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International Festival of Authors Does Asia

This weekend rounds off the International Festival of Authors - the big finale is a reading tonight at the Premiere Dance Theatre from the Giller Prize nominees.

While I hope to catch those tonight, I did attend a reading last night on the strength of a recommendation from Ben McNally.

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The delightful Tash Aw read first, from his novel The Harmony Silk Factory. He reads his work beautifully (a skill some authors sadly lack), and his selected passages showcased his talent with voice and subtly evocative scenes. The second segment he read reminded me of something from Dreams of Akira Kurosawa - the mood he captured with sparse prose and dialogue held the same riveting tension Kurosawa creates in film.

Torontonian Katherine Govier (who I am predisposed to like because we share the same first name) read next. Her novel Three Views of Crystal Water tells the story of a woman who becomes a pearl diver in Japan. Aside from making me intensely curious about pearl diving, what moved me in her reading was the way she described water. I'm a scuba diver myself, and her narrator really feels her sea and its breadth and personality. It also brought to mind Scott O'Dell's The Black Pearl - there seems to be something transformative about diving deep into the ocean daily as a way of life.

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Lydia Kwa read from her novel The Walking Boy, which is set in 8th c. Tang Dynasty China. I'm not usually a fan of historical fiction, but her description of China's only female Emperor Wu Zetian set a very distinctive tone for the adventures of the titular walking boy. Kwa clearly enjoyed reading in Empress Wu's voice (written, she said, as a "feminist gone bad"), though her gentle and insightful treatment of her boy's unique situation (he's hermaphroditic) and that of the monk who takes him in is equally impressive.

The last reading was the most difficult, because the author of The Guest, Hwang Sok-Yong, doesn't speak English well, and so read a section in Korean then had portions of his book read by an actor. Sok-Yong gave an overview of the history which informs the story through a translator - a massacre during the Korean War in the Hwanghae province (which Pablo Picasso painted in "Massacre in Korea") and subsequent fighting between Christian and Communist Korean communities in the area. Unfortunately, the passages read (and read quite well) by the actor did not quite capture a cohesive portrait of the novel. Given the reputation of the author, and the glowing reviews of the book and the author-as-activist, I'm sure it's a worthwhile read, but the event didn't really give me much to go on (despite the quantity - this reading segment was the longest).

So, will I see the finale? Will I read any of the books that have been so arduously and enthusiastically promoted in the festival? Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion.


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