Last weekend I spent three days in Shanghai for the International Literary Festival where I had the opportunity to listen to a group of fascinating writers. Michael Dunne (pictured below) discussed his book American Wheels, Chinese Roads about the rise of General Motors in China. Surprisingly, Buick is the most popular model in China because it has become a status symbol. This is a story about what it's like to do business in China as companies around the world try to tap this massive market of newly affluent consumers. It is vital to have local partners when doing business in China, and Dunne described some of the advantages and pitfalls of such arrangements. Dunne was an engaging speaker and his audience of journalists and Western businessmen found his talk particularly relevant to their work.
The next speaker was Maria Tumarkin, author of a Otherland, a memoir of returning to Russia and the Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union. Tumarkin had moved to Australia with her family as a teenager just months before the demise of the Soviet Union, and in her travel memoir she returns with a teenage daughter of her own. Tumarkin was extremely sharp, and her talk revealed that her work is full of dense, profound ideas in addition to descriptions of a drastically changed homeland. She spoke about some of the issues she encountered in going back and trying to connect with her adolescent daughter over her history. She also spoke about her desire to humanize the region through storytelling and transcend the specifics of her own story. As someone who had moved away from home and also found a new home, she struggled with dual identities, guilt, and the difficulty of returning to old friendships with the prospect of a book on her mind. I bought Otherland on my Kindle, so I'll write more about this struggle when I finish reading the book.
Later I'll write about Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy, and Siddartha Deb, author The Beautiful and the Damned.