The Hong Kong International Literary Festival occurs in connection with the Man Asian Literary Prize. This is a relatively new award in the tradition of the Man Booker Prize. Since 2007 it has been given for a work of fiction by an Asian author that is either written in English or translated into English. The winner receives $30,000 US and the translator, if any, receives $5,000 US.
The Literary Festival and the Man Asian Literary Prize hosted a joint event on Wednesday night at the Kee Club in Central for the five short-listed authors and their translators. The two Japanese authors, Kenzaburo Oe and Yoko Ogawa, were unable to attend, but their translators were present, along with the other three authors: Manu Joseph and Tabish Khair from India and Bi Feiyu from China. Each author read a portion from their book and answered questions from the audience. Bi Feiyu and his translator were both present, so they read in both English and Chinese.
My job was to take tickets at the door with volunteers from the Literary Prize’s office. There were members of the press and VIPs in attendance, along with guests who had purchased tickets through the literary festival. The reading was intimate; the guests sat around low tables in the posh bar area of the Kee Club and enjoyed glasses of wine, and the authors sat in the front under atmospheric lighting. From my post in the back of the room I couldn't hear the readings very well, but the low murmuring was punctuated by moments of beauty.
There were quite a few questions for the translators about the challenge of finding a unique English voice for the authors. Someone asked Bi Feiyu whether he ever feels that there are topics he cannot write about in China. He said he writes about whatever he wants. Others asked the two Indian authors, whose books are written in English, about their motivation and inspirations. Manu Joseph was particularly engaging, and he talked about being approached as a magazine editor by parents who think their children are geniuses. This inspired him to write SERIOUS MEN about a father who develops an elaborate fiction around his “genius” ten-year-old son.
The Man Asian Literary Prize was awarded at a private dinner on Thursday night. Bi Feiyu from China took home the award for his book THREE SISTERS, a story of the three women who live through the Cultural Revolution and face a changing and developing China. His two translators, Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin shared the $5,000 prize (source: www.manasianliteraryprize.org).
The Hong Kong International Literary Festival concludes with the closing party at The Pawn in Wanchai tonight. Do stop by if you are in Hong Kong! I’ll share closing thoughts on the Festival this weekend. Look for more reviews of the books featured in the Literary Festival over the past ten days.