Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The second panel I attended at the Festival of Books was Window on the World. The authors on this panel were Lisa See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love), Jonathan Rabb (Rosa), Vanina Marsot (Foreign Tongue) and Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog). When I saw Lisa See would be at the FoB I was all “Oooh, Lisa See, I’m going to that panel.” Later, after I was lucky enough to win a copy of Foreign Tongue from Literate Housewife and realized who Vanina Marsot was I thought “Bonus!” Then, as I was sitting there waiting for the panel to start, I looked up Muriel Barbery and realized I had read her book just a few months before. D’oh! So I was actually familiar with 3 of the 4 authors. Apologies to Jonathan Rabb, but I have yet to come across a copy of your book.
I’m still not clear what this panel was about, but all of the authors have written books set in other cultures. The conversation rambled though, and the panelists talked quite a bit about film (a topic that goes right over my head). However, before they got off on that tangent, there was some talk about other cultures. Rabb’s book is set in Berlin between the two world wars and sounds pretty noir-ish. Marsot’s book is about an American living in Paris who is hired to translate a book. She stated she wanted to write a book that shows the non-Disneyland side of Paris. She also wanted to explore how languages are different and how literary translations are done. She brought up how some phrases have no translation – and even mentioned the same phrase (stop the cinema) that Literate Housewife talked about in her review (she also has a wonderful interview with the author that I urge you to read).
Lisa See discussed her soon to be released book Shanghai Girls. Of all the books she’s written, she said Shanghai Girls is “closest to her heart,” as it is the history she grew up with. For example, her great uncle took his family back to China for a visit. While there he arranged marriages for all of his sons, even the youngest who was 14. Some of these wives are still alive 70 years later and speak maybe 10 words of English. They’ve lived very insular lives in China City, the China Town created in LA (by the same person who thought up Olvera St.) and built with leftover props from the movie The Good Earth. She also heard stories from Hollywood growing up…she drew on all of these details while writing Shanghai Girls.
Muriel Barbery apologized in English for her English, and then answered all of her questions through a translator. What was interesting though is that the translator did not have to translate the English to Muriel…she only translated her French responses. At one point, she explained that she was heavily involved in the translation of her book, as it was translated to English and then given to her for review and input. I’m guessing that she actually has an excellent grasp of English, but is still unsure of her verbal skills. Since I was watching her face during the translations, I’m afraid I didn’t take too many notes. She did say that her first book (which incidentally, mentions the concierge from The Elegance of the Hedgehog) is currently being translated into English.
At some point after this the conversation detoured into film and I pretty much had no idea what anyone was talking about. So, this would be the end of my synopsis.
I’m still fascinated by the authors on this panel (well, except for Jonathan Rabb…sorry again) but I was a bit disappointed in the actual panel. The next panel, however, was a different story. Tune in tomorrow for what made the last panel on Saturday so exceptional.