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Andrés Barba x btr: About Literature, Darkness and Trauma

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At 7 p.m. on November 15th, 2020, the fifth event of the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival was hold online. The Spanish writer Andrés Barba, together with the Chinese writer btr, had a discussion under the topic of “Childhood, Truth and Trauma – Delving into the Dark”. The Chinese scholar Dai Weina, as the moderator, host the event.


Andrés Barba first gained renown with his novel La hermana de Katia. In 2020, his two novels Las manos pequeñas and República luminosa was published by Imaginist. Barba has won multiple awards throughout the years and was included by Granta magazine in their Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists lists, published in 2010. Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, said about him, “(Andrés Barba) has already created a world that is perfectly realized and has a craft that is inappropriate of his age.”


The Chinese writer and translator btr has published, among others, Bizarre Stories and Petite Mort. His translations include Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude, Abbas Kiarostami’s Lessons with Kiarostami etc.


At the beginning of the event, Dai Weina invited btr and Barba to read an excerpt of their own novels. Barba chose to read the first chapter of República luminosa while btr only read a few paragraphs in Shanghai Capsule published on Fiction World. Dai Weina appreciated that their novels had broken the boundaries of the fictions, which brought her a new reading experience.


Then, Dai asked how they felt about each other’s works. btr thought that “game” ran through Barba’s books. When the game became reality, the world would become scary. This is very important in understanding Barba’s works. While Barba appreciated btr involving his curiosity to the nature and life into his works.


Barba also talked about the influence of a shift of perspective on the reading experience. For example, Las manos pequeñas is based on a true story in which a little girl, only five or six years old, killed another girl and played her corpse as a doll in the orphanage. Although it seems like a horror story, however, from another perspective, it is also a story about love. Besides, Barba mentioned the concept of “childhood”. In his opinion, the childhood is not necessarily be protected, and “a happy childhood” is just a modern concept.


btr believes that the development of artistic activities greatly influences his creations and stimulates his inspirations. At first, he turned art criticisms into fictions, and then rewrote those fictions back to art criticisms. Barba thought it was wonderful to connect writings with arts and, it was important for a writer to “be able to play with it”.


When talking about whether literature is in decline and its boundaries, Barba said such topic had been discussed for a long time. The feeling that literature is dying, even as more and more people join in the writing groups, is a symptom of the underlying fear. On one hand, the subject of literature seems to be changed and the boundaries become blurred. On the other hand, time people spent on reading is declining which means people are more attracted by other temptations instead of novels. But he didn’t think it was a totally bad thing. Because for a writer, he will make what he wants to express more accurate and clear, and he will more concentrate on his own creation. While btr said that literature was like cats who could not easily die, but it still needed to renew itself, and Barba’s works embodied such renewal.


The conversation also closely followed the theme of the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival – “Recovery/Reflection”. Dai asked about the influence the pandemic has brought to the writings.


btr felt that the pandemic would easily be the boundary of the life, and he believed various books about the pandemic would come to birth. Barba recalled that just before the pandemic began, he finished his latest book. It was unimaginable if the latest work hadn’t finished at that time. Because pandemic is like a war, which will have a profound impact and change on people’s mind. When people look back to the recent works after a few years, they will find what the pandemic brings to us is not only death and disasters but also the collapse of the ideological system.


In the Q&A session, a reader asked the two writers about their view on literature, trauma and memories, and whether literatures can be used to heal trauma.


Barba said that everyone shares different views, experiences and reflections, so the right words are important elements in telling a story, but sometimes people will lie for they try to protect themselves. When it is difficult to talk about the facts, those facts will become untouchable feelings and people can only be exposed to the shadow of the facts. However, in a more open society, such feelings will be closer to the facts.


The China-Europe International Literary Festival has been hold for 4 years. Every year, the Chinese writers, together with the writers from Europe, discussed a variety of topics on life and society. The 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival will continue to give readers inspirations and reflections with the spark ideas coming from the conversations between Chinese and European writers.


By Ming Ming

Translated into English by Sarah Sa

Wojciech Chmielarz x Cai Jun: Horror, Thrillers and Crime – Beyond the Genre

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At 5 p.m. on November 15th, 2020, the forth event of the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival was hold online. The Polish writer Wojciech Chmielarz, together with the Chinese writer Cai Jun, had a discussion under the topic of “Horror, Thrillers and Crime – Beyond the Genre”.


In this online share, both of the writers discussed about their works, genres and sub-genres, how to tackle with the challenges in writing and how to keep creating hits. The prolific Polish writer Wojciech Chmielarz is known for his crime novels, with his works also involved in psychological thriller, horror and dark genres. At the same time, the legendary Chinese writer Cai Jun, with his unique writing style on terror and suspense, has attracted a large group of loyal fans from home and abroad. The host of the conversation is Zhang Weina.


Wojciech Chmielarz (born in 1984 in Gliwice), one of the most popular Polish crime writers, arrived at the world of literature through journalism – he was editor-in-chief of the website dealing with security issues, terrorism, organized crime, and economic intelligence. At the beginning of his writing career, he created the series about Commissioner Jakub Mortka. For his Takeover, Chmielarz received the prestigious ‘Nagroda Wielkiego Kalibru’ award in 2015 for the best Polish crime novel. In recent years, the author has changed his writing interests a little by moving away from the crime novel to a moral and psychological thriller. It was a good move: Zmijowisko (2018), Rana (2019) and Wyrwa (2020) turned out to be bestsellers.


Cai Jun, who was born in Shanghai, is the most popular suspense novelist in China and the editor-in-chief of Suspense World magazine and website, and a member of the Chinese Writers Association. With wild imagination, fascinating suspense and strict logic, he devotes to creating the psychological thriller which belongs to Chinese people. He won the Bertelsmann People’s Literature Award for a Newcomer, and his representative works include The Nineteenth Floor of Hell, The Barren Village Inn, Mortal World, Revolving Door etc.


At the beginning of the conversation, they answered each other’s questions. When asked about the target readers, Chmielarz said, “in Poland, most of his readers are females. So sometimes I will write from the perspective of females.” When asked about the contemporary interests of the Polish writers, Chmielarz answered, “we consider more about the problems we meet up to date. The new generation will concern more on the modern society and the current issues happened in Poland and in Europe.”


