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A Yi x Stina Jackson: Noir, Suspense and Setting the Scene


At 11:00 a.m. on November 21, 2020, at the 5th China-EU International Literary Festival, Swedish writer Stina Jackson and Chinese writer A Yi started a dialogue on the theme of “Noir, Suspense and Setting the Scene”. Zhang Weina, the curator and co-founder of Mengbian Culture and the former director of one-way space salon was the host of the event.


The Swedish writer Stina Jackson was born in 1983. More than a decade ago, she moved to Denver, Colorado, where she wrote her first work, The Silver Road. The book was awarded the Best Crime Novel of the year by the Swedish Crime Academy in 2018, it also won the Glass Key for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel and the Book of the Year Award in 2019. Jackson’s second novel, The Last Snow, was published in Sweden in 2020 and has also been nominated for the prestigious Book of the Year Award. Jackson’s authorship has been described as “the Edward Hopper of the Northern Swedish hinterlands. The iconic American 20th century artist and the 21st century author both share an eye for the dreamlike and disquieting beauty of solitude and melancholy.” Both of her novels have been translated into a multitude of languages.


A Yi (real name Ai Guozhu) is a Chinese author born in 1976 in Ruichang in Jiangxi province. After spending five years as a police officer he quit to become the editor-in-chief of the bi-monthly literary magazine Chutzpah, and later became an editor of the Iron Gourd literary-fiction imprint. He has written several collections of short stories, such as Grey Stories and The Bird Saw Me, and he was nominated for the People’s Literature Short Stories prestigious award for Top Twenty Literary Giants of the Future in 2010. A Perfect Crime was published in China in 2011, and in English translation in 2015. It is described as “a thrilling and stylish novel about a motiveless murder that echoes Kafka’s absurdism, Camus’ nihilism and Dostoyevsky’s depravity.” His books have been translated into English, French, Swedish, Italian, Spanish, Turkish and many other languages.


The theme of this dialogue is ” Noir, Suspense and Setting the Scene “. At the beginning of the event, Stina read her work The Silver Road to readers, and A Yi read The Bird Saw Me to readers. A Yi said that he liked The Silver Road very much, and said it’s clear and clean like Camus. Stina has a clear picture of the shape, smell, color, and how it feels to her.


This dialogue is closely related to the theme “Recovery / Reflection” of the Fifth China-EU International Literary Festival. The host asked the two writers questions about the impact of the epidemic and confinement on their creation. Stina says she’s used to writing alone, and from this point of view, life hasn’t been much affected. However, due to the impact of the epidemic, she was unable to attend the new book conference originally held in Sweden and could not meet with readers, which had a great impact on her. A Yi said that in the first two or three years before the outbreak of the epidemic, he had completed a long article and did not know what to write next. But during the outbreak, he read Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”, which prompted him to start his next work.


Both of them talked about the development of crime themed works in their respective countries. Stina says crime is very popular in Swedish literature. A Yi thinks that the rural narrative has reached its peak, and the novel can’t keep pace with the stories in the countryside. Therefore, some writers will turn to non-fiction writing, or link writing to film. When talking about the works about crime, he mentioned Cai Jun, a famous suspense writer, and thought that some pure literary writers would turn to suspense or crime.


In addition, the two writers also talked about the relationship between writing and hometown. Stina said she was only 22 when she left Sweden for the United States. At that time, she only wanted to experience a new world, and could not deeply understand her hometown. But as time went on, she became more and more aware of what her hometown meant to her. Therefore, her works also established a connection with her hometown, and it is only when she leaves her hometown that she can have a new perspective to understand it. In this regard, A Yi agreed that it would be difficult to write about his hometown if he has not left his hometown.


The event also involved the discussion of the setting of novel scene. It is very interesting for Stina to describe the feelings of human nature, and she is also good at using nature to set off human nature and shape characters. She also thinks that A Yi’s A Perfect Crime has a good suspense setting. Even if she knows what the main character will do, she can’t help reading it.


Stina asked A Yi a question in which she wants to know whether the hero in A Yi’s novel A Perfect Crime is fictional or has a prototype. A Yi said it originated from the criminal case in 2016, when readers, experts and TV stations were all involved in solving the case, looking for the motive of killing. A Yi thinks that there is a strong adaptation of Stina’s novels. He wants to know how Stina views the relationship between literature and film. Stina believes that literature and film can interact, and many readers feel that reading her novels is like watching a movie.


During the Q&A, some readers asked whether the two writers have encountered difficulties in their writing and how they have overcome them. A Yi thinks that difficulty and ambition are often linked together. If there is no ambition to match ability, there will be pain in writing. Stina also believes that the high demands on her heart was a great challenge.


Another reader was curious about whether the two authors are confused about cross-cultural communication when reading each other’s works. Stina hopes that she can better explore her experience of cross-cultural communication. When she reads A Yi’s works, she felt that his themes were more extensive, and the extent to which his works touched her was the most important thing, instead of whether it belonged to a particular culture. A Yi thinks that there will be some obstacles when it comes to religious works because of his lack of knowledge. On the other hand, he also believes that some common human emotions will emerge in literary works, and some similarities will be felt.


The China-EU International Literary Festival has been held since 2017. During the annual exchanges, Chinese and European writers have conducted in-depth exchanges and discussions on various aspects of life and society, presenting a series of high-quality ideological collisions. At the 5th China-EU International Literary Festival, many outstanding Chinese writers and writers from 27 European Union member states will continue the literary dialogue between China and Europe.


By Ming Ming

Translated into English by Helen Qiu