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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