The third annual Bookworm International Literary Festival kicked off Saturday with a pre-festival "poetry clinic" hosted by Felix Cheong and, in the evening, first guest speaker Murong Xuecun accompanied by translator and publisher Harvey Thomlinson.
After opening remarks by Bookworm manager Peter Goff, Murong and Thomlinson were introduced: Murong is the author of several novels; Leave Me Alone, Chengdu (2006) is his first and was published online before it was ever released in print. The English-language version of the novel, translated by Thomlinson and published by his Make Do Studios was released last year.
Thomlinson facilitated the talk by posing questions to the author and interpreting between English and Chinese; after this, members of the audience were invited to ask questions. Despite a large handful of awkward moments, sound-system glitches, and Thomlinson's reluctance to speak into the microphone, making much of the event inaudible to everybody but those of us in the first few rows, the audience seemed eager to interact with the speakers.
Unfortunately much of the back-and-forth seemed to get mixed up during the interpretation process—and that's not to speak ill of Thomlinson's adeptness as a translator, but this instance that demanded both live interpretation and public speaking seemed to throw him off key—and a number of questions that audience members raised ("Do you think Chengdu women really are feisty?" and "Do you equate one woman to one man to morality?" and "Would you like to win the Nobel Prize?") seemed inappropriate, confusing, or simply uninteresting to the author, if his facial expressions and guarded answers indicated anything. That said, a number of pointed questions were raised, and regardless of whether or not the diversity in age, gender, nationality, and cultural background among audience members made for lively discourse, it revealed not only the broad appeal of the Festival and literature in general, but also a continued melting of the proverbial barriers between Chinese and foreigners in China.
Festival faux-pas: no spoiler alert
When one young man stood up to ask his question—how much of the author is in his characters—he made the mistake of announcing what happens at the end of Chengdu, Leave Me Alone. And as he recited his question for the second time, in English, the audience let out a collective groan, leading us to wonder a) how many people in attendance had actually read the novel, and b) whether people read novels just to find out what happens at the end. "Sorry, sorry," he quickly exclaimed.
If the opening night is any indication of things to come, events for this year's festival will be much more packed than in years prior, so make sure to get your tickets early. The full program of events can be found here or watch our events calendar.
If you missed Saturday evening's talk, you might be interested in reading this in-depth interview with Thomlinson.
Finally, we'll be continuing to give away pairs of tickets throughout the entire festival, so be sure to watch this space for your chance to win!