This year’s Beyond Words Festival featured a great line-up from across the Channel. Throughout the week, the Institut Français du Royaume Uni in South Kensington, London, was bustling with people eager to see their favourite French authors in conversation with their British counterparts discussing not only their latest books, but many things words and ideas from France, past and present.
The first event I attended was A Gallic Evening with Muriel Barbery, Antoine Laurain and Jean-Baptiste Andrea, chaired by Viv Groskop. Gallic Books publish “the very best of what the French are actually reading.” Over the past decade, they have brought over one hundred authors to the British reading public.
This welcome collection contains twenty-seven short stories by six influential Spanish women writers, written over the past one hundred and twenty years. The translations are fluent and easily readable, the editing ‘light-touch’ and unobtrusive.
One surprising feature of the stories is the constancy of the themes they address. The stories concentrate on marginalized, frustrated women, their lives stunted by male prejudice and violence. While the formats change, the key issues remain.
A prolific and acclaimed writer in his Italian homeland, Erri De Luca’s thought-provoking, philosophical investigation builds in suspense ending with an emotional bomb. Although a work of fiction, to what extent Impossible is inspired by his actual experiences of being sued for an alleged incitement to sabotage to the Lyon-Turin high speed train line on environmental grounds is open for debate. (De Luca was cleared on 19 October 2015 when a not-guilty verdict was pronounced.)
A senator from the centre-left Democratic party supportive of the high speed train line, referred to De Luca as being a relic of the ‘years of lead’, the restless political period of the 1970s-‘80s when left-and-right-wing activists carried out numerous violent attacks, including the abduction and murder of former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro.
Afghan women have been in the news again since the Taliban have banned Voice of America, the BBC and Deutsche Welle after women students and teachers protested peacefully in response to secondary schools for girls being shut down. Writing in Afghanistan is once again a taboo craft for women.
As a schoolteacher put it: “The Taliban are scared of an educated girl. When a girl is educated, a family will be educated. And when a family is educated, a nation will be educated. Ultimately, an educated nation will never, ever nourish the motives of terrorists.” www.democracynow.org
Evelio Rosero’s chilling dystopian parable, Stranger to the Moon, is like the detailed, imaginative nightmare of a fantastic surrealist painting by Max Ernst, populated by the bizarre and often monstrous figures of a creation by Hieronymous Bosch. From the start, the reader is sucked into the mind of one of the undesirable Naked Ones exiled in a wardrobe in a vast but cramped house.