SHYAM BHATIA | 16 JUNE, 2019
Nanjing-born Lijia Zhang
Journalist and writer SHYAM BHATIA covers the Jaipur Literary Festival for The Citizen, currently on at the British Library grounds, London
LONDON: A Chinese author has emerged as one of the sensations of the Jaipur Literary Festival underway in London where writers and their admirers have been mingling in the open air.
Nanjing-born Lijia Zhang, who was employed in a Chinese rocket factory in her younger years, is the author of ‘Socialism is Great’, ‘China Remembers’ and ‘Lotus’, said “Writing in English freed me because in China there is censorship and writing in English meant I did not have to go through censorship.”
Zhang was appearing on a panel headlined ‘Words Are All We Have’, alongside Indian writer Anjali Joseph and Sri Lankan novelist Rohan Gunesekera. In her presentation Zhang revealed how she discovered that her grandmother had first been a prostitute and later evolving into her grandfather’s concubine in 1948.
“I was no rocket scientist, I was just a factory worker”, Zhang said about her own life.. “But I was very fascinated by prostitutes. However the only prostitution I have done was intellectual prostitution.”
Gunesekera, who read an extract from his novel ‘The Match’, partly set in the Philippines, commented about the significance of physical relocation for writers.
“Dislocation is very beneficial for writers”, he explained. “If you’re writing, you always dislocate yourself because you are writing in times that are past. In a sense you are writing for another country all the time.”
Mumbai-born Joseph, author of ‘Saraswati Park’, ‘Another Country’ and ‘The Living’. Commented on the significance of the English language, saying, “We spoke English at home because that was a common language and the language we spoke first.” She also revealed her admiration for the late R.K.Narayan, saying, “It’s the everyday that’s beautiful about Narayan.”
R.K. Narayan’s other admirer at the festival has turned out to be scandal-riven British author Jeffrey Archer who spoke at a separate Saturday morning event held in the open air courtyard of the British Library. Archer, who was controversially exposed by a Fleet Street newspaper for his links to a London prostitute, was subsequently sentenced to four years imprisonment.
Asked if he was ashamed about why he went to prison, he answered “yes”, but he also used the platform of the JLF to talk about other writers and the art of novel writing.
About R.K. Narayan he said, “He’s wonderful, he should have won the Nobel Prize”, before talking about his own work routine that starts at 5.30 a.m. and consists of four shifts, each lasting two hours. “Every word is hand written, a routine I like”, Archer said.