In early November, the picturesque, if rather overcast hills and vineyards along the Danube in Spitz, Austria provided a luscious backdrop to literary discussions ranging from Haiti to Hungary, Brazil to Burkina Faso, Slovenia to South Africa and Brazil to Zimbabwe. Headlined “The Colonists”, the European Literature Days 2016 brought together writers, translators and literary critics to debate cultural appropriation and colonialism in literature in both the literal and metaphorical senses, with literary readings and wine tastings to boot.
© Julia Sherwood
“Every country in the world is a hostage of its history from which there is no escape,” German reportage writer Hans Christoph Buch declared in his keynote speech (reproduced in full in the daily Die Presse). Since first visiting Haiti—the country of his father’s birth—in 1968, Buch has traversed the world, concluding that, although he might have written about the Caribbean and Africa, experience is not transferable across continents. But isn’t a white author writing about Haiti stealing the country’s stories? Do writers have the right to write about countries that are not their own or does it turn them into colonists? Media and cultural scholar Karin Harrasser posed these questions to Zimbabwean lawyer and novelist Petina Gappah and Cuban author and cultural journalist Yania Suárez.
Hans Cristoph Buch © Sascha Osaka
They certainly do, according to Gappah. But with the privilege to tell stories, especially those that are not yours, comes responsibility to tell the truth, she added. She deemed Hans Christoph Buch to have passed this test with flying colours. She stressed the value of the external gaze but warned about striving for authenticity, which is the death of fiction: “If you go down the rabbit hole of authenticity you end up with memoirs.” Suárez agreed that people have the right to write about other countries but only if they’ve spent enough time there to get to know their surroundings properly. Those who haven’t immersed themselves in the culture often misrepresent and fetishize Cuba, for example, creating fantasy narratives and appropriating its recent history to support their own romantic ideas (ideas echoed only a few weeks later by the accolades heaped upon the late Fidel Castro).
Petina Gappah © Sascha Osaka
When organizing an open-air festival, it is easy to realize how religions first came into being: man gazed into the sky and yearned for weather to save the harvest. For seven years now, we—the organization team of the Krokodil festival—have been just-as-obsessively peering at the sky and weather forecasts, always clutching to the one that predicts the worst possible weather. Finally, on the opening day, we phone the Hydrometeorology Institute every two hours. We’re on a first-name basis with its employees.
The festival takes place in the open-air amphitheater in front of the Museum of Yugoslav History, which makes for great atmosphere and an exceptionally high turnout. Krokodil (an acronym loosely translatable as “regional literary gathering which does away with boredom and lethargy”) is conceived as a reading festival and a festival of contemporary literature. More than 120 authors, from over fifteen European countries, have participated thus far.
This year’s theme was “Centers of Periphery.” We aimed to examine the relation between the “center” and the “margin” in literature, as well as in society and politics, exploring the geographical aspects of banishment from the mainstream. READ MORE…
Death likes pretty names.
Pelvic bones make good stirrups.
Gypsies’ cruelty to jades Madame Geneticist has always admired.
Lamp him across the gob, Joshka.
In September 1992, I started school. We lived in the country back then, in one of those Voivodinian villages headed for extinction. Small, fat and grubby-faced, I dragged my green, cube-shaped, double-buckled rucksack—emblazoned with apples, a motif from Snowy White, I suppose—full of Serbian, maths, science and social studies text books. I may have also had a container of that white glue, the one that came with a plastic spatula, the one that smelt of dairy products.
What are you waiting for? Highlights from Asymptote’s Spring 2014 issue include new work by Nobel laureate Herta Müller, David Bellos (author of “Is that a Fish in Your Ear?”), and Prix Goncourt-winner Jonathan Littell. Plus, our annual English-language fiction feature spotlights Diasporic literature from Bosnia, China, India, Japan, and Singapore.
Tickets for America
I am walking down the street
someone is following me
the heart is beating
it is dark
no one around
dread all over
I start to run
the front door is locked
I ring the intercom
just so I am not standing still
such a town