They are a commercial product, but also a potential seed that will grow into a new world, especially books for children. As writers, artists, and publishers make great efforts, children will be able to grow up reading special, worthwhile books.

Books in diverse languages are like little stars that contain a unique world. This is what I thought as I walked through the galaxy of books. Yet of all the books available, an individual can read only a small number in a lifetime. When else can one feel so acutely that life is but a moment?

The longing for what we cannot possess is always fatally beautiful, like the eye of a boy gazing at a star, or a girl’s heartbeat while she stands in a field of flowers in the spring. I felt this upon seeing all the books from different countries, which would take more than a lifetime to read.

As I was leaving the book fair’s event hall, it suddenly occurred to me that Bologna was growing on me.

Bologna is a city where spring arrives twice, the spring of flowers and the spring of books. That is what I learned at the 49th Children’s Book Fair in Bologna.

 

by Kim Nam-joong

 

* Kim Nam-joong is a writer of children’s stories. In 2004, Kim won the Munhakdongne Children’s Literature Award with Come on, Bear! and won the Changbi’s Good Children’s Book Award. His collection of stories, Pride, won the 2006 Arts Award. Kim also wrote Dream of the OxenSave the Small BearThe Divine Bicycle Tour, and Small-minded Daddy (2011).