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Meet the Author: Lijia Zhang

zhang-lijia1Beijing-based author, Lijia Zhang has a forthcoming book, Lotus, which if you, like us, have read her autobiography Socialism Is Great! should be aniticipating with great excitement. Her first book tells the story of her tumultuous journey from disillusioned factory worker to organizer in support of the Tiananmen Square demonstrators, to eventually becoming a writer and a journalist. Her second book, a fictional story set in the very real and alive world of prostitution in Shenzen, will be published this month.

In the spirit of her new book, Lijia will be having a talk at the Bookworm in the near future. Stay tuned for news on the talk, in the meantime Bookworm manager Olivia conducted an interview with the author in which they discuss the story behind Lotus, and its unique subject matter.

 

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career? What first inspired you to write and share your stories? 

Well, I am a rocket-factory-girl-turned writer (gather you don’t meet one of those every day!) I was dragged out of school at 16 and worked at a rocket factory in Nanjing for ten years. As an escape route, I taught myself English, which effectively changed my life. In some ways, learning English furthered my interest in writing. After leaving the factory, I pursued a career in journalism. Co-authoring a history whetted my appetite for book-writing. I went on to pen my autobiography “Socialism Is Great”, which did surprisingly well.

Why did I launch a fiction project? I’ve always thought that fiction is the finer form of literacy. So I decided to give it a try.

Now why did I pick this rather unusual topic? It was inspired by a deathbed revelation that my grandma was a prostitute in her youth. And I think prostitution touches upon some serious social issues such as the urban rural divide and the growing gender inequality between men and women, and the tug of war between tradition and modernity.Also I think that a brothel is a good stage for a novel because moral dilemma often lies at the heart of a human drama.

 

  1. Did you find that the writing process for your memoir, Socialism is great!, differed with your approach to writing Lotus?

I found writing the memoir much harder. In memoir writing, I didn’t have to worry about the plot line: the structure was based on a truthful story. In fiction, you have the freedom to create anything you like. I found that freedom extremely intimidating, even though it was also exhilarating.

Another challenge was the literary style, something I battled with in the earlier drafts of the novel. Coming from a journalist background, the writing was too journalistic with too much explaining, which didn’t quite work in a literary fiction. The fiction writers have to learn to let the story itself to make the subtle point.

 

  1. Your writing provides the reader with a true insight into some of China’s challenging social issues. Was this always your goal? Why is it important to offer these insights?

In an essay entitled Why I Write, George Orwell gave four reasons: sheer egoism; aesthetic enthusiasm; historical impulse and political purpose. I would say that these four reasons apply to my case as well. I wanted to produce a literary fiction and I’d like to tell western readers what’s happening in China. It’s important to reflect the reality of modern China. For example, many people outside China know China’s rise and its economic miracle but few understand the human cost of this miracle.

 

  1. You dedicate Lotus to your maternal grandmother who was a ‘flower girl’ in the 1930s. Was it her own experiences that inspired you to write Lotus and therefore give a voice to the many women who suffered during this era?

Yes, my grandma inspired me to write Lotus. Ever since I learnt the long-kept family secret, I’ve been wondering how she had coped with her life in her brothel and what kept her going. I do believe that being a devout Buddhist helped my grandma a great deal. It’s a little wonder that the main character in Lotus is a prostitute devoted to Buddha!

Sex workers are the most valuable group of people in the society. In writing this book, I do hope to give voice to this group of women who have no voice. The authorities always look at them through the lens of crime and they are generally stigmatized by the public. Yet, the treatment of those struggling in the bottom of the society offers the real insight of a society.

 

  1. Lotus is already receiving amazing reviews for its expert pacing and description. Do you have any plans for future novels or other projects?

The novel took me 12 years to write. As admitted, I find book-length fiction perhaps too challenging for me. I am trying to write short stories, something I had first tried my hand years ago when I was still working at the missile factory. In several stories, I made use some of the material/writings chopped off from the novel!

I’ve started my next book project, a literary non-fiction on China’s left-behind children. The sheer number of them – more than 61 million of them – is just mind-blowing. I think it is a very important story to tell. In a sense, China’s future depends on how well this generation of left-behind children will prosper.

Paul Beatty wins 2016 Man Booker Prize

The Sellout is a satire on race, set in contemporary America. The protagonist, Bonbon, is an African-American from Dickens, a town that has been removed from the map to save California from embarrassment. Bonbon is being tried in the Supreme Court for attempting to reinstate slavery and segregation in the local high school as means of bringing civic order. It is also filled with satirical characters that represent current racial stereotypes.

 

The Sellout is a life-changing piece of literature, aimed at challenging America’s sacred tenets, as well as drawing our attention to urban life, the civil rights movement and most importantly, racial equality. Amanda Foreman, one of 2016 Chair of Judges, has called the book “A tirelessly inventive modern satire, its humor disguises a radical seriousness. Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.”

 

Paul Beatty is the first American author to win a Man Booker Prize in its 48-year history. Upon winning a Man Booker Prize, Beatty can expect international recognition and an increase in book sales. In addition to his £50,000 prize and trophy, Beatty also receives a designer bound edition of his book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.

Winner of 2016 Nobel Literature Prize

Bob Dylan is the winner of 2016 Nobel Literature Prize!

