The life that was changed by literature

Yesterday’s meeting with Kiran Desai ended with a moving history. ‘I was sitting at Heathrow Airport,’ said one of the readers at the beginning of her story during the evening with Kiran Desai. ‘Somewhere near me I saw a decent-looking man. I didn’t want to accost him, but I saw that he had Desai’s book. We struck up a conversation and… we’ve been together since then. It’s been five years since we got married. Thank you,’ said the reader to the writer. This personal story told as an expression of gratitude to the author is one of the most beautiful moments of the 5th Conrad Festival.

This story closed the meeting with the author almost symbolically. Desai, the Indian author writing in English and known to Polish readers thanks to her novel The Inheritance of Loss, answered Grzegorz Jankowicz’s questions about the burden of the tradition and history – the most important one that refers to an individual. However, there were also stories referring to the relationship of literature and life. Desai talked, among others, about the ‘authenticity of Dickens’ characters’. ‘Yes, indeed, it does happen that the literary character is somehow more authentic than the man we know from reality. Literature generally allows something that we don’t expect: a change of experience’, said the Indian writer.

Another writer who talked about the relationship between literature and reality during his evening was Tom McCarthy. His novel Remainders, in which the main protagonist suddenly becomes the owner of 8.5 million pounds after a car accident caused by ‘something falling from the sky’, was published in Poland this year. This sum helps him to reconstruct events from the past by paying people for playing original scenes that resemble what he has already left behind. Answering questions as to what is real and is not, McCarthy referred to Lacan’s psychoanalytic conceptions. He talked about the ‘the trauma of inauthenticity’ of the main character of his book. Compared to Thomas Pynchon, he also talked about the theme of mechanisation, which is important in his novel. And when asked about the essence of telling stories, he said: ‘Literature is an experience.’

On Friday, Radio Kraków presented a radio play Za żelazną kurtyną [Behind the Iron Curtain] for the first time and yesterday the author talked about the contexts of her book in the International Culture Centre. ‘Poles have a tendency to think that what they experienced after World War II was extraordinary in comparison to other countries. But was it really so?’ asked Wacław Radziwinowicz, the host of the meeting. Applebaum answered: ’It’s true that the soldiers of the Home Army in the Lublin region had particularly hard experiences in 1946. The same goes for Christian liberals in Berlin. But apart from that, as far as communist violence was concerned, the situation was similar everywhere in Poland, Germany or Hungary,’ she said. Talking about ‘violence’, Applebaum stressed that she had in mind a specific kind of action addressed to certain social groups rather than masses. ‘Those who became promoted were uneducated, from a low social class or poor,’ said the author, referring to the example of Kiszczak’s career.

Yesterday we also learned about the winner of the award The Goncourt List: the Polish Choice 2013. For the 16th time a jury consisting of students from various Polish universities selected the winner at the French Institute in Krakow. This year’s award went to Frédéric Verger and his novel Arden.

On Saturday the festival audience met also… Tymon Tymański. The pretext for this meeting was the premiere of Tymański’s book ADHD. The two leading topics around which the conversation with the artist was conducted were music and… family.

Earlier, at noon, we were wandering with Maciej Zaremba Bielawski across Europe. Obviously, the leading topic was Sweden. Another event that attracted a large crowd was the meeting of Dariusz Nowacki with Szczepan Twardoch, whose novel Morfina [Morphine] met last year not only with warm reception from critics, but also – which does not always goes hand in hand in it – with a huge interest of readers.

Today at the Festival: at 10 a.m. – Typo-doodling. Typographic workshop for children, at 11 a.m. – in the Literary Lambs for Children series at the Kino Pod Baranami cinema – Plastusiowy pamiętnik (Plastuś’ Diary), and at 12 p.m. – A lesson of impoliteness with Professor Doctor Baldie (a lecture and practical workshop conducted by Marcin Wicha). From 1 p.m. we invite you to An Afternoon in Reykjavik. At first, there will be Poetic appetisers with the participation of Eiríkur Örn Norđdahl, Ţorgerđur Agl Magnúsdóttir, Hallgrímur Helgason and others, at 2 p.m. there will be a meeting with Yrsa Sigurdardóttir – an Icelandic author of crime novels, and at 3 p.m. – an interview of Szymon Kloska with Hallgrímur Helgason, called Charles Bukowski of Icelandic literature. At 4 p.m. – the Poetic Encounters project being an attempt to combine poetry and film, half an hour later (from 4.30 p.m.) – an open lecture of Marek Krajewski on methods and techniques used by the writer, and at 6.30 p.m. – a discussion Football is literature with the participation of Marek Bieńczyk, Wojciech Kuczok and Michał Okoński. The final event will be the meeting entitled Catullus: sex and literature with the participation of Grzegorz Franczak and Aleksandra Klęczar.

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