HK's Literary Festival promises a wealth of talks and readings by top authors

The HK International Literary Festival promisesa wealth of talks and readingsby authors, writesDoretta Lau

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2012, 2:41pm

Writers from around the world will enrich our city's cultural life during the Hong Kong International Literary Festival (HKILF) from Friday to October 14. Among the luminaries are Colm Tóibín, author of six novels and two story collections; 2012 Man Booker nominee Jeet Thayil, who attended school in Hong Kong for 10 years; Izzeldin Abuelaish, a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize; and Fuchsia Dunlop, an award-winning food writer with an expertise in Chinese cuisine.

"It's a way to introduce writers to those who love reading," says festival manager Isabella Lim.

To make the HKILF more accessible to a wide range of people, this year the festival inaugurates the Schools Programme Subsidy to offer students attending local government institutions complimentary tickets to events.

The festivities kick off with a party on Thursday at the British Consulate's general reception hall, and continue with 10 days of readings, lectures and discussions that will take place in venues such as Hullett House, the Helena May, and Asia Society.

The programmes have the potential to generate a lively dialogue on local and international literature. Here are a few highlights of the 2012 festival.


Colm Tóibín The Irish writer has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist and fiction writer, winning a number of prizes for his novels, which include The Blackwater Lightship (1999) and The Master (2004). "I dislike being called a storyteller, and resent the implication that I come from a world where the oral tradition, something primitive and unformed, remained strong or intact," Tóibín writes in an essay for The Guardian. "This was not true; the oral tradition was not strong in the place where I grew up. I was brought up in a house where there was a great deal of silence."

Over the years, he has filled the silence with elegant prose. In person, Tóibín is an engaging, passionate speaker who isn't afraid to speak his mind. His latest book is a collection of essays called New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families (2012), and touches on the lives of writers such as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, John Cheever and W.B. Yeats. In Conversation with Colm Tóibín, Oct 12, 12pm-2pm, Club Lusitano; City University of Hong Kong Presents: An Evening with Colm Tóibín, Oct 12, 7pm-9pm, Wei Hing Theatre, City University of Hong Kong

Jeet Thayil

For 20 years, the Hong Kong-educated Indian writer worked as a journalist. For a stretch, he was at a newspaper that covered the exploits of the overseas Indian community. "Every time a 10-year-old in Columbus, Ohio won a spelling bee I would call him, call his family, call his teachers, spend all day on the phone and write a 1,000-word report," he says. "If that isn't the kind of thing that will cut you down to size, tell me what will."

He also wrote poetry, drank too much and used drugs. In New York, he cleaned up after 30 attempts, and focused on writing. Thayil moved back to India where he worked on his debut novel, Narcopolis, an underground history of Bombay in the 1970s and '80s. The work is on the 2012 Man Booker shortlist. Open Mic Night , Fri, 8.45pm-9.45pm, The Back Room, Delaney's Wan Chai; In Conversation With Jeet Thayil , Sat, 1.30pm-2.30pm, Kee Club; Poetry, Jazz and Martinis , Sat, 6pm-7pm, Kee Club; Writer in the Opium Den , Oct 7, 12.30pm-2.30pm, Mariners' Rest, Hullett House; An Evening with Jeet and Thad , Oct 7, 6pm-7pm, Mariners' Rest, Hullett House; PolyU 75th Anniversary: Hip Poetry in Action , Oct 8, 7.30pm-8.30pm, M1603, Li Ka Shing Tower, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Izzeldin Abuelaish

"It was as close to heaven and as far from hell as I could get that day, an isolated stretch of beach just four kilometres from the misery of Gaza City, where waves roll up on the shore as if to wash away yesterday and leave a fresh start for tomorrow," the Palestinian physician writes in the opening of his memoir I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity (2010).

He was with his eight children that day, mourning the loss of his wife of 21 years to leukemia. A few weeks later, in January 2009, Israeli forces shelled his home in Gaza, killing three of his daughters and one niece. Abuelaish, who now lives in Canada, became an advocate for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. He founded the Daughters For Life Foundation, awarding scholarships to women in the Middle East. In 2010, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In Conversation With Izzeldin Abuelaish , Sat, 3pm-4pm, Asia Society Hong Kong Centre; The Power of Words and Forgiveness , Oct 8, 8.30am-10am, Club Lusitano

Katie Hafner

The American journalist writes about technology for The New York Times, and was previously at Newsweek and Businessweek. She is the author of three books on society and the internet, but her personal interest in classical music led her to write A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano (2008).

In the prologue to the non-fiction work, she writes: "Gould's playing evoked a visceral response from people who had never thought to stop and really listen to classical music. There was something about the silence between and behind each note, the richness of the different voices, that captured the imagination and caused listeners to feel that their lives had been deepened and enhanced."

A Romance on Three Legs paints a vivid picture of the Canadian pianist and tells the story of the team of men who worked on the famous piano. Book Presentation: "A Romance on Three Legs - Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano", Oct 13, 9.15am-11am, City Hall Concert Hall; About a House and a Piano , Oct 14, 4.30pm-6pm, Kee Club

Pankaj Mishra

The Indian writer is a man of ideas, known for his ability to capture social and cultural nuances in contemporary Asian life. In addition to contributing to The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and the London Review of Books, he has written several books, including a novel, The Romantics (2000). His latest is a work of non-fiction: From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia.

In the opening of From the Ruins of Empire, he posits: "The contemporary world first began to assume its decisive shape over two days in May 1905 in the narrow waters of the Tsushima Strait. In what is now one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, a small Japanese fleet commanded by Admiral Togo Heihachiro annihilated much of the Russian navy, which had sailed half way round the world to reach the Far East." From there, he uncovers a history that allows us to better understand the current context and politics of Asian nations.

In and Out of Asia , Oct 12, 4pm-5pm, Club Lusitano; In Conversation With Pankaj Mishra , Oct 14, 12pm-2pm, Mariners' Rest, Hullett House

Fuchsia Dunlop

The award-winning English food writer and cook is known as an authority on Sichuan cuisine, but it was a trip to Hong Kong that first piqued her interest in Chinese food. In her memoir Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, she recalls her first trip to the city in 1992.

"Even the cheapest and most nondescript restaurants served stir-fries and soups more delicious than any I had tasted in England, and the sheer variety of food on offer was dazzling," she writes.

Later, she perfected her Putonghua and moved to Chengdu, where she studied at a top culinary school. She is the author of three cookbooks: Sichuan Cookery, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook and Every Grain of Rice.

PolyU 75th Anniversary: Three Chefs Abroad , Fri, 3.30pm-4.30pm, THB100, Basement Level 1, School of Hotel and Tourism Management, Polytechnic University; Hot and Sour , Sat, 12pm-2pm, Kee Club; The CityU Creative Writing Series: Food and Travel Writing , Oct 7, 1pm-2.15pm, Room M4001, Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre, City University