Saturday, June 20, 2009

World Literature Weekend

there can be fewer ways to enjoy a Saturday afternoon than in the company of some great authors and a bookshop full of readers. The London review of Books world literature weekend offered a series of events but the two I went along to showed just how different voices in literature can be but also proved how there is a story wherever you look.

First up was Chinese author Ma Jian who was talking about his work about the story of Tiananmen Square and how his book Beijing Coma is still banned in his home country. Just hearing someone talking Chinese and show a combination of passion and a slight weariness at having to talk about something that clearly gives him grief was worth turning up for.

But what made his session so compelling was the wisdom he could bring to the debate not just about China but also about Iran. A generation that was slightly too optimistic and failed to understand its own brutal history is perhaps a description that could also apply to those in Tehran.

As he left thanking people for turning up you sensed that this was a man with great humility who managed to puncture the savage brutality of a totalitarian state with his words and wisdom.

Equally as interesting was Faiza Guene who writes books about the underclass in France. Not just those from the large estates, the banlieues but the immigrants. She talked about a life where you are never accepted by the country your parents have chosen to live in but how you have no connection with the land that they came from. Left in this no man's land are the sorts of people she writes about.

Her lack of arrogance, from someone who struck it big on the literary scene when she was only 17, was great. She made the audience laugh but she also made us think and although it was a different type of oppression she was describing for her and her characters it was just as real as the world that Ma Jian describes.

Already thinking of clearing the weekend to go next year. A great way to spend a Saturday.

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