Chat Bi Feiyu, winner of the Man Asian Literature Prize for Three Sisters, says it is important for an author to remain calm and composed
For more than a year after the much-feted Moon Opera , he did not pick up his pen. And when he did, he chiselled together a masterpiece called Three Sisters . Before one could pronounce Bi Feiyu, the Man Asian Literature Prize was his! At one time he believed literature came from passion; then he realised that calmness is important for a writer. Welcome to the multi-layered world of Bi Feiyu, whose book, Three Sisters has just been released in English. Through his interpreter, Bi took a few questions online. Excerpts:
After Jiang Rong and Su Tong, you have completed a hat-trick of Chinese authors winning the Man Asian Literary Prize. Is it safe to say literature is in very capable hands in this part of the world?
No. In smaller countries, we don't have good translators. It does not mean that these places are bereft of good authors. Sometimes even great works fail to reach a global audience. In this part of the world, especially in India, authors are not as lucky when it comes to winning literary awards. Their works are regularly shortlisted, though. According to me, the best feeling is when your work gets nominated. Winning an award is a different ballgame. It is sheer luck.
There is increased international interest in stories emanating from the Indian subcontinent as well as China. Does it in part reflect the new global dynamics?
Yes! I'd say it is happening due to economic opportunities in India and China. Also, economy and culture go hand in hand. Earlier the East used to follow the West, read their authors, and follow their ideas, etc., because their economy was flourishing. But the roles have interchanged now. The West wants to learn more from the East.
The story of Three Sisters is immediately identifiable. The yearning for the male child...then the change in focus to women....
The history of China is such that whatever disaster happens, it is the women who face the brunt of it all.There is an improvement in the way they are represented now, but it is far from being immediately identifiable. Any woman would desire to know/establish her identity in the society. I guess the context of the problem is historical and societal, not gender.
How easy/difficult was it to reach out to an international readership that did not know the Chinese society?
For a Chinese author to write a book on the Cultural Revolution, it is important to clearly state its political direction. But when I was writing Three Sisters , I thought more about the people and their language. What literature cares about is not politics, it is about literature itself. That is the main reason I still read Rabindranath Tagore. I love all his books/works.
How challenging was it to string together a tale of three sisters?
This question must be answered in two parts: One is passion and staying calm and composed is another. Passion is important to open up your inner world. But when I'm writing, I'm very calm and cool-minded. I wouldn't leave a word, character trait, description, any minute detailing just like that.
I would finely engrave everything into my writing. Once I'm done with writing my manuscript, I keep correcting my language. When I was young, I believed too much in passion. But when I became mature, I realised that calmness is important. Being calm, I could represent something that is otherwise very complicated. Calmness is the key.
ZIYA US SALAM