Cross-cultural connections

Updated: 2011-02-25 07:53

By Chitralekha Basu and Yang Guang (China Daily)

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Chinese authors will join fellow writers from around the world at the nation's biggest literary feast. While some will revisit old haunts, others are hoping to make the discovery of a lifetime. Chitralekha Basu and Yang Guang report.
Cross-cultural connections

The book carnival season across China starts on Saturday, with Tom Keneally of Schindler's Ark fame raising a toast to the power of the written word at the Capital Literary Festival in Beijing. For four weeks it will be raining authors, who are arriving from as far away as Reykjavik, Iceland, to take part in events across six locations - two in Beijing, one each in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chengdu and Suzhou. Here we preview some of the favorites.

Yan Lianke, China

Claim to fame: The master of satire has won the prestigious Lu Xun and Lao She awards and been translated in over 20 languages. His last novel, The Dream of Ding Village, takes a long hard look at the social ostracization of AIDS victims.

Authorspeak: Attending literary festivals does not help a writer in concrete terms. One's writing can improve by reading other writers, not necessarily interacting with them.

But then, had it not been for this exchange between writers, writing would be so much more of a lonely job. Literary festivals give writers a chance to get away from writing.

I look forward to meeting those who have read my works and who truly love literature. I would love to meet Franz Kafka at the festival, but who could make that happen?

Event: 6 pm, March 17, The Bookworm, Beijing

Bi Feiyu, China

Claim to fame: Short-listed for 2010's Man Asian Literary Prize, for his poignant study of the female mind in Three Sisters, a tale set in 1960s rural China, Bi Feiyu is also an accomplished screen writer, having collaborated with Zhang Yimou on Shanghai Triad.

Authorspeak: I like discussing literary topics with anybody. Conversations make me happy and also realize the power of literature, which is both magical and futile. Talking to people vindicates the idea that human beings are more interesting than we expect them to be.

Participating in literary festivals does not really provide anything that I might use in my writing. Normally I wouldn't put real-life experiences into writing. I enjoy making up stories and dislike confining myself merely to facts as they are.

Event: 8 pm, March 9, The Bookworm, Beijing

Peter Zilahy, Hungary

Claim to fame: Photography, new media and performance mingle with the written word in Peter Zilahy's work. The Last Window Giraffe, a memoir about growing up in Hungary, has been translated into 27 languages.

Authorspeak: I have been here before a long time ago, so I'm excited to see how much China has changed in more than a decade. I hope to find some inspiring people and revisit places of fond memories. I would also like to be surprised, just be taken in by China once again.

Lao She was always a big favorite of mine, (along) with Tao Te Ching, so I am re-reading his work before my trip. I take it slowly, believing that "a journey of 1,000 miles starts from beneath one's feet".

Event: 4 pm, March 5 and 6, The Bookworm, Beijing

Andri Magnason, Iceland

Claim to fame: His latest, Dreamland - A Self-help Manual for a Frightened Nation, worries about the environmental damage caused by industrial waste. His much-awarded children's book, The Story of the Blue Planet, was published in 18 languages and the play based on it was staged in five countries.

Authorspeak: My friend went to China and told me, if you have not been to China you haven't seen planet Earth. I am one of the very few Icelandic writers to have been translated in Chinese, so it is a great opportunity to travel and get to know this part of the world.

As a child I had a book of Chinese folklore and fairytales, which were very inspiring. Later, I read Tao Te Ching (Taoist classic by Laozi) and Confucius, which inspired my children's writing, to an extent.

I am very interested to read and hear what the young contemporary writers of China are thinking now, in this time of great change and progress.

Event: 7:30 pm, March 4, The Bookworm, Chengdu

10 am, 2 pm, March 6, The Bookworm, Beijing

10 am, March 7, The Bookworm, Beijing, for children

Leslie T. Chang, United States

Claim to fame: Chinese-American Leslie T. Chang returned to China to work for the Wall Street Journal when she stumbled on the story of the largest migration in human history - the 130-million strong contingent of laborers who leave home every year to seek a livelihood. Her findings went into Factory Girls, a much-awarded book that takes a long, hard look at China's thriving mass production industry.

Authorspeak: I am pleased and honored that readers familiar with China have connected with my book. It's one thing to attract readers for whom China is fascinating and unknown, quite another to win the attention and interest of those who are engaged professionally and personally with the country on their own terms.

I am looking forward to attending the literary festivals and meeting readers, and also to seeing old friends and eating lots of Sichuan food. And I am curious to see how people respond to our 9-month-old identical twin daughters.

I am interested in how the current generation of writers chooses to capture the country's momentous changes. China offers great material for a writer but it can also be an overwhelming place to make sense of and write about.

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