When it turned to Cai Jun, he first introduced “the genres and sub-genres of the suspense novels as well as its development process in China”. He divided the suspense novels into several sub-genres as detective, reasoning, crime, horror, thriller, Gothic, etc., and he also mentioned the change of his writing styles from the horror, thriller genre from early times of his writing career to the crime genre with his own thoughts to the social issues in the middle period and to now.


Cai Jun had a review on his writing career. “In the spring of 2001, my first 100,000-word long novel was published on, which might be the first long suspense novels published on the Internet. I suddenly found that I had got a large number of readers who were generous with their praise. In the following year, Virus was published as a physical book. This was a successful intrusion because at that time in China it was almost a blank area but it had already blossomed all over the world as colorful as the Amazon. The intrusion made me exhilarated like a horse freely running in the world. From 2001, I have written more than 30 long novels and most of them are suspense novels.


To Chmielarz’s surprise, after hearing Cai Jun’s answers, he felt that they shared the similar experiences. Not only in China, but in Poland the suspense novels also went through a period of neglect before it slowly came to readers. Then he briefly introduced how he was influenced by the European literatures and the outstanding contemporary writers in Poland on crime and suspense genre. At the same time, Cai Jun also mentioned several names who greatly influenced the Chinese writers like Seicho Matsumoto, Keigo Higashino from Japan, Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie from Europe and America. He also thought that although Chinese writers were influenced by them, they should still find their own writing styles.


Both of the writers also shared their views on the theme of this year’s China-Europe International Literary Festival – “Recovery/Reflection”. Cai Jun asked, “I know the pandemic wreaks havoc in Europe and it may become the most serious event this year. As a writer, a novelist, I would like to get information from Mr. Chmielarz on whether the pandemic has affected and will still influenced our creation, and whether the pandemic in Poland will affect to the literary world in Poland.” Chmielarz answered, “Actually, we are still in the pandemic. We recently had 20,000 new cases in Poland, so the situation is still serious. Besides, the outbreak of the pandemic also proves that people still need to read more, need the input of culture and need good stories because we need spiritual comforts under such circumstances. For me, I am still writing crime novels and I am not quite sure whether the pandemic will influence my writings.”


In the Q&A session, a reader asked the two writers, “Before starting a new suspense novels, especially those with multiple structures and plots, is it necessary to have a complete and thorough outline in advance?” Chmielarz said, “I definitely will plan and prepare in advance before I write a crime novel. To surprise readers at the end, the author first has to get the layout right. But the fact is that what prepares before the writing is not the final version because during the writing, there may be new inspirations and changes.” Cai Jun added, “I agree with Chmielarz, I have revised the outline more than 20 times for my latest novel.”


The China-Europe International Literary Festival has been hold for 4 years. Every year, the Chinese writers, together with the writers from Europe, discussed the creation of literature works and provided the public with a series of high-quality conversations. The 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival will continue to give readers inspirations and reflections with the spark ideas coming from the conversations between Chinese and European writers.


At the end of the event, the two writers extended their warm greetings to each other and were very happy to be part of the conversation. They wished the future of the crime and suspense novels would be better, and they were looking forward to the reunion in the literary spring after the pandemic.


By Zong Cheng

Translated into English by Sarah Sa

Anti Saar x Zhen Zhen: Creating from a Child’s Perspective

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At 5 o’clock on November 14th, 2020, the third event of the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival was hold online. The Estonian writer Anti Saar, together with Chinese writer Zhen Zhen, had a discussion under the topic of “A Frame of Mind: Creating from a Child’s Perspective”.


Anti Saar is a famous Estonian writer and a French-Estonian literary translator with an award-winning writing career. His three children gave him a lot of inspirations on the creation of children’s books. The Estonian Literature Centre describes his writing as follows: “Saar immerses himself in the world of the children and is capable of glimpsing what is special in ordinary everyday life. His stories, which tend to ricochet from reality, are fluid, witty, and sensitively worded.”


Zhen Zhen is a Chinese writer, poet and literary translator who was born in 1990s. Since the age of 11, she has published several works and has translated picture books written by cartoonists from France, Holand, Canada and other countries. Her works were appreciated by the Chinese Writers Association (CWA) as follows, “her works have clear structures, elegant beauty and warm senses, which contain both the satisfaction and loss of love. What she concerns is how people accept and trust each other even though they are in different times and places. Besides, her works are magically infused with both Western and Eastern folk color”.


The conversation closely followed the theme of the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival – “Recovery/Reflection”. While both of the writers shared their experience on the creation of children’s literature, they also showed readers their own understandings to the literature for children. In their opinions, books for children should not only be the stories with imaginations and childlike interests, but also contains the reflection on children’s growth and emotional needs, as well as the response to the public social issues.


When Zhen Zhen was asked what was her favorite work, she answered Youyaojing, which tells the stories of 49 monsters living in modern times. In ancient times, the stories of monsters were told to scare young children, but Youyaojing is also a modern take on Chinese monster legends. Zhen Zhen took The Smog Machine as an example. In her opinion, the image of “smog” was also her response to the pollution and the governance to it.


From the perspective of Anti Saar, Anni’s Things is his most satisfactory work, which is based on his daughter Eda. Different from Zhen Zhen who would like to add various imaginations into her work, Saar hopes to get inspirations from the reality and catches children’s emotions in daily life. He tries to put the treasurable things and people for children into his works.


When they were asked that what were the differences between writing books for children and books for adults, Zhen Zhen said that there were difficulties in both kinds of writings, but children’s books were more pure and required the writer to constantly refine and ask himself. For example, she liked the themes such as “death”, “emotion”, “love” and so on, but these themes could not be directly written in children’s books because they were difficult to be explained to children. So how to include those emotions into the story has become a proposition to be dealt with.


Zhen Zhen’s opinion was endorsed by Anti Saar, and he also added that the recreation of the “children’s experience” was also important. Not only did he observe the way children think, but he also put himself in their place and turned into a child. Besides, he believes that to accept and appreciate your past self is also very important because it becomes particularly difficult to be accepted as an adult.


