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Dorthe Nors x Lu Nei: Existential Struggles: Writers on Capturing Life’s Essence

At 5:00 p.m. on November 29th, 2020, the twentieth event of the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival was hold online. Dorthe Nors, the writer from Danmark, together with Lu Nei, the writer from China had a discussion under the topic of “Existential Struggles: Writers on Capturing Life’s Essence”.


Dorthe Nors is the author of the novels Soul (2001), Stormesteren (2003) and Ann Lie (2005) and in 2008 she published a collection of short stories entitled Karate Chop. In 2010 she published Days; a novella, and after that came the novella Minna Needs Rehearsal Space. The novel Mirror, Shoulder, Signal was published in 2016, and in 2017 it was a Man Booker International finalist. Short stories paved the way for her international success, with stories from Karate Chop appearing in American literary magazines from 2009–2012. Her story The Heron appeared in the New Yorker in 2013, making her the first Dane ever to have short fiction in the magazine. Mirror, Shoulder, Signal and Karate Chop have been published in many countries around the world, including in China where there are published by FLTRP.


Lu Nei, born in Suzhou in 1973, now lives in Shanghai. He is a member of Shanghai Writers Association and the Chinese Writers Association. He has published eight novels including Young Babylon, A Tree Grows in DaiCheng and Compassion. He won the annual Novelist of the Chinese Language Media Awards, amongst other awards. Some of his works have been translated into English.


Both writers like to use transportation as an intention in their works. For example, Lu Nei is good at using “trains” to express and promote the plot. He claimed that his grandfather, among the first generation of drivers in China, had witnessed many episodes related to history. So since he was a child, he has been deeply attached to the transportation. At that time, he lived in the west part of China, but he always wanted to see the east part of China. With the development of China in recent decades, transportation links all regions together. The life and the spirit of the generation have also dramatically changed.


In the books written by Dorthe, a lot of female characters did not get married or have a child, but most of them were well educated and had a wealthy background. These characters break a conventional law – when the female has the right to choose, every choice they make will have a profound impact on their lives. Dorthe pointed out that when we spoke of “independence”, we tacitly approved that females lived in the uncertainty of independence. For example, time concepts have been mentioned several times in her works including one’s past and the current background to describe one’s characteristics.


From the perspective of feminism, Lu Nei thought that in Chinese literature, topics about females became popular since the May 4th Movement. The latest topic raised five years ago in a feminism movement. Since he had a daughter, he also paid attention to those movements. People born in 1970s in China was different from those born in Europe because they just survived from a closed political environment. Although the reform and opening up changed their thoughts, but the attention was still not paid to females’ personalities. “At that time. even males did not have the mental and physical freedom.” However, in the Internet era, this generation is synchronized with the world both on the way of thinking and discussing problems. And writers starts to consider about what is females’ goals? Which road they will go on? how should the generation to recognize their identity? In his works, those questions are repeatedly discussed. “Discussion is also one of the ways to reach the target.”


In most of Dorthe’s works, she often used an ironic way and “black humor” . In Denmark, people share equal rights, but actually, there are still some inequalities between males and females. However, no matter in books or reviews, Dorthe has described many self-perceptions, reflections and struggles of human beings.


Lu Nei added that female issues could be divided into two dimensions. One is in the pre-modern era. “the discrimination in China against females at that time was not as serious as someone thought.” For example, there was a preference for women in A Dream of Red Mansions; the God called Nvwa and Guanyin were also females. Lu Nei thought sometimes the issues between males and females is more like a class issue. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the first law promulgated was “Marriage Law”. It made the regulations on monogamy, women’s rights to take part in the work, which moved on the liberation of women. “It is a process from the pre-modern era to the modern era.” Today we should discuss the issues of females on the basis of the current era from the perspective of the modern society. The female issues include affirmative issues, work issues, human psychology and so on. Lu Nei thought that in these frames, literature can also make a lot of efforts and contributions.


Dorthe pointed out that the Internet era brought us various new ideas and possibilities. Her new book called Minna Needs Rehearsal Space was made up of short sentences like social media status updates. She shared the idea with Lu Nei that writers should have a connection with the world, and care about the world in their eyes. writers are keeping on painting the existence of human beings and during this process, she tried to use a new genre and a new concept to create a new work.


In the Q&A session, both of the writers were asked whether a voice or an image could influence the whole book? Dorthe said that the writers are those who walk through time in an endless space. Such words as “beside the table”, “on the metro” or people’s conversations, could motivate her inspirations to the creation of the book, like a variety of small pearls. Lu Nei agreed with Dorthe that such small pieces in our lives inspired him to write the whole work.


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. Once more, in the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival, excellent Chinese writers and 27 European writers will continue the literary conversation between China and Europe.


At the end of the conversation, both of the writers extended their gratitude to the hosts and organisers of China-Europe Literary Festival, and wished that the literature journey could go further and made more readers to appreciate the charm of the literature.


By Xiao Yao

Translated into English by Sarah Sa