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Zheng Xiaolv x Marco Missiroli: A Novel Approach: Experimenting with Language, Form and Style

On November 26th Beijing time, the 15th activity of the 5th China-EU International Literary Festival was held as scheduled. Italian writer Marco Missiroli and Chinese writer Zheng Xiaolv started a dialogue on the theme of ” A Novel Approach: Experimenting with Language, Form and Style”, hosted by famous translator Riccardo Moratto.


Zheng Xiaolv (originally Zheng Peng), was born in Hunan in 1986. He has written many novels such as The Nursery Rhymes of 1921, The Ant King and The Winter of Riding the Goose. He has won several awards for his writing including the Shanghai Literature Award, the Hunan Youth Literature Award, the Mao Zedong Literature Award, Zijin·People Literary Star Short Story Award, Top Story Selection Excellent Novella Award and the Nanhai Literature Award. Some of his works have been translated into English, Japanese and Czech. He now teaches at the School of Liberal Arts of Hunan Normal University.


Marco Missiroli was born in Rimini and lives in Milan. He writes for Corriere della Sera. He has published six novels. Senza coda (Fanucci, 2005) won the Premio Campiello Opera Prima. Bianco (Guanda, 2009) won the Premio Comisso and Premio Tondelli. Il senso dell’elefante (Guanda, 2012) won the Premio Selezione Campiello, Premio Vigevano and Premio Bergamo. The best-selling novel Atti osceni in luogo privato (Feltrinelli, 2015) won the Premio Super Mondello. Fedeltà (Einaudi, 2019) won the Premio Strega Giovani and was shortlisted for the Premio Strega. His books have been translated in over thirty countries.


This dialogue is closely related to the theme “Recovery / Reflection” of the Fifth China-EU International Literary Festival. At the beginning of the activity, Riccardo Moratto asked the two writers what reflections they had gained under the epidemic situation, and what help they got from writing. Marco Missiroli believes that the epidemic has brought panic and fear to everyone, but during the outbreak, many of his colleagues still keep writing, which also gives him hope that he can get rid of the panic caused by the epidemic.


Next, the two writers introduced the theme of their works to the readers. Marco Missiroli introduced his work Fedeltà, in which he thinks everyone has hidden emotions in his heart. Fedeltà is about how ordinary people ignore social norms and release their hidden emotions in daily life. Zheng Xiaolv introduced to the readers Going to Dongting. It uses a non-linear narrative to tell the story of six people from different classes, identities and ages. These stories are independent and intertwined with each other. He hopes that through this book, he can reflect on the thinking of China’s current situation. Zheng Xiaolv said that Going to Dongting maintains the minimalist writing style, but also maintains the poetic flavor. At the same time, he agrees with the literary critic George Steiner that only a small part is suitable for speech, and he thinks that the greatest significance of novelists is to find the silent part.


When talking about the source of creative inspiration, Marco Missiroli thinks that his inspiration comes from the secret which has not been revealed in his heart. When these secrets suddenly appear, they will become inspiration. Zheng Xiaolv believes that inspiration comes from real life and reading. For example, his Going to Dongting comes from some moments in his real life. When talking about the spiritual tutor in literature, Marco mentioned the Italian writer Umberto Eco, and Zheng Xiaolv mentioned the Chinese writer Yan Lianke, because Yan made him treat the world with suspicion. In addition, they all believe that there are many people who influence them in their lives, who can absorb nutrients from different people.


At the event, Riccardo Moratto also talked about the teacher-student relationship involved in Marco’s Fedeltà, and wanted to know how the two writers saw this controversial topic. Marco thinks that when talking about the relationship between teachers and students, readers think more about the problem of lust, but there are a lot of unknown contents behind it. For example, although Coetzee’s Disgrace involves the love between teachers and students, it also contains the problem of racism. His own novel explores the relationship between different classes behind the love between teachers and students. Zheng Xiaolv thinks that the love between teachers and students is also a part of human nature. In literary creation, we can make it up recklessly to further understand the depth and breadth of human nature. However, in reality, teachers should maintain professional ethics and keep an appropriate distance from students.


In addition, the event also discussed whether there is a sincere, transparent and open dialogue between Chinese and Italian literature due to translation reasons, or whether it is still in the stage of exploration and search. Marco believes that sincere and open dialogue is very difficult. Although the translation of the Nobel Prize winners etc in literature can strengthen understanding, it still lacks fluency in communication. Compared with South American literature, there are still cultural and linguistic gaps between Italian and Chinese literature. In this regard, Zheng Xiaolv is also pessimistic. He thinks that in the process of translation, the best part of the writer’s language may inevitably be lost. Riccardo Moratto thinks that the translation of literary works should have a long-term planning.


During the Q&A, some readers would like to know what suggestions they have to those who are interested in writing, or who are writing but are not very successful. Zheng Xiaolv thinks that the most important thing for a writer is talent, followed by diligence. In this regard, Riccardo Moratto asked, who shall define “talent”, is it the public, the teacher or the publisher editor? Zheng Xiaolv thinks that “talent” is a comprehensive consideration. Marco Messilori believes that talent depends on different factors, and sometimes it’s luck. In addition, writers need to distinguish whether they write down what they feel or whether they want what they write to be felt by others.


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.


By Ming Ming

Translated into English by Helen Qiu