When talking about the details like the images in the work, Zhen Zhen took Doors as an example. The book tells a story of “how many doors children will go through from birth to death”. These “doors” mean the possibilities in life, such as studying abroad or deciding to quit a job or returning home to be with family. Zhen Zhen said the inspiration of “doors” was from her stagnant life. At that time, for instance, she opened the door of a publishing house with manuscripts, so her hopes from “behind the door” to “ in front of the door” became the source of her future creation. And she thought that everything could be summarized by such “doors”. From this perspective, Doors is not just a fairy tale, but a response to those gains and losses in life.


Anti Saar said that he would not seek for imaginations in his works and he only wanted to get inspired by the common life. The Way We Deal with Problems is based on such inspirations. He thought that the way children see the world is real and natural. The things, which seems very common and even boring like a father shaving his beard in adults’ eyes, may be interesting in children’s eyes. This is a way for children to observe the world because their cognition is not mature enough.


During the Q&A section, a reader asked how children’s literature would attract children’s attention and whether children need to understand those dark sides in the book. Saar thought that the bedtime reading was important to motivate children’s interest in reading and would help creating a good reading environment for them. Zhen Zhen, taking Harry Potter as an example, said that although the depiction of such bad guys as Voldemort was relatively flat, she still realized that “people can do nothing in case of bad luck”. And she thought that children should know those uncertainties in life and understand that “everything is not taken for granted”.


The China-Europe International Literary Festival has been held for 4 years. Every year, the Chinese writers, together with the writers from Europe, discussed a variety of topics on life and society. The 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival will continue to give readers inspirations and reflections with the spark ideas coming from the conversations between Chinese and European writers.


By Ming Ming

Translated into English by Sarah Sa

Bi Feiyu x Colm Toibin: how can I be home in the magnetic field of literature?

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At Beijing time 12:00 on Saturday, November 14, 2020, the second event of the Fifth China-EU International Literary Festival officially began. The participants included Chinese writer Bi Feiyu and Irish writer Colm Tóibín. Bi Feiyu is a contemporary Chinese writer. His representative works include The Moon Opera, Plain, Massage etc. He was the winner of the first Lu Xun Literature Prize for Short Stories, the third Lu Xun Literary Award and the eighth Mao Dun Prize.


Colm Tóibín, known as the language master of English literature, is a famous Irish writer and literary critic born in the 1950s. His works mainly describe the Irish society, the life of the expatriates and the identity of the individual.


This dialogue is based on the theme of ” A Sense of Home”. The year 2020 is a special year. For many people, the epidemic situation trapped people at home. To some extent, home brings more and more in-depth thinking to people.


The two writers started with “what is home” as the starting point. Colm Tóibín first proposed that in ancient times, home was one of the oldest themes in literature, and also an indispensable part. In the process of thinking about home, we need to use home to fill in the emptiness and personal feelings.


Bi Feiyu first refuted a point raised at the beginning of the meeting, that he did not think the thoughts of “home” for a male writer were not delicate enough. On the contrary, Bi Feiyu stressed that “home” is an excellent topic for novel writers. “No matter what kind of works I write, everyone has a potential identity. It is easy to misunderstand it as a social identity but in fact, it is a natural and original nature, such as paternity, motherhood, lover, etc. These things often become an important starting point for a writer to feel the world.”


Colm Tóibín left home to live in boarding school since he was 15. In the process of independent adaptation and overcoming difficulties, he gradually began to have different ideas about “home”. When he came home again after a long time, he would suddenly find that the family in actual world and the family in memory feels different for himself.


He believes that “escape” is always one of the eternal themes of home. He recalled that more than 180 years ago in Ireland, people were constantly leaving their families in the form of immigration and relocation, but “the concept of ‘home’ is still deep in our minds.” For example, he is now in Los Angeles and can’t go home because of the epidemic, but he still feels that his home is with him.


Compared with anthropologists and historians, writers pay more attention to personal life when they pay attention to “home”. For example, in the past few decades, the two countries have experienced some changes, people’s memory will change, many people left home, many people also come back, the form of “home” is constantly flowing, but the essence of the connotation is connected.


Therefore, Colm Tóibín thinks that the memory represented by home is not only a landmark, but also a memory of an era and a collective. He referred to his work Brooklyn, in which he tried to imagine how his aunt would continue her life after immigrated to the United States in the 1950s, in order to achieve a broader thinking. “In Ireland, political life is not only about the state, but also about the fate of the individual and the micro face of the family.” However, in the modern society shaped by modern science and technology, people’s thinking about “home” still exists and carries some kind of ancient belief.


Bi Feiyu pointed out that in the past few hundred years, westerners discussed the relationship between man and God in their literary works. It was not until the 18th century in England that the element of “family” really appeared in the novels. For a long time, when we talk about culture, it is easy to associate it with the grand ideas of the country and the nation, but in fact, “family” is the smallest unit of “culture”. To some extent, the themes described by a writer may be centered on the two themes of “leaving the family” and “returning to the family”.


Additionally, for a writer, “he is either a rebel of his family, or a runaway, a betrayer.” Bi Feiyu believes that from the first day of writing, he defined himself as a rebel. “A man at home is like a fish in the water which is free. Once he gets out of the water, he may soon find that he has been sinking and lacks some buoyancy. So how can he find the organic interaction and good integration with the surrounding environment? ”


Colm Tóibín agreed. He believes that violence, resistance, so-called PUA and other dark elements may appear in the family, and one of the tasks of the writers is to reconstruct the stereotype of “home”. “The family is not perfect and happy as people imagine. We need to find the cracks in the glass and conduct dramatic investigation and treatment.” His new book House of Names breaks the seemingly warm family to explore the hidden fragments behind the loyalty, protection and love between mother and son.


He takes Shakespeare’s plays as an example. Shakespeare always presents the rebellion of a member of the family at the beginning. This dramatic force will urge people to imagine what will happen next. In the promotion of this imagination, a person may find something quite different and unexpected from his familiar family.


