By anitasethi, 10-Oct-2013 18:14:00
Is it possible to enjoy music with lyrics we can’t understand? Evidently so as global sales testify, for meaning is transmuted more mysteriously in music, not only in the literal lyrics, but in the rhythm, cadences, intonation of the singer’s voice. So it was that musicians singing in Portugese enchanted an audience on the North Sea, in the Snape Maltings concert hall made famous by Benjamin Britten, most of whom, I assume, couldn’t speak the language. The etymology of ‘translate’ is ‘to carry across / carry over’ and something is inevitably lost (or found) in translation. But with music, this process of translation is different for the transmission of meaning is more instant and visceral.
The opening concert at the Brazilian Flipside festival was a spectacular tribute to a genre which became known internationally as Bossa Nova and those who created it - one of Brazil's most beloved poets, Vinicius deMoraes, the composer, essayist and diplomat, together with Antônio Carlos (Tom) Jobim , exploring his songs such as The Girl from Ipanema, Corcovado and Chega de Saudade. Contributing to the show, under the direction of author, composer, pianist, professor of Brazilian literature and football specialist José Miguel Wisnik was singer Paula Morelenbaum and Arthur Nestrovski, artistic director of the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra. Bossa Nova music was explored again later in the weekend by David Treece who talked the audience through his new book “Brazilian Jive from Samba to Bossa and Rap”.
The haunting, poetic lyrics of singer-songwriter Adriana Calcanhotto fill the air on Saturday evening, singing of love and love lost, as the atmospheric lighting dips from icy blue to a passionate red.
I step out of the famous concert hall and into an inky black night lightened by rich clusters of those Suffolk stars which so inspired painters such as Constable, and soon the Bossa Nova has been supplanted by the music of nature - the ebb and flow of the sea and, in the morning, insisting I rise from sleep, the song of the seagulls.
By anitasethi, 09-Oct-2013 12:55:00
An Audience with Ian McEwan and Milton Hatoum
It was in the rainforest town of Manhaus near the Brazilian border that Milton Hatoum, a writer of Lebanese heritage, was born and it is a place (described by chair Kirsty Lang as a “melting-pot of a city”) that proves a strong influence in his work, as he invoked in an engaging session with Ian McEwan in which they discussed their inspirations over the decades. Proving the power of myth, Hatoum read an enchanting extract from “Orphans of Eldorado”, his contribution to the Canongate Myths Series, which reimagines the myth of Eldorado, a myth that has haunted the imagination of writers for centuries. It conjured my own memories of a trip deep into the Amazon rainforest and through the terrain rumoured to have been home to that elusive land of Eldorado.
“The Holy Ghost inspires me - though sometimes it’s away and I have to work”, quipped Hatoum, when asked about his inspirations. He originally trained as an architect which might make for the intricate architecture and scaffolding of his literature. He spoke amusingly about starting out as a writer: “I tried to write my first novel in Madrid in 1980 and I failed - it was a disaster”, he reminisced, but it was a happy ending, eventually, for “20 years later I wrote Ashes of the Amazon”.
Fiction “transforms memory and imagination into language”, said Hatoum, describing how his grandfather told him stories adapted from the Arabian Nights.
Meanwhile, Ian McEwan invoked a famous phrase by Newton, ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’, but, said McEwan, whereas Newton claimed to be able to see a long way by standing on the shoulders of giants, for McEwan it is the other way round: we can’t see because of the giants standing on our shoulders. He also delved into the world of his childhood, conjuring his “rootless childhood” during which inspiration was not found in place but in the literary, first experimenting with writing short stories.
“Zadie Smith told me that she was writing a science fiction novel - I’m dying to read it - I can’t wait to know what Zadie Smith’s spaceship will be like!”.
The discussion moved on to consider the role of the novelist in our society, with Ian McEwan commenting: “In a sense all novelists are spies, intensely watching the human condition. In a sense we are all spies. There is an innate neural circuitry that allows us to read a face”, and moreover, novels are a “refinement of what we do anyway”, they are “a form of gossip - we love to talk and dissect the lives of others”.
Are you a spy, Milton? asked McEwan of his fellow panellist. “In a way I spy on myself, also....”, said Hatoum.
Hatoum discussed the role of Brazilian literature internationally, the Latin American boom of the 70s and why Brazilian literature was not really included in it, because of being written in Portugese rather than Spanish. They discussed the great Brazilian novelist Machado, of whom apparently Rushdie is a great reader.
The thorny issue of identity was also a fascinating topic: when asked whether he considers himself a "Lebanese-Brazilian", Hatoum rejected the label, preferring to consider himself a Brazilian - although, of course, as a writer ultimately free of all labels.
The packed auditorium erupted into laughter as Ian McEwan recounted how his son had to study his work at school, his essays referring to “McEwan...”. “You used to call me Dad”, he told him. His teacher marked him down because they thought his novel was an attack on rationalism (it is, in fact, the opposite).
