Monday, January 16, 2017

Galle Lit Fest - Last Couple of Days

Katherine Boo, John Gimlette, Christina Lamb
I had a relatively early night last Friday after my day at the fest since I had a ticket for a 9am session on Saturday. My extremely helpful host at Elephant Rock Cottage called a tuk-tuk driver to take me to the Fort, and I went to a discussion about travel writing with Katherine Boo (Pulitzer Prize, MacArthru 'Genius' Award, to name a few of her accolades), who writes extensively on poverty in the U.S. and India; Christina Lamb who wrote I am Malala, as well as a book about another extraordinary teenager, Nujeen, who fled Syria and made her way to Germany while confined to a wheelchair due to her cerebral palsy; and John Gimlette, whom I had heard speak on my first day of the fest. This was an interesting discussion about writing about other places and writing for other voices (Christina Lamb like Katherine Boo is also a journalist, in addition to ghostwriting those two books), and how the content is influenced by the writer's perspective. John Gimlette made a point of acknowledging that he does not write in the same vein as the two women, and the important distinction between travel writer and journalist was made clear. Journalists need to be objective and give facts as they experience and investigate; John writes to give information about a place, based totally on his subjective experience of that place. The women expose corruption and shine a light on some of the most tragic aspects of humanity; John writes to entertain -- but this contrast of styles made for an interesting conversation.

After that talk, I didn't have anything going on until later in the afternoon, but I met up with Nisreen and Riyaz who had been invited to a friend's house in the fort for lunch. I was a little apprehensive about tagging along for a meal, having not actually been invited, but when we got there, there were about 25 people in all stages of having lunch, and food for possibly twice that many. The house was enormous - I saw a fraction of it, but that fraction included a huge outdoor seating area, a semi-outdoor dining room and kitchen, which was obviously not the 'main' kitchen, a more formal indoor dining room, a massive indoor/outdoor living room, and a completely empty room which could have served as a ballroom. And that was just what I saw between the entrance and the outdoor dining room where we ate, I have no idea what was on the second and possibly third floors.

Colm Toibin reading from Brooklyn
After lunch, I went back to the outdoor lounge and read for a while, and then went to an interview with Colm Toibin, who wrote Brooklyn, which I did not read, although I enjoyed the movie. By all accounts, Mr. Tobin's book aren't the cheeriest lot (the movie, Brooklyn could be described as melancholy at best), but the man himself is an extremely jolly sort. He talked about his early life in Ireland, the women in his family who inspired him (the protagonists in all his books are women), and read some passages from Brooklyn.

Michael Fehr, a German poet 'performed' two pieces before
Colm Toibin spoke. Was it poetry? Was it rap? Was it performance
art? I'm still not sure. 
I had made arrangements with my tuk-tuk driver to pick me up after that talk, and through some miracle (which you'd understand if you've spent any time in Sri Lanka), he arrived exactly on time. I went back to my room for a while and rested up for the last event of the night which was a cabaret show at a beautiful boutique hotel called the Sun House. I had no idea what the show would be like, but I really didn't expect a semi-drag performance by a really wonderful singer who accompanied herself on the ukulele. It was a fun performance in a beautiful setting and a great way to cap the day.
she goes by the name Tricity Vogue

And then the last day of the fest was Sunday and one of the best sessions of the whole event. I had heard Christina Lamb talk during the panel discussion on travel writing, but she had a solo interview on Sunday morning during which she spoke extensively about two of her books: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, and Nujeen: One Girl's Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair. These were two amazing topics, stories of two extraordinary teenage girls, and her admiration for both of them was clear. Malala underwent a 5-hour operation to remove a bullet which had traveled through her skull and lodged in her shoulder near her spinal cord and spent 8 days in a coma. Nujeen has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, she left Aleppo in 2015, pushed by her older sister Nasrine, traveling 3,500 miles to Cologne. Malala now lives in England and Nujeen lives in Germany, both girls are preparing to enter university. Made me rethink complaints about bad traffic and poor service in restaurants.