However, “if we consider the concept of home from the perspective of women, it may be another story.” Women play the role of tolerance in the long history, and another important task of the writers is to express the feelings they have been enduring and unable to express for women, such as Ibsen’s Nora left.


Although he is an Irish writer, Colm Tóibín has been living in a “cosmopolitan” life for many years. His feelings for home are complex and profound. In contrast, Bi Feiyu’s connection with his family is relatively stable. He lived in a fixed area since childhood, and never seemed to be far away from home.


“Frankly speaking, ” Bi Feiyu said, he has “no so much love for his hometown”. But after he turned 50, he began to feel a strange and old feeling growing in his heart. For example, when he heard the local voice outside, or suddenly heard some elements about his hometown in other places, he began to feel a kind of bitter pain – for the reason that he lost the cognitive ability of his hometown, but at the same time, he was emotionally inseparable.


Therefore, Bi Feiyu especially wants to invite friends to his hometown to get along with his current friends and hometown, so as to help him rethink an answer: how can I establish contact with my hometown again? In this regard, Colm Tóibín agreed that “over the age of 50, some emotions, experiences and memories in life will become particularly vivid, and the memories when young will become particularly powerful and vivid.”


Bi added that this year’s epidemic has increased the concentration among family members, which varies from individual to individual, and may become closer or looser. The changes and accidents of these times make the writer more aware of the need to pay attention to the “home” which is closely related to us at this moment.


In the Q&A section, some readers ask whether a person must be connected with his home in order to survive in the world.


Bi Feiyu believes that all the secret essence of life is “relationship”. The basic mode, emotion mode, thinking mode and expression mode of a person in this world must start from his family. He stressed that it is highly undesirable to mechanically oppose the family model and the world model. If one leaves the family, there is no way to find an appropriate model to talk to the world and express the world.


Colm Tóibín added that he thought everyone’s first home was their own bedroom, and even now, he often woke up the first time in the morning thinking, “if only I’m in my bedroom at home!” There I don’t have to face the trivia of life and don’t have to write or work. For home, everyone should still retain the most primitive warmth.


The China-EU International Literary Festival has been held for four times. 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.


At the end of the conversation, the two writers put forward some suggestions on literary creation. They both agree that the theme of writing should be what you fear the most. For example, if a person is afraid of poverty, you should write about a person who is destitute. If he is afraid of being lovelorn, he should write about a person who is hurt by love. For those who have passion and desire for writing, what you may need to do now is to go out of the house and take a walk outside.


By Xiao Yao

Translated into English by Helen Qiu

Liu Zhenyun x David Wagner: Where life stops, literature appears

At 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 12, 2020, the first activity of the Fifth China-EU International Literary Festival officially begins. The first activity of the China-EU International Literary Festival was a dialogue between Chinese writer Liu Zhenyun and German writer David Wagner. They had a wonderful literary dialogue on the theme of writing career. During the event, the two writers not only talked about their understanding of literature, but also exchanged their literary creation during the epidemic period and their outlook on literary life in the post epidemic.


Liu Zhenyun is a writer who is familiar to Chinese readers. He uses calm and objective narrative style to depict monotonous life and satirize daily power relations. He has written Someone to Talk To, Regime and Blood, The Real Estate tycoon, and I Did Not Kill My Husband. He has won the Mao Dun Literature Award, the highest honor award from Egypt’s Ministry of culture, and France’s Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters.


David Wagner, who has a dialogue with Liu Zhenyun, enjoys a high international reputation. He is a famous contemporary German novelist who has been living in Berlin since 1991. His first work, Meine nachtblaue Hose, was published in 2000 and won a grand prize; his novel Vier Äpfel was long-listed for the German Book Prize; the best-selling novel Leben won the Leipzig Book Fair Prize in 2013 and the Best Foreign Novel of the Year Award 2014 in China. He was Friedrich Dürrenmatt Guest Professor for World Literature at University Bern and his books have been translated into 16 languages. His most recent novel Der vergessliche Riese won the Bayerische Literaturpreis 2019. Leben and Vier Äpfel have been published in China by People’s Literature Publishing House, translated by Le Yan. Leben won the Best Foreign Book Award in China in 2014.


Dai Weina, a young poet, also participated in the conversation and was the host of the conversation. She graduated from Oxford University in England. Her works have both classical and elegant temperament and western education. She has published poetry anthology Slim Jiangnan, fairy tale collection Fairy Grass Girl and other works.


Liu Zhenyun and David Wagner first talked about the process of their acquaintance with literature. David Wagner greeted the Chinese readers, pointed out that in such a period, it is very meaningful to discuss literature and writing. He believes that “literature and writing have been exploring the meaning of life.” He reviewed his career as a writer and mentioned the important influence of losing his mother in childhood. In those difficult years, facing the fact of death, Wagner chose the way of literature.


Liu Zhenyun welcomed Wagner to start this literary dialogue with him during the epidemic. He shared his experience in reading Wagner’s works and his own several novels translated into German, such as I Did Not Kill My Husband and Remembering 1942. On the significance of literature and writing, Liu Zhenyun thinks, “where life stops, literature appears.” He used I Did Not Kill My Husband as an example to describe how an ordinary rural woman in China rose up to revolt after encountering a huge misunderstanding but was also ignored. However, such a covered character should be the focused object of literary. “When Li Xuelian (the heroine of I Did Not Kill My Husband) said to the cow in her family, ‘do you believe I’m not a bad woman? ’She had a second cow by her side. His name was Liu Zhenyun.” He describes his understanding of the role of an author.


Then, the two writers talked about the experience of reading each other’s works. Wagner appreciated Liu’s social care for characters with low class social status, and his realistic writing with humor and compassion. Liu thinks that Wagner is a unique writer, because he does not regard a certain character as the protagonist of the novel, but devotes himself to describing a profound life experience through the novel. His ability to capture life scenes is extremely powerful. He took Leben as an example and talked about Wagner’s flowing writing style. His novel chapters are not lengthy yet contain intensive experience in a short space. His narrative skills integrate realism and stream of consciousness, and have a keen observation of smell, color and details of life.