The event - as with others in the festival - sparked engrossing dialogue between the writers and a quote that lingers in the mind is from Hatoum: “a culture that is cut off from outside turns in on itself and crumbles”. Thanks to festivals such as this - bringing Brazilian literature to an international audience - there is no danger of culture being cut off from itself.
By anitasethi, 06-Oct-2013 11:09:00
Seagulls were my alarm-clock this morning and I awoke to a gloriously sunny day at Flipside, a festival celebrating 10 years of the Brazilian Flip festival in Parati. It would easy to mistake this coastline, with seagulls soaring into a cloudless blue sky as being beside the Brazilian coast, when actually I write this from Snape Maltings, Suffolk, with the North Sea lapping nearby.
It's a fitting setting for a festival which has so far explored the theme of borders, being on the edge of things, in a fascinating array of ways, with a line-up that includes dynamic pairings of Brazilian and British writers, such as Ian McEwan and Milton Hatoum in an entertaining and enlightening session yesterday, and Ali Smith, Blake Morrison and Helena Blaker discussing the work of Elizabeth Bishop and the influence of Brazil on style and sense of her lyrics. Music has also been a highlight of the festival, with the best Brazilian musicians echoing into evenings that have been filled too with stars of both meanings - musical and literary stars, and the clusters of intense bright stars that are to be found on a clear night by the coast. It is indeed a beautiful place for a festival.
By anitasethi, 07-Jul-2013 12:07:00
During Independent Booksellers Week, Fiction Uncovered FM 87.9 took to the airwaves and I had the pleasure of presenting a day of debate, panels and author interviews, the first day presented by Louise Doughty. Some photos from the day are below and the podcasts shall be up soon at fictionuncovered.co.uk/radio.
We broadcast live from Foyles booksellers, whose Green Room has an impressive board filled with author autographs of those who have read at the store; spot the signatures in the background of the first photograph below!
Panel discussions including "Writing and the Online Space" (second photograph below; thanks @Teditor) and the "new gatekeepers" of fiction ignited plenty of lively debate and my interviewees included James Meek, Charlotte Mendelson, Gabriel Gbadamosi, and Francesca Segal.
Fiction Uncovered celebrates our best British fiction writers and a theme throughout the day was not only uncovering fiction but also how fiction itself has the power to uncover hidden realms of thought and emotion.
Browsing through the bookshop later the beauty of the book as an aesthetic object is everywhere apparent but the day also brought to the fore the ways in which the world wide web can enhance - rather than detract from - their power.
By anitasethi, 04-May-2013 10:35:00
By Elizabeth Bishop
Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?
An extract of this poem "Questions of Travel" forms the epigraph to the fascinating new book by Amit Chaudhuri, "Calcutta", and is also the title of a new novel by Michelle de Kretser, which I'm looking forward to reading.
This photograph was taken in the Alpujarras mountains of Spain.
By anitasethi, 04-Apr-2013 11:58:00
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
In this cruellest month, be kind to yourself and read some great books - The Waste Land is a good place to start. So far this year I've been lucky enough to read a wide range of wonderful stories with settings spanning the globe including Japan, Calcutta, Canada, St Petersburg, New York, Israel, from 1920s America to 19th century Russia.
Below is a selection of interviews, reviews, columns and features I've written this year for The Observer, The Guardian, New Statesman, The Age / Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, the Times Literary Supplement, The White Review and the Herald.
As it would take me until 2014 to write in individual links, you can find links to these pieces on my Twitter feed @anitasethi.
Interview with Ruth Ozeki
Interview with Amit Chaudhuri
Interview with Marjorie Celona
Interview with Jane Birkin
"Mimi" by Lucy Ellmann
"Notes from Underground" by Dostoyevsky
"Z" by Therese Anne Fowler
"All the Way" by Marie Darrieussecq
"The People of Forever Are Not Afraid"
"Snake Ropes" by Jess Richards
"Love's Creation" by Marie Stopes
"Seeking a home away from home - and away from racism"
Observations: Generation Rent
By anitasethi, 20-Feb-2013 14:00:00
I've been peripatetic for a while which means not being able to take things with me wherever I go but travel lightly, which is partly the joy of being able to have a 'home in cyberspace', a website which is a 'still point in the turning world', as it were, and - depending on your service provider - it's a lot less hassle to store things in cyberspace than in some gloomy morgue-like lock-up. Sifting through my non-virtual storage space a little while ago, thinking what to keep and what to discard, my signed copies are definitely a few of my most precious things. If I could, I would take my books with me wherever I go, but as that's not possible, here's a reminder of why, in an age of type, where we are Arial or Times New Roman or Garamond, sometimes nothing is more delightful than good old handwriting. [click the covers].
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