 

With a musical career spanning over six decades, Dylan’s mellifluous voice is familiar to every musical aficionado. However, trough this prestigious award, he is not awarded for his musical talents, but rather for the strong poetic lyrics he has written. According to The Swedish Academy Dylan is awarded for “…having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

 

Dylan has written many songs about important issues about war, morale, and betrayal. He has also written many lyrics about heartbreak, death and love. Through these lyrics, we were taught the beauty of life’s greatest tragedies.

 

Though Dylan is considered by many to be a musician, not a writer, his artistic reach of his lyrics and poetry could not be put in a single box.

 

Dylan is one of the few legends still alive today, and not to mention still active. Just last week, he performed at the Desert Trip festival in California alongside other living legends such as Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones.

 

It is not know how Dylan reacted to the prize, since he is very private. Moreover, he is the first American to win the prestigious award since Toni Morrison in 1993. Even though Dylan is not a writer/poet in the traditional sense, his lyrics are considered to be literature. As the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, had said, choosing 2016’s winner “…had not been a difficult decision” and she hoped the academy would not be criticized for its choice. Bob Dylan is truly deserving of this award.

2016 Man Booker Prize Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for The 2016 Man Booker Prize has been announced! This year’s list consists of six titles that have been chosen from the thirteen titles appearing in the longlist. Here is the shortlist:

 

Paul Beatty –The Selloutman-booker-prize-2016-logo

Deborah Levy –Hot Milk

Graeme Macrae Burnet –His Bloody Project

Ottessa Moshfegh –Eileen

David Szalay –All That Man is

Madeleine Thien –Do Not Say We Have Nothing

 

 

Winning The Man Booker Prize is an incredible accolade for any writer –it guarantees inter
national recognition and an increase in sales. Last year’s winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James had a 933% increase in sales, with 12,466 physical copies sold in the week following his win.

 

The Man Booker Prize was established in 1968, originally known as the Booker-McConnell Prize. In 2002, the administration of the prize was transferred to the Booker Prize Foundation, sponsored by investment company Man Group. The judges for the Man Booker Prize vary each year, they are chosen by The Booker Prize Advisory Committee. The judges usually represent all aspects of the literary and arts world. For instance, this year’s judges include a writer, a literary professor, a historian an actor and a columnist.

 

This year’s shortlist is an exciting one. All six titles are diverse story-wise, but are all connected by their interest in the world at large.

 

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Hot Milk tells the story of a daughter’s relationship with her hypochondriac mother. Deborah Levy’s novel is heavily shrouded with symbolism and twisted humor, a hypnotic story that is very compelling for the readers.

 

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout challenges the principles of the United States Constitution through a compelling tale of racial equality and a person’s remarkable life journey in the ghetto outskirts of Los Angeles.

 

Eileen is a psychological thriller about a woman who feels trapped in life and finds relieve in her perverse fantasies. Riddled with black comedy, Eileen is a sinister yet unexpectedly funny novel.

 

Graeme Macrae Burnet courtroom drama about murders taking place during 1869 is enticing and masterfully told. Its psychological crime plot is character-driven and very engaging.

 

Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a powerful story about Chinese history and the impact it has on the novel’s protagonist. It is filled with complexity, wisdom and a heartbreaking tale that is difficult to forget.

 

 

All That Man Is asks existential questions that every one has pondered at some point in life. It tells the tale of nine men at different stages in life, all asking the same questions: What is my life –here and now, all about?

 

The winner of the Man Booker Prize 2016 will be announced on the 25th of October!

The Bookworm Book Club: “The World of The End”

Touche Gafla - The World of the End

The Bookworm Book Club invites you to join its monthly discussion on Wednesday, May 18 when we talk about Ofir Touché Gafla’s The World of The End. First published in Hebrew in 2004, it won the 2005 Geffen Award for best fantasy/science fiction novel of the year and the 2006 Kugel Award for Hebrew literature. (more…)

Look at All Our New Literary Festival Books

Books2

We just got our first shipment of books by Bookworm Literary Festival authors, and by goodness we shouldn’t be this excited. Check out all these goodies: (more…)

Bookworm Book Club Selection: Susan Barker’s “The Incarnations”

Susan Barker - The Incarnations

Our next Bookworm Book Club selection has arrived! Susan Barker’s The Incarnations — hailed by The Independent as “China’s Midnight’s Children” — follows a modern-day Beijing taxi driver whose past lives haunt him through a series of mysterious letters. (more…)

Summer Book Sale

booksaleSummer Book Sale will be held on July 4th and July 5th from 12pm to 6pm. 

Bookworm Book Club Selection: The Rest is Weight

The Rest is Weight

Isn’t every bookworm’s dream to read a book and have the opportunity to discuss it with the author? We can help with that. Our next book club meeting, held June 10, will be accompanied by a Q&A with the author, Jennifer Mills. Her book The Rest is Weight is a collection of short stories set in Central Australia, China, Mexico and Russia. We’re proud to call it our next Bookworm Book Club selection. (more…)

Book Club Announcement: May 13th at 7.30

Carnival Rawi Hage

Friends, readers, passengers, climb aboard Rawi Hage’s surreal taxi this month as the Bookworm Book Club tackles Carnival, a volume “beautiful, brave and engrossing” (according to The Guardian). Join us to enthuse or gripe at 7.30pm on Wednesday May 13th.

 Buy your copy at the Bookworm to enjoy a free drink at the event.

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