The theme of the 5th China-EU International Literary Festival is “Recovery / Reflection”, which aims to explore global issues from the perspective of writers, celebrate literary culture and think deeply about society. The two writers also shared their views on this topic.


They discussed the “lightness and weight” of literature and how to resist forgetting. Wagner said, “it’s really a difficult question. As a writer, it’s very difficult for us to decide how we write. The starting point of my writing is that writing is so interesting that I have to understand how it happens and why it exists. He thinks literature is an art of looking for some kind of reality in life. Writers can approach the answer of life through satire and humor.


As for how to deal with the heavy topic, Liu Zhenyun, took his work Remembering 1942 as an example, talked about the drought in 1942 in Henan Province, where millions of people left their homes and fled the wilderness. How should the writer deal with this heavy historical event? Liu Zhenyun said what made him really want to write this book was that many years ago, he returned to his hometown Yanjin County, Henan Province to interview the descendants of the victims of the great famine in Henan Province in 1942. He asked his grandmother about what happened in 1942, and she asked, “What year was 1942?” “It was the year of starvation,” Liu said. Then his grandmother asked, “There are too many years of starvation. Which year do you mean?” Later, this dialogue was included in his reportage novel Remembering 1942, which also became the end of the film director Feng Xiaogang’s new film 1942.


Liu compared the different attitudes of foreigners and Chinese towards death. “A European or an American would ask, why should I die? Why does the government sit idly by? But the people of Henan left the world with one last humor. Lao Zhang was dying. He thought of his friend Lao Li, who had died three days ago, and felt that he had lived three days longer than him, which was worth it. No regrets. ”


Liu thinks that “in the face of austerity, we may as well adopt a humorous way. When disasters happen frequently, they become severe. To deal with austerity, austerity becomes a piece of iron. When you touch iron with an egg, it breaks. But when you use humor to deal with austerity, austerity becomes a piece of ice and humor is the sea. When the severe ice falls into the sea, it melts. ”


In the Q&A session, listener Mr. Wang asked Wagner, “if literature can predict the future to a certain extent, could it also bring a reflection on the future?” “I hope literature can be anything,” Wagner said. “It may be exaggeration to say that literature can foresee the future. Sometimes it needs some kind of coincidence. For example, when I was writing a book, I envisioned a moment when Berlin became an empty space during the day, but in everyday reality, it was very difficult to achieve. But we know that the sudden epidemic and the sudden blockade have made it possible for us to find empty places everywhere in Berlin, which we did not expect before.”


Wagner mentioned that good literature should be a reflection of life. Some readers asked about the reflective role of literature during the epidemic. Liu replied, “the impact of the epidemic on the world is very enormous. During the epidemic, many people, including writers, are also reflecting on the current life.”


And when a reader asked about “what are the ways to collect humor and apply it to fiction?” Liu answered with a smile, “life is full of humor, even to the absurd situation. Some foreign readers say that I am the most humorous person in China. In fact, I am not. There are many people in China who are more humorous than me. In our village, I am the least humorous person. ”


In response to how the writers deal with the global epidemic, Wagner added that “for the global epidemic, it may also be a task for all the writers. We need to find a way to describe it, present it, and record the current predicament in a literary way, rather than ignore it. ”


At the end of the event, Wagner and Liu Zhenyun sent good wishes to each other. In nowadays’ epidemic situation, they hope that literature can make readers have more confidence in life.


In the past four EU-China International Literary festivals, Chinese and European writers gathered together to exchange literary creation and ideas, presenting a series of high-quality dialogue activities to the public. Once again, this year’s 5th China EU International Literary Festival will continue the literary dialogue between China and Europe by many outstanding Chinese writers and 27 writers from EU Member States.


As the host of the opening ceremony of the China-EU International Literary Festival and Ambassador of the European Union to China, Nicolas Chapuis said: “Literature can indeed help us to better understand the world around us. Books can remind us not to forget our values when times are getting rough. Reading can enable us to reflect how to turn a crisis into an opportunity, to steer the ship safely through stormy weathers into a brighter future. ”


By Zong Cheng

Translated into English by Helen Qiu

THE DAY THE RIVER FROZE by Stavros Christodoulou

“PUT YOUR hats on. The cold will make your ears drop off.”

The woman’s words had a hollow sound. They rose steeply as if from the foot of a cliff and then collapsed with a dull thud in that two-roomed apartment of fifty square metres into which she had squeezed her life. For a long time now, she had not cared what happened outside her door. For how many years, she could not remember. Perhaps five, perhaps fifteen, perhaps for ever.


“Perhaps from when his umbilical cord was cut?” she wondered in a whisper. But she stifled the words, as if ashamed of even thinking them.


Since the day when she had swallowed the fistful of pills, time no longer had the slightest consistency. Her son had been seven years old. Yes, that she remembered. A little devil who had greedily sucked up all the freshness of her youth. For seven years. Daily. From the moment, in fact, when the labour pains had ripped through her body. When she heard his crying for the first time, she had felt the tide going out, dragging her with it, far away. She had made a great effort to stand once more on dry land. To find her feet. To feed him, wash him, clean up his shit. Until she could put him to bed, feeling exhausted but alone at last, then slip a tablet under her tongue. She would hold it there a while, drawing strength from it, and then let it slide down her oesophagus slowly and comfortingly, releasing waves of warmth to heal her invisible wounds.


“Pull yourself together, or I’ll leave,” her husband threatened, when he saw her receding into the treacherous darkness of her mind. And he would fix her with that harsh look which once had melted her heart. That was then. Now he stood before her and she didn’t even look at him. She simply endured him. Stoically. The same as when he touched her. “Words! That’s all you’re good for, words as dead as the rotten meat you sell in the market, poor sap,” she returned scornfully.


The truth is she had never believed he would desert them. She didn’t think he had it in him. But as it turned out, she didn’t know him as well as she thought she did. On 18 June 1967, Sunday morning, the day after the boy’s birthday, he left. The memory of that day, although rooted in earth that was barren of every emotion, lived vividly inside her. She had had a slight headache on waking. She had dragged herself to the kitchen, made coffee and floated a spoonful of cream on top, to sweeten it. She took a sip and then smiled, seeing her reflection in the small mirror above the kitchen worktop. A fine white line covered her top lip.


