After a baptism of fire at my first Frankfurt Book Fair – Europe’s biggest trade fair for books – a few weeks previously, Vienna’s book fair-cum-literary festival, ‘Buch Wien’, from 8-12 November 2023, was a much cosier affair. True to Austrian form, the vibe was friendly and welcoming, with the entire book fair housed within a single hall at Vienna’s conference centre. Unlike Frankfurt, where visitors have to factor in the time needed to traverse multiple corridors and conference halls to ensure prompt attendance at events and meetings, none of the stands and stages in Vienna are more than a couple of minutes’ walk from one another.
The emphasis at Buch Wien is less on business-to-business meetings between publishers focusing on foreign rights sales, and more on showcasing contemporary Austrian literature to a receptive public and press. It was fitting, then, that within a few minutes of being there I spotted a stand with copies of The Austrian Riveter – the first English-language magazine devoted to celebrating the diverse range of talent in contemporary Austrian literature. I co-edited the publication with Rosie Goldsmith earlier in 2023, and it has been delightful to witness people’s enthusiasm for the project.
The publishers’ stands at Buch Wien were thronged with people buying books (a rare event at book fairs!), the dedicated children’s areas were full of school classes and families, and many of the events were standing room only, such was the enthusiasm of the Austrian public to attend author readings and literary discussions.
On my first day I saw Birgit Birnbacher, the 2019 winner of the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, discuss her new novel, Wovon wir leben (‘What We Live On’), in which she engages with the idea of capitalism being predicated on the largely unpaid and undervalued work undertaken by women. Other highlights included Clemens J. Setz and Arad Dabiri, who shared a stage as winners of this year’s Austrian Book Prize and Debut Prize respectively, as well as the 2023 German Book Prize winner, Austrian author Tonio Schachinger.
On Day Two I saw the Vienna-based writer, Ilse Kilic, known for her mixed-media reflections on human existence, particularly her distinctive cartoon drawings which bring a humorous and light-hearted dimension to her work. Readings from three further female authors – Irene Diwiak, Maria Hofer and, Julya Rabinowich – were followed by a panel of three male writers from Switzerland, whose novels are all on the shortlist for the 2023 Swiss Book Prize. Christian Haller, Matthias Zschokke and Demian Lienhard read from their works, in between brief discussions of their respective themes. Demian Lienhard’s novel, Mr Goebbels Jazz Band, sounds especially fascinating, exploring the history of the jazz group assembled by Goebbels as part of a radio propaganda programme for wartime broadcasts aimed at Great Britain.
My third and final day at Buch Wien featured another treasure trove of Austrian literary talent: Marlene Streeruwitz, Bettina Balàka, and Laura Freudenthaler all discussed their most recent novels in front of packed audiences, and Anna Neata introduced her extraordinary debut, Packerl (‘Burden’), a family novel focusing on three generations of women. When I read it earlier this year I was absolutely mesmerised. Gertraud Klemm stood out for the animation and verve with which she discussed her latest novel, Einzeller (‘Unicellular’), set in a feminist shared living arrangement. I can’t wait to read it.
I concluded my visit to Buch Wien with a trip to Vienna’s nearby fairground, the Prater, where literary rollercoasters are usurped by the real thing, and the red carriages of the iconic Ferris Wheel proved the ideal vantage point from which to reflect on an immensely enjoyable few days of literary discovery.
By Sheridan Marshall
Images: 1. Copies of The Austrian Riveter on display at Buch Wien, 2. Vienna’s iconic Ferris Wheel
Sheridan Marshall works as a translator from German into English, and as Editorial Consultant for New Books in German. She was Deputy Editor of The Austrian Riveter.
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