Bharati Mukherjee’s new novel represents not only a new departure but also the latest instalment in a substantial and satisfying body of work.
Opening Night in Quebec City
Chatting this morning with Simon Jacobs, the energetic executive director of the Morrin Centre in Quebec City, where the second annual imagiNation festival will take place this week. I’m participating in the Opening night event, Wednesday, April 13th (7 p.m., 44, Chaussée des Écossais) with guest of honour Roch Carrier.
Simon will be the host, so we were talking about the format and the questions he will be asking Roch and me, exploring points we might have in common. Not easy, that last bit, given Roch’s eminence.
Roch is the author of a string of classics, starting with La Guerre, Yes Sir ! (1968), which made not only his name but also that of his audacious translator, Sheila Fischman, who dared to use French in an English book. The Hockey Sweater (1984) has become one of the defining books of Canadian children’s literature, and his recent titles include Les Moines de la Tour (2004), a novel of the Twin Towers – and of the village tower of his youth. He has also devoted a lot of his time to activities other than writing, serving as head of the Canada Council for the Arts and as Canada’s National Librarian, no less.
I haven’t written any classics, nor have I headed up any national institutions, but I do have this much in common with Roch: I too have spent a lot of my time on activities other than writing.
Talking to Simon, I found myself thinking about my need, while I was a Blue Metropolis, to find more time to write. I wondered if Roch had ever had the same wish. Perhaps we will find out on Wednesday.
But it isn’t all or nothing, with writing. There’s always going to be something else that takes up a big chunk of your life. It isn’t essential, or perhaps even desirable, to focus solely on writing.
Writing takes place in a context, after all. That context can be the literary milieu, which is the inspiration for my most recent book, Writing in the Time of Nationalism (2010). It can be the broader cultural world. It can be family relationships or an enclave of refugees, an online community of writers, a bygone world on board a battleship, a future world on a distant planet, or some mix of two or three or more.
Whatever the context, some of it may be imagined, some remembered, some invented, and some documented fact. We write out of a certain place and time and situation, and we have to live that, whatever it is.
After a preliminary reading, Simon will sit Roch and me down to talk about “Culture: A Source of Tension or Cohesion?” If you’re in Quebec City, do stop by. I’ll be one of the judges of a student writing competition on Thursday, April 14; the winners will be announced during a VIP cocktail 5-7 p.m. that evening. And I’ll be signing books at La Maison Anglaise stand at the Salon international du livre de Québec at 1 p.m. Thursday -- ou j'espère voir mes amis du milieu francophone.
The festival continues through April 17. I'm looking forward to getting together with the other festival participants: Todd Denault, Sheree Fitch, Paul Kropp, Rabindranath Maharaj, Andrew Potter, Ami Sands Brodoff, Claire Holden Rothman, Alexander MacLeod, Nigel Thomas, