Havana book fair 'literature feast' back after two-year hiatus

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Thousands of Cubans have been flocking to the Havana International Book Fair taking place after a two-year hiatus affected by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Among the throngs of people streaming through the historic San Carlos de la Cabana Fortress, which is hosting the long-awaited event through April 30, was 23-year-old university student Gabriela Casanas.

Toting freshly-purchased books and magazines on Cuban history, Casanas told Xinhua: "I was eagerly waiting for the book fair to begin. For Cubans, this is a very important cultural event. I will spend some time here with a group of friends."

Havana resident Mario Dominguez, a lawyer at a state company, said that in addition to being an anticipated social event, where friends and family can gather, the fair offers readers the opportunity to buy specialized books.

"There is a huge variety of books on different topics ranging from legal issues to culture and sports," he said, adding "I enjoy reading science fiction novels."

The fair features authors and book publishers largely from Latin America, with this year's 30th edition spotlighting Mexico as a guest country.

While organizers feel confident about resuming the book fair, social distancing rules are still in place, including wearing a face mask and using hand sanitizers to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.

Cuba's government gives significant weight to promoting reading among its population, according to UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini.

"Cuba confers great importance to the cultural contribution and legacy of books as tools to enrich logical and creative thinking," she said in a video message.

Under the banner "Reading is growing," the fair has scheduled seminars and talks on the challenges facing the book publishing industry in the digital era.

Cuban poet Alexis Diaz, who described the book fair as "a feast of literature", celebrated its return since the last edition was held in March 2020.

"We have been isolated for so long due to the pandemic. Writers and readers were waiting for the book fair to come back," he said. 

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