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Rough Start Perfect Finish For Galle Fest

Feb 5, 2011 1:54:02 PM - thesundayleader.lk

A First Impression

By Raisa Wickrematunge - Photos By Aamina Nizar

Ilya Travanov, Chimamanda Adichie and Randy Boyagoda

The Galle Literary Festival suffered some setbacks before it even got started, with Louis de Bernières missing his flight for the opening event.
I was unsure of what to expect when arriving in Galle early Saturday morning. My first stop — ‘More Than Just A Good Laugh,’ a round table reading with Tishani Doshi, Andrey Kurkov and Pauline Melville, three writers who spoke about using comedy for effect when writing. Andrey Kurkov was particularly entertaining, while Pauline Melville with her deadpan asides had the audience in stitches. Each writer came from a different country and culture, so the need for humour to cross cultural divides was addressed.

The next event I was supposed to attend was Jill Dawson’s writing workshop, which was unfortunately cancelled at the last minute. However, when I found out Louis de Bernières would be replacing Kiran Desai at the Hall de Galle I made sure to attend. Like many others, I studied Captain Corelli’s Mandolin for A/Levels, and I saw many clutching their worn and dog-eared copies. De Bernières proved to be a natural storyteller. His event was definitely the high point of the Festival for me. He kept the audience spellbound with readings from his books, which were set everywhere from Turkey to rural England. In between, he regaled listeners with tales of his exploits from Colombia to Cephallonia, the inspiration behind the book which catapulted him to fame.
His wry observations made the hour seem like a matter of minutes. For one reason or another, many of the authors I had purchased tickets for (Jill Dawson, Orhan Pamuk) had cancelled their sessions. In the case of Jill Dawson, the organising committee seemed unsure as to what was going on, with one person asking people to “grab a volunteer” to find out what time (if there was a time) the event was re-scheduled for.

The Closenberg session, although it was supposed to highlight local literature, seemed to lack some flavour. It was also overcrowded, necessitating us having to leave early.
Caveats and cancellations aside, it is no small feat to convince international writers to perform in Sri Lanka. The market for such an event here is necessarily small, yet award winning writers have participated in earlier years as well. For that, at least, the Festival organisers deserve praise.
Never Too Early For a Good Laugh
By Dinouk Colombage

This year’s edition of the Galle Literary Festival boasted a line-up mixed with familiar faces and newcomers to this part of the world.
Having attended ‘More Than Just A Good Laugh’ on Saturday morning I was pleasantly introduced to a roundtable discussion including three authors from three different parts of the world. The panel was made up of Tishani Doshi (author of The Pleasure Seeker), Andrey Kurkov (author of Death And The Penguin) and Pauline Melville (author of Terrorists In Eating Air).  Moderated by Ashok Ferrey, the group looked to explore humour in writing and the messages that are presented through this style.

Sadly the discussion lacked the participation of the audience; Ashok Ferrey failed to capture the true quality of the books by asking mundane questions. Described as a roundtable discussion, it became a question and answer session. Each author clearly has his/her own style of writing, all unique to the part of the world that they come from.

Tishani Doshi, spoke of a book that many people in the audience would be able to relate to. Unfortunately it seemed fairly cliché during the reading and did not truly grab the attention of the audience. The idea that it possessed humour was lost through a description of a fictionalised version of her upbringing. Sadly of the three, the book and the author showed themselves up as being the first timers.

Andrey Kurkov’s interview opened the doors to authors from a new region for me personally. Set in the cold and ironically humourless Ukrainian society; Kurkov explores the underworld through a humours pairing of man and penguin. The book boasted of the cruel humour that would seem appropriate when talking about that part of the world. For many in the audience the inclusion of the penguin, the description by Kurkov quickly engrossed the audience. However, the reading failed to embrace the audience further as much of the humour was lost on those who are unfamiliar with the region or its history.

Pauline Melville, explored a topic in her book which appealed to many and effectively expressed the humour that the author was searching for. Presenting the topic of terrorism and corruption many in Sri Lanka would find this book exciting and easy to relate to. For this reason the author’s humour and messages were more clearly portrayed.

Having sat through what can be described as an enjoyable session it was disappointing that a more effective mediator was not selected. Ashok Ferrey formed a sad figure — trying, yet failing to fit in, often interjecting with rather unnecessary comments. Clearly Ferrey had read the books but his questions failed to truly explore the humour of the novels. An audience unfamiliar with a writer such as Kurkov, interacted through the author’s own comments rather than the mediator.

On a personal note the discussion was both enjoyable and enlightening. It opened up a new region of authors and a humour that is not commonly seen in Asian authors. The Galle Lit Festival must be complimented for the introduction of such authors, yet must be rapped on the knuckles for having an ineffective mediator. Clearly for a Saturday morning the choice of discussion was a good one; it woke the crowd up with a laugh and energized them for the rest of the day.