I recently finished the novel The File on H by Albanian writer Ismail Kadare, which I thoroughly enjoyed for its deadpan absurdity. Kadare won the Man Booker International Prize in 2005, which is given to a writer for a body of work rather than a single book. The File on H sends up the paranoia of a Communist country with a surveillance culture.
The monument called Borobudur, built between the 8th and 9th centuries, sits in the middle of the Kedu Plain in Central Java, Indonesia, flanked by the limestone cliffs of the Menoreh Hills and three volcanoes. It seems to have been designed as an enhancement of a natural elevation in the plain—a manmade mountain of stone blocks rising out of a flat expanse.
Recently I was struck by the similarities underlying dystopic visions found in a novel first published in 1953, and another released this year. In both Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, the future America is an illiterate country. Americans are not only illiterate in both of these bleak futures, but they are illiterate (unwittingly or not, it’s difficult to say) as a result of their own design.
My seventh and final panel for the day at Brooklyn Book Festival 2010. And guess where I’m at—the international stage. I’ve spent so much time here they should name it after me. Subjects covered up to this point in the day: oppressed writers, food, foreign destinations, translations, war correspondents, war in fiction, and now, border crossings.
I am fascinated by the intersection where war and the novel collide, which is why I found myself, for lack of a better word, positively giddy at the prospect of attending yet another back-to-back discussion on the topic. At PEN American Center’s World Voices Festival of International Literature this summer, I attended two panels of similar ilk: at that event, authors in one panel discussed writing fiction centered on violent conflict.
By the time this panel comes to life I’m on my fourth session in a row at the same international stage. I’m beginning to wonder what else is going on at Brooklyn Book Festival 2010 that I might be missing. A glance at the schedule: somewhere Paul Auster is yukking it up with the harebrained poet John Ashbery, Roseanne Cash holds court a couple hundred feet to my right, and nine other events are scattered here and there. The rain has paused, for the moment, and there’s no place I’d rather be.
From food talk to foreign lands. Still camped out at the international stage, I was taken from the dinner table to, well, appropriately, Hungary, followed by El Salvador and then China. A twist to this panel: all three authors are American (but they all retain personal connections to the destinations in their novels). The lineup: Andrew Ervin (who took us to Hungary), Sandra Rodriguez Barron (pilot to El Salvador) and Lan Samantha Chang (a trip to imaginary China).
While the PEN Freedom to Write panel was motivating, the ladies headlining the Food, Metaphor, & Memory panel were stimulating for another reason. There’s nothing like a food discussion to rouse various senses, both physical and emotional.