One of my favorite French writers, Muriel Barbery, gave a talk at Taipei Book Fair last Saturday on her new book,”The Life of Elves”. I could not put her first novel “The Elegance of the Hedgehog down reading in Chinese, English or French version even after seeing the movie. The second novel “Gourmet Rhapsody” was a delightful read but this new one is really not my cup of tea even though it addresses big issues such as nature and art that I have great interest in. However a lot of reviewers in goodreads seem to have similar experience. Is it our illusion as readers or is it the market reality for the author?
Earlier that morning, there was a very interesting dialog on “Illusions and realities of historical fiction” between the French author Chantal Thomas (who was the director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, a philosophy professor as well as a writer) and a very popular Taiwanese speaker/ writer who studied history. While the French discussed Marie Antoinette, the migrant queen from Austria. as almost a saint in the Catholic community and villain staging the French Revolution in media of her time, the Taiwanese discussed the controversy of history of Taiwan and the student protests over the history text books.What are facts and fiction in history? Thomas remarked that all history started with fantasy on particular viewpoints and the migrant issues in Europe. I wanted to ask her about the illusions or realities of “Liberty, Fraternity and Equality” resulted from the French Revolution in France today with regard to Charlie Hebdo and the French Muslim youth’s unrest. Unfortunately the moderator cancelled the Q&A.
The talk right after that drew student mobs to jam-pack the small gathering place. It was by the most popular literary figure who shared his passions in lectures on “Dream of Red Chamber” made into DVDs at Taiwan’s top university. He also produced the Chinese Kun Opera of “Peony Pavilion” for the young that created a frenzy among Chinese around the world a few years back.He called “Dream of Red Chamber” the best novel comparable to “War & Peace” and the foundation of Chinese language and culture just like Shakespeare is to English.It is the best life lesson for all Chinese.He taught almost three decades at UC Santa Barbara and his best fiction are about Mainlanders or the gay community in Taipei back in the sixties.
Just before the mersmerizing talk of dreamy literary distinction, my belongings at the end of a bench were thrown on the floor when I had to go to the restroom between the French history and Chinese Classics talks, a beautiful girl berated me for taking up a seat with belongings but her friend got up after I reminded them that seniors would need the seat more than the young. As soon as I regained my seat, a big middle-age man squished in so half of my body was sitting on air; later I heard a young man with Beijing accent calling him “professor”. That was a real lesson for understanding how the students’ Sunflower Movement against China could have come about last year.
It also made me realize the trend of millennial generation over-riding babyboomers is around the world now. Nice guys like Jeb Bush representing the establishment or even Ben Carson had to drop out of a foul mouth and play campaign. The younger generation want any establishment changed even the campaign promises may be illusions, Hillary Clinton of the baby boomer generation would have a very difficult battle. That is the reality. But what is illusion and what is reality in words or life? Whose illusion and whose reality?
“How can I tell how things are? How can I tell how things are not?” Chuang Tzu.