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Zhang Yueran x Christophe Ono-Dit-Biot: Literary Fiction – A Prism to Assess the World

At 7:00 p.m. Beijing time on November 28, the 18th activity of the 5th China-EU Literary Festival was held as scheduled. French writer Christophe Ono-Dit-Biot and Chinese writer Zhang Yueran started a dialogue on the theme of “Literary Fiction – A Prism to Assess the World”. Jiao Jingshu, translator of fiction history who won the Prix Fu Lei 2018 in the category of « Jeune Pousse », was the host of the event.


Born in 1982, Zhang Yueran is one of China’s most influential young writers. Her books have been translated into English, French, Dutch, and Korean. The French translation of her novel Cocoon won the Best Asian Novel of the Prix Transfuge 2019 in France. She has been the chief editor of Newriting since 2008, and teaches literature and creative writing at Renmin University.


Born in Le Havre in 1975, Christophe Ono-Dit-Biot is a prominent French writer and journalist. He has worked with some of the most prestigious media companies in France and is currently in charge of the cultural pages of Le Point. His is the author of six novels and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages around the world. His novel Plonger has been published by People’s Literature Publishing House and was translated into Chinese translated by Yu Zhongxian. He was won several awards and accolades for his writing.


At the beginning of the activity, Christophe read the chapter of his novel Plonger to readers in French, while Zhang Yueran read a chapter of Cocoon. The host said that the two novels show the inheritance between generations and have some common ideas. She wants to know what kind of information the two writers want to convey to readers in the process of describing the inheritance of generations. Christopher said that he created Plonger as his last work. He hoped that his work could pass on the historical experience of the previous generation to the next generation, so that they could live a better life. In Plonger, the father tells his son what kind of mother the son has from different perspectives and dimensions, so that people can understand what love is. On the other hand, the title of the novel Plonger has the meaning of “fall” and “down” in French, and also has the meaning of sublimation of something. Therefore, his novels also express the ups and downs of life, the climax and trough of life. In his opinion, it is also a way to enrich people’s feelings of life with literary works. Zhang Yueran thinks that both her novels and Christophe’s novels embody the people who have lost the ability to love, while her own novels reflect the influence of unsolved problems in history on future generations, which urges the protagonist to find an outlet and an answer to open the cultural and historical knot.


This dialogue is also closely related to the theme “Recovery / Reflection” of the Fifth China-EU International Literary Festival. When talking about the relationship between his works and history, as well as how to grasp the relationship between grand narrative and personal experience, Zhang Yueran thinks that he can only feel history from his personal perspective and can only reflect a bigger picture from the broken fragments. “History is the light on one’s face. People can’t see that light, they can only feel it,” she said Christopher agreed with Zhang Yueran’s point of view. He thought that literary narration is different from historical narration, and literary narration is very personal. “The benefits of the first person can reflect the inner thoughts of the protagonist. We are not historians, so what we want to reflect is the influence of history and the inner reflection,” he said.


As for this point of view, the host questioned the scenes in some of the narration in the novel which are deviated from the expression of the first person. She felt that the point of view of first person was not enough to support the expression of the whole novel. She wanted to know what views the two writers had. Christophe thinks using first person is more direct in expressing emotions and more empathetic. However, he is also exploring the writing of different person narratives. At this time, writing is like watching characters with a camera. Zhang Yueran thinks that the characteristic of a novel is not whether the first person is used or not, but whether the narrator is close to the protagonist. Although Cocoon is a dialogue, there is no way to achieve a complete balance in the emotional distribution of different characters, but she thinks it can also be used as a kind of “virtual voice”. It does not lie in whether someone in reality really talks about history as in the novel, but more like a kind of irony, presenting a virtual situation.


In the Q&A section, some readers wanted to know what kind of novel is easier to spread across languages and cultures without losing its power. Christophe thinks that the title of a novel is like the reader’s first impression of the novel. He hopes to convey an action through the novel. Therefore, he hopes that his novel can retain this feature in the process of translation and publication instead of translating it into a noun. Zhang Yueran thinks that different historical and cultural backgrounds are not dyslexia, and whether important works will reach the hearts of the people.


The China-EU International Literary Festival has been held four times previously. 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 event, the two writers expressed their thanks to the organizers of the China-EU International Literary Festival and wished that this literary journey could go further and further and help more readers appreciate the beauty of words.


By Ming Ming

Translated into English by Helen Qiu