Authors from China are slowly and surely gaining global attention
Sun, it seems, never stops shining on the East. At least, it shines bright and consistent on the writers from the region. If a few years ago, India was the toast of the literary world, Pakistan almost stole our thunder when the likes of Mohammed Hanif, Nadeem Aslam, Hanif Kureshi, H.S. Naqvi and Kamila Shamsie won accolades at practically every other literary meet. Of course, the cries of “Pakistan is the new India” did not go down too well with the authors from across the border. Yet nobody could deny that, thanks to new recognition in the West, Pakistani authors had moved from the days when their books were found under the India head at bookstores in the U.S. and England!
Not to be left out, Bangladesh screamed Monica Ali, Tahmima Anam. The latter’s second novel The Good Muslim was nominated for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize. Ali, a British author of Bangladeshi origin, had her own Brick Lane short-listed for Man Booker Prize way back in 2003. Indian sub-continent was truly the toast of the literary world. Never mind those whispers that it was all a part of political correctness.
Now, it seems the focus is moving away ever so slightly from the subcontinent. Not too far. Closer home. The world is looking at China, the country that is changing. And like their
Indian-Pakistani-Bangladeshi counterparts, the Chinese authors are enjoying their moment under the sun. Not high noon yet, but getting there. Not too long ago, we had Bi Feiyu whose Three Sisters got the Man Asian Literary Prize. His words had compassion, his plots were identifiable. He reached a wider readership through translations. But Bi was merely following the path charted by the likes of Jiang Rong and Su Tong.
All that, however, was merely a trailer of better things to come. So, right on cue, we have Mo Yan, who has left everybody else behind. He has got the biggest of them all: The Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming thus the first Chinese citizen to win the prize and fulfilling a nation’s longing for international recognition for its literature! His writings have been compared to those of William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez while retaining their innate Chinese ethos.
Of course, there have been whispers that Mo Yan didn’t deserve it! He was not qualified for the award as he is a member of the Chinese Community Party. In an emerging geo-political order, the Swedish Academy had been politically correct, the accusations went. So voluble was the criticism that Goran Malmqvist, one of the 18 members of the Academy, had to come to Mo’s rescue. “It had nothing to do with politics, friendship or luck,” he told journalists. Never mind. The detractors would not even have read Mo’s work!
Yes, read, one should. How else one can know that the breeze of the literature blows fair and brisk in this part of the world? As for criticism, well, there is nothing new there.
If this time, the loudest criticism of Mo’s victory came from the West and more muted from this part of the world, earlier when Gao Xingjian had won the Nobel in 2000 — Gao was not a Chinese citizen though — the Chinese government had read in it an attempt to award somebody who was critical of the Communist establishment. Now the criticism comes from the other side of the table! But then what’s literary prize without a controversy? A certain V.S. Naipaul might just nod in agreement.