Hong Kong International Literary Festival

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The tale begins again at Hong Kong’s most celebrated International Literary Festival; Ysabelle Cheung dons her reading cap to bring you this year’s highlights 

The Hong Kong International Literary Festival is now in its 13th year, but the 10-day event is far from unlucky. Although general manager Paul Tam joined the team just a few months ago, he has worked tirelessly to pull together a stellar line-up of events and authors. “For my very first Literary Festival, I’d wanted to mould the programme into something that reflects the city we live in – brimming with life, colour and diversity in race, culture and lifestyle,” he says. “I am extremely happy how it all came out, with each of the events shining in its own right.”

As per usual, literary heavyweights abound. Wild Swans novelist Jung Chang (see our interview on p78), Kyung-sook Shin (the winner of last year’s Man Asia Literary Prize) and Ma Jian (author of provocative novel The Dark Road, which explores China’s one-child policy) headline the festival. But there’s also a plethora of other events set to make the festival the most exciting one yet. A spotlight on Scandinavian literature introduces a host of northern European authors who are household names on their home soil: poet and performer Sjón explores his relationship with Björk as well as the mystery of myth and folklore, Scandi-noir writer Åke Edwardson takes us through murky waters with his detective fiction series, and Christian Jungersen presents his third novel, You Disappear, in a world-premiere event, with a local performance group reading excerpts.

For the uninitiated, there is a panel discussion on the rise of Scandinavian crime fiction – the modern movement was arguably buoyed into popular consciousness by Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – and the stylistic narratives that make up the genre. 

For those with a more sensory nose for literature, pull up a chair at an event in the festival’s ‘excite’ series. Sex-in-fiction is explored in a panel discussion, with works discussed including Madame Bovary and Lolita, alongside a delicious literary lunch with chef and author Jen Lin-Liu. Her latest book, On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta, is a trulyglobe-trotting romp, which goes in search of the origins of the humble, staple ingredient. 

Locally, there’s much to explore as well. BBC’s The Forum hosts two talks, one titled Hong Kong: An Island of Creativity? And aside from the usual literary suspects – Xu Xi, Duncan Jepson, Nury Vittachi – there’s a wave of local writers taking part, too. Three Indonesian domestic helpers (see our interview with Susie Utomo on p14) discuss finding solace through the written word while working in a foreign city; former SCMP columnist and pathologist Dr Feng Chi-shun dissects the dark side of Hong Kong with a series of true stories; City University’s Sharmistha Mohanty and Justin Hill engage audiences with their written work; and a colourful Pride Lit session pulls together novelist Marshall Moore, poet Nicholas Wong and prominent writer Nigel Collett. 

Performance based events include the debut of Luke Wright on Hong Kong shores, whose Essex Lion romps through bawdy satirical verse, and a group event, Unsavory Elements (based on the non-fiction anthology of the same name), which promises a sparkling cast including publisher Pete Spurrier, writer and editor Tom Carter and an instrument-toting Graham Earnshaw. Hong Kong’s festival is just one of the many that will be popping up around Asia in the coming months. An exciting representation for and of our city.

Hong Kong International Literary Festival Various venues, Nov 1-10. Tickets: $300-$60; cityline.com, urbtix.hk.

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