“You look funny…” he said.


She had not realised he was there. How long had he been standing behind her? His voice was soft, with a hint of tenderness, provoking in her a slight shiver.


“I’m leaving,” he said matter-of-factly, and repeated it, to make sure she had heard him.


Translated from Greek by Susan Papas


Walking on dunes by Kateřina Rudčenková

Walking on dunes

Even though you were moved

by the abrupt shade of green

of trees and grass and pine-tree undergrowth


even though you were moved by this summer’s nostalgia of smoke

burning grass and grilled fish


even though you were moved by the children

who, as yet innocent of the restrictions of the world

already skipped from one tile of the same colour to another


despite all that emotion

you remained cold underneath in your disappointment

like an icy pond in a Siberian forest.


You kept turning to make sure

that footprints left in the sand had been washed away

washed away, you were not. You didn’t want to be

you didn’t want to leave your imprint in anything at all.



Other people’s aquariums

What I like about other people’s apartments is that the way

objects are arranged in space is given, I can only

watch them be.

In my own apartment what makes me nervous is the opposite —

nothing is definitive.

As in life. Fragile, vulnerable the way things are


I could, theoretically, move anything

at any time. My things, clothes, wardrobes and tables

are suffused with the provisional nature of my existence

here on earth, with my uncertainty, my mortality.

I uncritically accept all aquariums belonging to other people

(as long as there is no plastic castle inside)

only my own aquarium I cannot come to terms with, it appears

dark, its dirt falls on my head

I witness dying fish that I then

have to throw into the toilet

the flowers in it have to be endlessly moved around

replaced with new ones because they turn yellow.

Yet, I keep it alive for years, buy

new fish, keep them warm, clean the sand and stones

unable to stop.  Of course, until it cracks

and the water pours out I will never voluntarily

abolish my aquarium.




Covered by purple leaves

I’ll leave my roots under water.


You will open the windows, and from a distance

hear the blows from the time when

they killed carp by the vats in winter.


You will immerse yourself in reading, pondering things

so as not to think about yourself.


You will feel good inside those voices

with two sentences left

the first made of my rib,

the second of yours.




Mostly warm nights with windows open wide

are filled with cries and sobs.


Visitors are invisible through treetops.

This is where the year draws to an end.


A student who is a pedestrian in the street

and a drowning man at sea

becomes a tiny saint

in some family alcove.


There, the night has come. You’ll know me

by my footsteps and by the shape of my shadow.




Yes, I live inside the piano.

but there is no need for you

to come and visit me.



A visit to the sanatorium

Gertude takes me aside

entrusting me with manuscripts rescued from the fire.


An ancistrus dances on the wall

and her shadow, as she begs me

– tell him that my name is not Bertha!


Shaking off dust insects from her shoulders

– Bertha… does he ever talk to you

without raving?


A gaping window, a terrace

full of pigeons, animal vortex, then

nothing but Gertrude’s charged silence

the terrace sinks, the room goes up in flames.


Dimitar Hristov


Do not cling to me,

Be yourself.


Lovers are not

Siamese twins.


Do not afraid be ever to stay

Alone with your love.


It’s definitely better,

Than not to love at all.


Do not turn the lovers’ nest

Into a prison.



Will you patch the sails tightly?

I plugged the leaks.


And I scraped the water.

Let’s sail in the dark!


A bubbling abyss of Passion

Will sway us.



To fly and sink,

To burn and drown…


We withstood the storms,

The beasty cold, and the fatigue.



But it creeps inside us –

The fear of calm defeat…


With wings against the wind

The birds rise!


Freedom is the other name

of Love.



You are drifting away, further and further from me,

But I shall not follow you,

I will stay right here, I will wait for you.

When you think you’re the furthest,

You will meet me again

Cause the Earth is round, isn’t it?

But then I will leave,

Because everyone should

Walk his own way

To the other.



Love will survive

After the storm debris will sway –

The remnants of politics

Overboard everything will turn dead

Forgetfulness will make sure –

No more armories,

We will bless the rust

Which grinds the guillotines,

And out of the decay eternal

Such a life will flourish

That no one will ever die

Except from overwhelming passion

Or unshared tenderness.




Let’s take an example from the birds –

they eat just a handful of berries,

but high they fly.



The writer must be like a camel –

to endure thirst, hunger and a long way,

the rest is a matter of talent.




is the closest friend

of the artist.




is the most beautiful

garment of nakedness.



When the woman weeps,

the man is suffering …

When the man weeps, the woman is rejoicing.




are wings for the industrious

and shackles for the lazy.



The direction

of wind

is always forward.



The top

is often the beginning

of an abyss.



Blind is the lover,

but brave he is

and never hesitates.



Between birth

and death

the difference is in the dates.




is eternal

but Life is more eternal.




is one,

but people are diverse.


Translated from the original Bulgarian by Svetoslav Nahum

Interview with Dimitar Hristov

Dimitar Hristov, an award-winning Bulgarian poet, playwright and literary translator, believes that as a writer he has to be continually experimenting to find the right voice and style for his new writing.


“Style comes when you find yourself. I do not stop searching, experimenting, I do not get tired of taking risks, but I know more and more how to reach the goal, the integrity of a work. Both before and now I try to be as honest as possible in transforming not only my thoughts and feelings, but also those that excite people,” he said, speaking ahead of his participation at the 5th EU-China International Literary Festival.


“The writer learns and improves his whole life in the ability to write. But the ability to challenge destiny, by not coming to terms with the problems of the individual and humanity, makes his mind and heart vulnerable, but also bold.”


Hristov is a versatile writer and has also found literary success in the realm of theatre and drama.


“Yes, I like to change genres and means of expression. By the way, there can be drama in poetry and vice versa. My monodrama “Marilyn Monroe – Triumph and Agony” was played the most. I am the author of several chamber plays and it is difficult for me to break into the theatrical community, but I do not despair,” he said.


“I notice the crisis processes in the temple of Melpomene,” he said, referring to one of the nine Greek muses and the patron of tragedy, “and I do not stop looking for like-minded people for higher aesthetic criteria.”


