well read - The 2010 Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival

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Playing host to 80 authors from March 11-19, The 2010 Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary with some of the book world’s biggest names.

Since 1997, the literary scene in Hong Kong has been intriguing, yet moderately lively despite its reputation of being a relative ‘cultural desert’.

In 2001 writers and publishers with Hong Kong connections, such as Nury Vittachi, initiated a weekend event to cele-brate creative writing in English with an Asian connection. The event has since grown to be East Asia’s largest Eng-lish-language literary festival. The diversity of the attendees’ origins creates a celebration of creativity; the Festival fosters ideas that create dialogue on politics, sustainable business, and the cultural climate in which social beings live.

The underlying theme of this year’s event is ‘Politics and Identity’, and to many writers, politics provides the platform, while social responsibility sustains their identity and inspires their artistic creativity.

Highlights are the legendary South African writers Andre Brink and Mandla Langa, whose works have exposed the injustices of apartheid to the wider world.

Within Hong Kong itself, the city, the place shares a rich history and culture with China, yet has a unique and appar-ently ‘separate’ identity, drawing upon a synthesis of Chinese tradition and colonial British influences that forms part of this identity.

Echoing the complex and hybrid nature of identity, many of this year’s events play with blending various art forms with the literary arts: the interplay between language and music; how literature affects art and shapes culture; and how culture and politics define nationality.

Each year the Festival features established and emerging authors and includes works in translation, literary fiction and non-fiction, journalism, poetry, scriptwriting, and children’s writing. It also supports and encourages translation of Asian literature into English.

Internationally acclaimed literary icons such as Su Tong, Alexander McCall Smith, Louis de Bernieres, and Junot D?az are among the participants this year.

Past participators include winners of the world’s leading literary prizes: Man Booker, Nobel Laureate, Pulitzer, National Book Award, Whitbread, Carnegie, Kiriyama, Prix Goncourt, and the Commonwealth Writers Awards.


Virginia MacRobert

A lady of tremendous courage and determination, circumnavigator Ginni MacRobert made her dream a reality and sailed across the world for 18 months with her cat and dog, after her family matured and left home. Ginni was brought up on a cattle station in the Australian outback, which prepared her for a life of adventure. Decades later she settled in Hong Kong and raised a big family. What began as just a childhood dream finally culminated in a long sailing journey. The expedition was life-changing and far more adventurous than anyone would have expected. In his preface to Ginni’s new book, Ed Vaughan writes: ‘MacRobert [has] huge amounts of competence and honesty, two very, very rare and valuable elements required to make a successful passage as skipper of any boat.’

Jennifer Murray

Known as the death-defying, globe-circling super-grandmother, Jennifer Murray teamed up with co-pilot Colin Bodill to set a world record for a ‘continuous’ single journey around the world via two poles in 2007, all at the tender age of 67! Murray entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1997 as the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in a helicopter. Flying only entered her life at the grand age of 54, when Murray’s husband bought a half share in a helicopter and said he didn’t have time to learn so she’d better have a go. Now in her 70s, Murray promised friends and family that she wouldn’t take to the skies again, but she still runs the epic Sahara Race in Egypt. She has three children and five grandchildren.


By Virginia MacRobert

Under Virginia (Ginni) MacRobert’s captaincy, Catamaran Sailing Vessel Dai Long Wan, Henry the dog, Coco the cat, and various crew left the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club dock on October 1, 2006, and returned after 493 days on March 9, 2008, with 265 days spent on the ocean. Gin’s Tonic, her daily log, documented the life-changing journey. Illustrated with hundreds of stunning photographs, the book recounts Ginni’s real-life episodes with pirates, terrific storms, and astonishingly remote breakdowns as she undertook the sea voyage of her dreams. The book invites readers to embark on the adventure of a lifetime that is as refreshing as a gin and tonic.

Special Event
Join Virginia at the Compass Room, Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club on March 2, 7pm-10.30pm. Tickets for all events, visit www.festival.org.hk


By Rachel Kushner

Kushner’s debut novel is a lush evocation of the life of American expatriates who were driven out of Cuba during the years leading up to Castro’s 1958 revolution. Despite some who believe in a romanticised past, where the pre-Castro Cuba is a paradise, what the two child narrators witness is not pretty; poverty is everywhere and race hierarchies play out between Americans, Cubans, Haitians, and Jamaicans. One cannot but wonder if the expatriates are merely?spectators seeing things unfolding from afar, or are catalysts for the revolution.


By Christine Loh

The Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong has been a heavyweight player in shaping the former British colony, yet its presence is meant to be indiscernible. Former legislator Christine Loh sets herself the sensitive task of critically examining and unveiling the role CCP has played in Hong Kong from its birth in 1921 to the present era. Exposition of CCP’s co-optation, persuasion, and penetration is particularly revealing. Survey results about the Hong Kong public’s attitude towards the CCP are also included.


By Louis de Berni?res

Inspired by a Frenchman’s observation that Britain was the most exotic country in Europe – an immense lunatic asy-lum – de Berni?res in Notwithstanding presents portraits and vignettes of some of the unique characters that define village life and ‘Englishness’. The stories, ranging from 1965 to 1980, are based on his memories of growing up in Surrey, England. De Berni?res’ characters roam through the book, appearing in each other’s stories and painting a picture of an entire community.


By Jennifer Murray

Jennifer Murray’s extraordinary sky odyssey makes an exciting read. In 2007 Murray and co-pilot Colin Bodill set a world record for a ‘continuous’ single journey around the world via the South and North Poles over 3? years. Illu-strated with over 200 photographs, the book unfolds and invites readers to live the highs and lows of the often stre-nuous and chancy expedition. If one seeks adventure, then their story of courage, determination, bloody-mindedness, and risk cannot but appeal.


By Nury Vittachi

The Feng Shui Detective comedy-crime novel series is back, so get ready to laugh! Feng Shui master detective C. F. Wong’s worst nightmare comes true when he is assigned to fly to the 600-room Buckingham Palace to rid the Royal Family of bad luck. The work was praised as ‘extremely funny’ by the Daily Telegraph and ‘endearingly wacky’ by The Times of London. Five novels in the series have been published, and many filmmakers have bid for its screen rights.


By Su Tong

Winner of the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize, the novel is centred on a disgraced party official during the Cultural Revolution – forced to make a new life amongst the boat people resulting in revolutionary impulse – and obsessive love. A master of realism, Su Tong exposes the irrationalities of a political system that twists the human character. Described as a novel of immense charm, it is but one of his biting condemnations of the past.


By Janice Y. K. Lee

The Hong Kong-born Korean writer’s remarkable debut opens up a window into life in Hong Kong during and after the Japanese invasion of World War II. Love, betrayal, and moral ambiguities of war, culture, race, and romance during wartime and under colonialism are made vivid and alive. “[I] had always been tantalised by glimpses of the old colonial order and how it existed in uneasy proximity with local society, both high and low,” Lee said.


By Emily Perkins

In her latest work, Perkins explores the issues of love, death, madness, and abuse. Set in London, scriptwriter Tom peels back the past in order to make sense of the events leading up to the premature death of his wife Ann, a woman he has been so blindly in love with. Described as ‘sophisticated and urban, registering the nuances of class, concealment and reserve in domestic English life’, it was awarded the 2009 Montana Medal for fiction or poetry.

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