Debrief – Ubud Writer’s and Reader’s Festival 2011 – Bali, Indonesia

What an incredible experience! This year’s festival, while not as glamorous and well-organized as last year’s, did not disappoint … much.

The highlight of the festival for me were the following authors and their books:

Kunal Basu – The Japanese Wife

Summary (from Goodreads):

‘It’s an improbable and hauntingly beautiful love story, almost surreal in its innocence. And I immediately knew that this was the film I had to make.’ – Aparna Sen

An Indian man writes to a Japanese woman. She writes back. The pen-friends fall in love and exchange their vows over letters, then live as man and wife without ever setting eyes on each other – their intimacy of words tested finally by life’s miraculous upheavals.

The twelve stories in this collection are about the unexpected. An American professor visits India with the purpose of committing suicide, and goes on a desert journey with the daughter of a snake charmer. A honey-mooning Indian couple is caught up in the Tiananmen Square unrest. A Russian prostitute discovers her roots in the company of Calcutta revolutionaries. A holocaust victim stands tall among strangers in a landscape of hate.

These are chronicles of memory and dreams born at the crossroads of civilizations. They parade a cast of angels and demons rubbing shoulders with those whose lives are never quite as ordinary as they seem.

Shehan Karunatilaka – Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew

Click below to read a full summary and review by The Gurdian’s Tishani Doshi.

Juan Gabriel Vasquez – The Informers

Summary (from Goodreads):

When Gabriel Santoro publishes his first book, “A Life in Exile”, it never occurs to him that his father, a distinguished professor of rhetoric, will write a devastating review in a leading newspaper. The subject seems inoffensive enough: the life of a German Jewish woman (a close family friend) who arrived in Colombia shortly before the Second World War. So why does his father attack him so viciously? Do the pages of his book unwittingly hide some dangerous secret?As Gabriel sets out to discover what lies behind his father’s anger, he finds himself undertaking an examination of the duplicity, guilt and obsession at the heart of Colombian society in World War II, when the introduction of blacklists of German immigrants corrupted and destroyed many lives. Half a century later, in a gripping narrative that unpacks like a set of Russian dolls, one treacherous act perpetrated in those dark days returns with a vengeance, leading the reader towards a literal, moral and metaphorical cliff edge. With a tightly honed plot, deftly crafted situations, and a cast of complex and varied characters, “The Informers” is a fascinating novel of callous betrayal, complicit secrecy and the long quest for redemption in a secular, cynical world. It heralds the arrival of a major literary talent.

Andrew Fowler – The Most Dangerous Man in the World

Summary (from Goodreads):

The battle lines are drawn: freedom of speech against the control of the State. The Internet is the battle ground. In this war there will only be one winner. In The Most Dangerous Man in the World, award-winning journalist Andrew Fowler talks to Julian Assange, his inner circle, and those disaffected by him, deftly revealing the story of how a man with a turbulent childhood and brilliance for computers created a phenomenon that has disrupted the worlds of both journalism and international politics. From Assange’s early skirmishes with the “cult” of Scientology in Australia to the release of 570,000 intercepts of pager messages sent on the day of the September 11th attacks and on to the visual bombshell of the Collateral Murder video showing American soldiers firing on civilians and Reuters reporters, Fowler takes us from the founding of WikiLeaks right up to Cablegate and the threat of further leaks in 2011 that he warns could bring down a major American bank. New information based on interviews conducted with Assange reveal the possibility that he has Asperger’s syndrome; the reason U.S. soldier Bradley Manning turned to an ex-hacker to spill military secrets; and how Assange helped police remove a “how to make a bomb” book from the Internet. The mother of one of his children also talks for the first time about life with Julian when he was setting up WikiLeaks.

According to the “Pentagon Papers” whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg,
Julian Assange is “the most dangerous man in the world.” But just who is Julian Assange, and why is his quest for transparency and freedom of the press so dangerous in the eyes of his detractors? In a fascinating account that reads like a Tom Clancy thriller, Fowler reveals all—what it means, and why it matters. Like The Looming Tower on
9/11 or The Lords of Finance on the collapse of the US economy, The Most Dangerous Man in the World is the definitive, journalistic account of a massive global news event that’s changing the face of journalism and the way governments do business.

Books I heard about that sound interesting are:

Aneesha Capur – Stealing Karma

Summary (from Groodreads):

You keep your trust in me, Wairimu said. No harm will come to this baby who is of your womb and of my land. Brought up in a convent in India and married to a man who has made Nairobi his home, Mira knows no life beyond the walls of her bungalow, until the phone rings one day and a voice informs her that her husband has died. In the midst of an attempted military coup, Mira is left without any income and with a young child to support. Her response is to withdraw into herself, and it is left to Wairimu, their African housekeeper, to bring up Shanti. While Mira searches for memories from pasts that are not quite hers, Shanti struggles to make sense of her mother s seeming indifference as she rapidly approaches adulthood. Set against the vast landscape of modern Africa, Aneesha Capur s debut novel is a beautifully crafted tale of a mother and daughter coming to terms with their history even as they grapple with their precarious present.

Janice Y.K. Lee – The Piano Teacher

Summary (from Goodreads):

Exotic Hong Kong takes center stage in this sumptuous novel, set in the 1940s and ’50s. It’s a city teeming with people, sights, sounds, and smells, and it’s home to a group of foreign nationals who enjoy the good life among the local moneyed set, in a tight-knit social enclave distanced from the culture at large. Comfortable, clever, and even a bit dazzling, they revel in their fancy dinners and fun parties. But their sheltered lives take an abrupt turn after the Japanese occupation, and though their reactions are varied — denial, resistance, submission — the toll it takes on all is soon laid bare.

Enter Claire Pendleton from London. Months after her husband is transferred to Hong Kong in 1951, she accepts a position as a piano teacher to the daughter of a wealthy couple, the Chens. Claire begins to see the appeal of the sweltering city and is soon taken in by the Chen’s driver, the curiously underutilized Will Truesdale. A handsome charmer with a mysterious limp, Will appears to be the perfect companion for Claire, who’s often left to her own devices. But a further examination leaves her with more questions than answers.

An intricately woven tale of lives changed by historical events, Lee’s debut brings this hothouse flower of a city alive with passion, and imagines characters both unforgettable and tragic.

Wrap up:

The parts of the festival that did disappoint were that some books were not available for sale, which meant that I couldn’t get my hands on the book right after or right before a session started. Also, this made it, while not impossible, difficult to get author signatures because that is one of the main reasons that I attend the festival.

Another disappointment was that Junot Diaz did not make it to the festival due to illness. I guess I shouldn’t be too harsh – the man was sick, after all – but it’s a disappointment none-the-less.

But these were the only disappointments, and considering that the benefits (the opportunity to talk books, read books, listen to people talk about writing books, and buy books) totally out-weigh the deficiencies, I am  more than happy with the sessions I attended, and with the overall experience. Having said that, I am already looking forward to next year!!



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