An accomplished literary translator, Hristov said the process of translating poetry can prove to be a “cruel” challenge at times.


“The translation of poetry is a cruel creative game – dialogue, chasing the original, walking on a rope between two shores – two languages. Co-authorship is inevitable, and it takes not only erudition, it takes love and respect.”


Hristov is currently Director of the Union of Bulgarian Writers and he has been deeply involved with the organisation for many years, which he feels plays a critical role in supporting Bulgaria’s writers.


“Our Writers’ Union has existed for 107 years, has good traditions and unites talented people. The so-called market principle inflicts great damage on real artists, on non-commercial art,” he said.


“We strive to develop the literary life in the absence of funding and minimal royalties. Society, government, the rich are indebted to writers, and we strive to increase opportunities for expression, for publishing books, for publications, for translations of Bulgarian authors abroad.”


Speaking ahead of the EU-China Literary Festival, Hristov offered his congratulations and admiration to the other participating writers.


“I would like to congratulate my colleagues from China and the countries of the European Union for their strength and self-denial to work for beauty and harmony through literature,” he said.



Dimitar Hristov will join Chinese writer Wen Zhen on Sunday, December 6 at 5pm (Beijing time) to discuss “The Writer’s Life”. In conversation with Berlinka. (This event will be in Bulgarian and Chinese.)


EU-China-litfest 26: The Writer’s Life

Interview with Jozef Banáš

Slovakian author Jozef Banas’s best-selling novel Jubilation Zone draws on the author’s own life experiences as a diplomat and politician, and a friendship with a West German volleyball player that was abruptly cut off when his country’s borders were closed off.


The story begins in 1968 when a Slovak student Jozef meets a Ukrainian girl and they fall in love. In the same year he gets to know a German student called Thomas Angermann who is visiting the then Czechoslovakia.


“There’s something of a mystery behind the book. Imagine two days before the Soviet invasion, the 19th of August 1968, I met this West German volleyball player. I played volleyball at the time and we became friends. On the night of the 20th of August, when from the east the Soviet Panzers [tanks] came, the West German volleyball team left Czechoslovakia and went back to Germany. The border was closed after the invasion. Imagine, for more than 20 years my friendship with Thomas stopped,” Banas said, speaking ahead of his appearance at the 5th EU-China International Literary Festival.


After the borders finally reopened Banas tried to make contact with Thomas again, but he only knew his name, his age and roughly the area in West Germany where he came from. In 2004, Banas’s daughter moved to Munich and he asked her to see if she could try to locate him on the internet somehow.


“Then one day, two days before Christmas, I got a parcel from Germany. I opened the parcel and there were photos of a guy who looked familiar. And also, in there were emails between my daughter and Thomas!”


Banas called his daughter immediately to find out how she had made contact with his long-lost friend.


“Father, it’s unbelievable. I got a list of all the Thomas Angermanns in German, there were thousands and thousands of them. And I said to myself, there is no hope, I can’t find a guy like this this way. But then I said to myself, OK, I will call one of them. And the one I called turned out to be our Thomas Angermann! Unbelievable!”


Thomas then came to Bratislava and helped Banas write the book.


“We launched the book together in a big theatre in Bratislava. And when we stood on the stage we both cried. It was so impressive. I said to myself – this is a novel which was written from my heart.”


The story resonated very well with readers and became the most translated Slovak novel of all time, appearing in about a dozen languages worldwide.


Banas got letters of congratulations on the book from a wide range of high-profile people, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the President of the German Bundestag, who wrote in a letter: “Mr Banas, it’s unbelievable. Now I’m more informed about the former life in the former German Democratic Republic than I ever was before.”



In his Code trilogy of novels, Banas adopts very different topics and styles, with his protagonist taking on a search for Jesus in India in Code One.


“This is a provocative book. I’m searching for Jesus In India. It’s a big issue, a big topic, but you have a lot of evidence that he very probably was there, especially in Kashmir. So, I can imagine that especially for the Catholic Church, for the Vatican, this is a provocative topic.”


Code 7 is a story from Bhutan, “a story about the most happy country in the world. You know, Bhutan is the only country where they don’t have Gross National Product but rather they use Gross National Happiness, and this is Bhutan.”


And the third code book, Code 9, describes a fictional journey from China to India to the Vatican in Rome, “a novel that shows us that the most important journey each of us needs to undertake is a journey of knowing one´s own inner world.”


“This is a book where I am very critical of the Catholic church. You know Slovakia is a very Catholic country … I’m really critical,” Banas said. “But on the other hand, this is the most published book in Slovakia. In a country with 5.3 million people there were almost 60,000 copies of this book sold.”



Another of Banas’s books which draws on his own life experiences and has been extremely popular is Stop Dubček! The Story of a Man who Defied Power. The book, a work of historical fiction, tells the story of Alexandra Dubček (1921-1992), leader of the Prague Spring movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Banas went to university in Slovakia with one of Dubček’s sons and knew Dubček personally, so he felt he had to tell his story through the prism of a documentary-style novel.


“There is, it seems to me, a lack of positive examples of great personalities, especially in politics, it seems to me that nowadays in the world there are not many politicians that are very attractive to people,” he said. “Dubcek was someone who brought I would say great hope. Not only for Czechs and Slovaks but generally for Europe.”


The time was one of great turbulence all across Europe, Banas recalls.


“We had the joy of life, and then suddenly this invasion. Everything was changed from one night to the next day. It came. A new way of life. The borders were closed, and so on. And Dubcek lived among us.”


Banas’s publisher was not very optimistic about the sales prospects for a book on Dubcek, because he thought people were generally not very interested in reading about politicians.


“But Dubcek is a very positive example. He was the leader of the Prague Spring, with the human face of socialism. And surprisingly, I have to say that the book was a tremendous success. I got a prize from the Slovak Pen Club for the novel, and by the way I have to say as I’m very proud of it, the novel will be published in New York next year on the 99th anniversary of Dubcek’s birth.”



Jozef Banas will join Chinese author Chen Xiwo for a discussion on “Local Stories, Global Writers” on Friday December 4 at 7.30pm (Beijing time). In conversation with Rianka Mohan.


