Kuala Lumpur Strives For The ‘World Book Capital 2020’

by Uwe Fischer //

Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur has applied to become the UNESCO World Book Capital in 2020. At the Frankfurter Buchmesse, the Malaysia Pavilion introduced the campaign ‘KL BACA – A Reading City’.

“One of the reasons we were bidding this time is to enhance our own National agenda ‘Vision 2020′”, says Abdul Wahab Ibrahim of the National Book Council MBKM. Malaysia’s ‘Vision 2020’ was set in 1991 by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and has the goal to become a self-sufficient industrial, developed nation.

According to Abdul Wahab, the Malaysian delegation with more than 30 exhibitors is very satisfied with the business enquiries so far. “In terms of rights trading, this year surprisingly we have a lot of activity. A lot of interest is shown in educational books. Most enquiries are about teaching methods and new technologies like apps.”

Although in Malaysia English is widely spread and  its use allowed for some official purposes, Malaysia is spending much effort to further establish Bahasa Melayu as an expression of Malaysian unity. This aim is supported by an official ‘National language celebration month’ in Malaysia that is held every October.  Abd. Wahab Ibrahimdescribes it as an effort “to uplift the National language to become an international language. During the festivities, people would recite poetry and pantuns. A ‘pantun’ is a kind of Malaysian poetry with two or four rhyming expressions. The unique structure is that one line makes no sense while the rhyming line carries the actual message.” During the fair, Prof. Dr. Arndt Graf, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the Goethe-University Frankfurt together with research assistant Alexandra Samokhvalova, recited some examples of this very typical Malaysian literature.

In accordance with Malaysia’s effort to promote its language – but nevertheless unfortunately for foreigners -, most of the visuals shown and speeches held at the fair were in Malay, too. Thus, the presentations hardly attracted any visitors other than members of the Malaysian community. Explaining presentations in English including translations of the readings would surely have had a greater effect.

The Book Fair will be open until Sunday, 15 October.

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