Saturday, May 02, 2009
The Festival of Books continued...
On Sunday, I actually had tickets for two different panels at 11:00. One was entitled Borderlines, the other About Reading. When I realized that the moderator for Borderlines was Veronique de Turenne (the same moderator I raved about in yesterday’s post), that turned out to be the deciding factor. Borderlines featured three authors I had never read, but it turns out I at least knew who they all were. And they were…
Thrity Umrigar – author of The Space Between Us (which has been on my TBR shelf for a few months) and The Weight of Heaven (this is her newest book)
Luis Alberto Urrea – author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Into the Beautiful North (which is not out yet, but his publisher arranged to have copies for sale at the Festival. And yes, I bought it. Nee-neer-nee-neer-nee-neer. Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Gina Nahai – again, from Saturday’s panel…she was a fill in for an author who had to go catch his flight.
This panel featured authors who were all born in (and write about) other countries. Thrity Umrigar was born in Bombay, India. Luis Alberto Urrea was born in Tijuana, Mexico (in a house on the way to the dog track). And Gina Nahai was born in Iran. One of the first questions they discussed was language. Thrity was educated entirely in English. Luis has lived in both Mexico and the US (his mother was American and did not speak Spanish)…he said he dreams in English until he returns to Mexico…then he dreams in Spanish. Gina spoke Farsi, then French (boarding school in Switzerland) then English (college in the US).
The focus of the panel was sense of place. On returning to Mexico, Luis stated “everytime I speak Spanish I go back.” For him, speaking Spanish brings back his families and memories.
Thrity was a journalist for 17 years before she started writing fiction. She says the move to fiction was “pure liberation.” She finishes a novel in about 6 months, and credits her journalism background with giving her a good work ethic. When they were discussing procrastination and the writer’s muse, she said she doesn't have this problem and she’s never met a plumber who said “lady, I can’t fix your pipes today because I have no muse.” On the difference between non-fiction and fiction, she said “non-fiction gives facts, well done fiction gives the truth.” Although The Space Between Us is not her latest book, she did talk a bit about it. She explained that India has a vast, cheap labor pool. Therefore, you don’t have to be rich to have servants. In fact, it is very common for the middle class to have domestic servants. She said there is a very nuanced and rich relationship between a domestic servant and the mistress of the household. She witnessed it as a child. It can be easy to caricature, but the reality is so much more complicated. Her Indian editor called it the “Indian apartheid,” and this is the theme that runs through the book. It is a class issue, not caste. She waited a long time for another Indian writer to write about this…and since no one did, she decided to.
Gina has never returned to Iran. She said it is not safe. She doesn’t remember her memories of Iran until she writes. The house from her novel Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith is actually her childhood home. She also stated that Americans, in general, are not very curious about other countries or places.
Luis wants his book to read like a translation to give more of a flavor of the culture and place. He mentioned how some readers will email him all irate that he doesn’t translate the Spanish in his books (I shudder to think what that person would think of Oscar Wao!).
This was hands down my favorite panel. Again, I credit the moderator with this. But also, these three authors were so relaxed and comfortable. It was also a smaller panel. I think there is a big difference between a panel with three authors versus one with four. I think three allows for a good conversation, and with only an hour, you are also better able to hear more from each author. I left this panel much more interested in all three authors, unlike the panels from Saturday, where there always seemed to be one or two authors that I wasn’t as interested in. I now own a book by each of these three authors…and I plan on reading them fairly soon. I’d say that makes this panel not only interesting, but successful.