EU-China-litfest 23: Local Stories, Global Writers

Interview with Evgene Trivizas

Greek author and criminologist Evgene Trivizas, who has published more than 200 children’s books worldwide, is known for his capacity to consistently challenge stereotypes and avoid cliched characters in his award-winning writing for younger readers.


“It started from my dissatisfaction with the way mainly good and evil was represented in children’s literature – a dichotomy between the good and the bad. And in my opinion there are not good and bad people, there are only good and bad acts,” he said, speaking ahead of his appearance at the 5th EU-China International Literary Festival.


His most successful book internationally, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, was based on a reversal of the traditional concepts of good and evil.


“I decided to reverse roles and make the big bad pig the negative character and the three little wolves the heroes. So it is the same story, but in a different way. The wolves built a house and the pigs, huffingly and puffingly, demolishes it. Then they build a stronger house, and the big bad pig demolishes it. Whatever kind of house they build, the big bad pig demolishes it. Until they decide to build a house out of flowers. And instead of huffing and puffing the big bad pig smells the aroma, the scent of the flowers, and has a change of heart and becomes a good big pig – and they live happily ever after with the wolves.”


Several of Trivizas’s titles are published in China by the People’s Literature Publishing House, including The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, and also The Last Black Cat, a book that tackles major themes such as racism, persecution of minorities and genocide.


In this book people believe that black cats bring bad luck so they decide to kill them and an organisation goes around exterminating all the black cats until there is only one black cat left. The story focuses on the plight of that solitary black cat and how she tries to avoid the fate of the other cats.


Trivizas also challenges the negative stereotyping of women in children’s literature, and how they are “often portrayed as passive creatures. They expect a prince or a hunter to solve their problems: the hunter will come and kill the wolves, or the prince will come and marry the princess,” he said.


“So again I tried to reverse this in a book that I wrote, instead of Little Red Riding Hood I wrote a book called Little Pink Red Riding Hood. In this the heroine takes her fortune in her own hands. When the wolf reveals that he’s a wolf and not her grandmother she pretends to be amazed at his acting talent and convinces him to be an actor. And the book ends with the wolf becoming a famous actor in Hollywood, winning an Oscar etc. So it was these stereotypes, like good and evil, passive heroine etc that prompted me to reverse some stories and I did this with quite a few books.”



His inclination to write stories came at a very early age, since the books he was encountering always left him somehow wanting more.


“When I was a child, every time I read a book, or a book was read to me by my mother, I felt disappointed when the book reached its end with, ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. They may have lived happily ever after but I was feeling betrayed because certainly I wasn’t living as nicely as the heroes of the book, and I was feeling abandoned by them,” he said. “In my imagination, I was trying to work out what happened next after the end of the story. So sometimes I was giving first aid to the dragon that had been killed, and the dragon, in order to express his gratitude, revealed to me the location of secret treasure. So I was trying to continue the story, because it might be a nice story and it could never end.”


The desire to keep the story going sparked his own writing career.


“Little by little, I started writing my own stories. This was to say, a child’s desire for stories that he enjoyed to continue, and by continuing I created new stories and new ideas and new characters. So this is how I started writing, even as a small child.”



Trivizas, who has won a long list of literary awards and accolades and was a finalist for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2006, is often asked by young writers for some secrets to literary success.


“I always ask them: Would you still write if nobody else was ever going to read your books? Because you love doing it, because you enjoy the creative process? Not because you’re going to make money or in order to become famous – this is false motivation. Genuine authors are the ones who love and enjoy the very act of creating,” he said. “If it is the case that you have an inner need to create and to go on, and then, even if initially no one takes notice of your writing, one day you will be read by people. But initially do it for yourself and your own satisfaction and your own fulfilment.”


Trivizas himself said he always keeps a few key things in mind when he writes books for children.


“I try to write stories that will be enjoyed by both children and adults – most of my books also have an adult readership. And secondly, I try, as best as I can, to transmit certain ideas and messages through my books. But at the first stage it should be entertaining. In order to transmit any message first it should be entertaining and keep the attention of your reader.”


For him, as a writer there are three really special moments in life that he most appreciates.


“The first is the moment of inspiration. You have an idea, and that is beautiful. You feel excited, you feel that something is coming, like a woman who will give birth to a child. Let’s see what I can do with this idea. The second precious moment is when you finished writing the book. It’s again a sense that I have done something, that I’ve created something,” he said. “Then the third one is when it is published and you get reviews and readers’ letters and you hear that people appreciated it, that it changed their lives sometimes. For me these are the three most precious moments in life for an author.”


Wearer of many hats, Trivizas is also a lawyer and a renowned criminologist, and over the years his academic writing has been published extensively all around the world. So what is more important to him as a writer – his academic writing or his writing for children?


“My academic writing as a criminologist, in a few years it will be just footnotes in somebody else’s book. While the fairytale stories are forever. They are international, they are read by children in Greece, in China, in Turkey, in Canada, all over the world. Like diamonds, they are forever,” he said. “Academic writings are a temporary thing because legislation changes, conditions change, after a while simply they are not appreciated, they are not offering anything.”


He cited Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice and Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, as an example.


“He was a mathematician, he wrote excellent books on mathematics and logic, but he is remembered for Alice in Wonderland not for his academic writing. So this is how I assess the importance of what I am doing. I think writing for children is much more important and it will stay for longer than writing as a criminologist,” he said.


“I believe writing for children is more important because it gives us our first heroes, our first values. Sometimes we never forget what has influenced us and touched us as children. So that’s the reason. Although I could write crime novels as a criminologist, I think it’s more important to talk to children and to try to transmit some ideas to them.”



Evgene Trivizas will join legendary Chinese children’s author Cao Wenxuan on Friday, November 27 at 7.30 pm (Beijing time) to discuss “Good Versus Evil: Challenging Stereotypes and Challenging Children”. In conversation with Frances Weightman, Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds, UK, and the Director of The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing (https:\\


EU-China-litfest 16: Good Versus Evil: Challenging Stereotypes and Challenging Children