The Festival has ended, but summer is just starting

The Festival has ended, but summer is just starting

14 June 2017

By Hande Eagle

In its 11th year, the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival – the only pan-Asian literature festival in the UK – presented a rich and diverse literary programme designed for all lovers of the written word in all its shades. From Afghanistan, China, Georgia, India, Iran and Iraq to  Japan, Lebanon, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey and the Philippines, we emphasised the notions of transgressing geographical boundaries and overcoming political dilemmas through pan-Asian literature. We aimed to pursue peace, compassion, inclusion and openness through our author and panel talks.

We started our literary journey across Asia with six pre-Festival events in April. On our panel talk titled, The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, award-winning playwright Sabrina Mahfouz was joined by prominent writers Leila Aboulela, Selma Dabbagh and Samira Shackle, contributors to a unique anthology carrying the same title as our event. They discussed what it means to be a British Muslim woman writer today and how the real life stories they come to know about translates into the formation of their female protagonists.

Prominent historian and author of Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City, Phillip Mansel joined us for an eye-opening talk onAleppo’s past and present. Mansel told us about the peaceful and prosperous history of the city that now lies in ruin and provided his solutions for resolution in the Middle East.

The 2017 Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival had more female writers than ever before this year, therefore we felt it appropriate to put on a very special talk about the Mosuo tribe, the last surviving matrilineal and matriarchal society in the world. Singaporean corporate lawyer turned writer Choo Waihong took us on a journey through her experiences living with the Mosuo tribe in Yunnan for six years in the light of her recently published book, The Kingdom of Women: Life, Love and Death in China’s Hidden Mountains. The talk provided both a humorous and an intriguing account of what everyday life would be like for us if only women were in charge!

Novelist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo joined us with her recently published memoir, Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up. From childhood to motherhood, Guo gave us a candid account of her life in a remote fishing village on the East China Sea in the 1970s to her life as an artist in England and beyond. Our drinks reception was generously sponsored by Pan Asian Women’s Association.

Our Sin Cities: Vice & Virtue Across Asia’s Urban Landscapes which was sponsored by the Cockayne Grants for the Arts, started in March with Unlock Bangkok featuring Prabda Yoon, who launched his new collection of short stories, The Sad Part Was, and his translator Mui Poopoksakul.

Sin Cities then threaded across the Festival with five more talks focused on some of the most awe-inspiring cities in Asia; four of the most vibrant Indian cities – Mumbai, New Delhi, Kashmir and Kolkata – with Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay and Preti Taneja moderated by Deborah Smith; Shenzhen with Lijia Zhang chaired by Jemimah Steinfeld, featuring Zhang’s recently published novel, Lotus; Beirut with Nasri Atallah, Zeina Hashem Beck (who launched her new collection of poetry at this year’s Festival) and Saleem Haddad moderated by Zahra Hankir; Pyongyang with Suki Kim accompanied by Paul French, and last but not least Manila with Miguel Syjuco chaired by Phillip Kim. The talks offered fresh perspectives on vice and virtue in our chosen cities and raised important questions in our audiences’ minds.

Christina Lamb, bestselling author and one of Britain’s leading foreign correspondents, opened our Festival on May 9 with a talk titled, Writing from the Frontline. Lamb shared her insights about the turmoil in the Middle East starting with how she got into reporting from the region over thirty years ago. She shared some of the most striking images with us as she talked about her latest book, Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-Torn Syria in a Wheelchair.

As 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India we invited Aamer Hussein; Mohini Kent; and Radhika Swarup for a discussion moderated by Kavita A. Jindal. We gave more time to audience questions than usual and had a very lively debate on this critical fraction that displaced between 10 and 12 million people along religious lines, creating overwhelming refugee crises in the newly constituted dominions. Our drinks reception was sponsored by LILY Against Human Trafficking, a London-based charity that works in the UK, India and Nepal.

Turkish author and journalist Ece Temelkuran joined us to launch the English translation of her bestselling novel, Düğümlere Üfleyen Kadınlar (Women Who Blow on Knots) which won a PEN Translates grant. Temelkuran was in conversation with Middle East cultural expert Diana Darke to explore the themes of her novel and challenge assumptions about politics, religion and Middle Eastern women. We even got to find out how her parents met as the events of the 1971 Turkish military memorandum unravelled!

Our Comedy Night featured two brilliant comedians, Bilal Zafar and Yuriko Kotani, who offered bags of fun and laughter as they delivered three sets of incredible witty and current comedy. If you’d like to attend comedy nights at Asia House in the future do let us know and we’ll do our best to make it happen!

Min Jin Lee, author of Free Food for Millionaires, joined us to present her new novel Pachinko for the first time in the UK. In conversation with author, literary critic and former Man Booker Prize for Fiction judge Erica Wagner, they discussed Korean immigration in the last century through her book which follows a Korean family through four generations.

German Middle East expert and journalist Andrea C. Hoffmann flew over from Berlin to tell us about the true story of Farida Khalaf, a Yazidi teenage girl from a village near Sinjar in Iraq whose village became an ISIS target in 2014. Chaired by Diana Darke, Hoffmann shared her insights into the suffering in the region through Farida’s escape and relocation to Europe. This was a highly emotive discussion that led us to come face to face with the harsh realities of our day.

Last but not least, we welcomed Nadeem Aslam, acclaimed author of Maps for Lost Lovers and The Blind Man’s Garden, to close the 2017 Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival. Aslam talked about Pakistan’s past and present through his brave, timely and searingly beautiful novel, The Golden Legend. The talk,chaired by award-winning cultural journalist and critic Maya Jaggi, highlighted his remorse for human suffering across the world.

We were, as ever, delighted to see many new faces come through our doors and join us for our signature event of our Arts & Learning Programme. We hope to see you at our upcoming events as the summer fades into the autumn and we approach 2018 with love and hope in our hearts and literature on our minds.

Our next literature event is on June 30… Click here for further details!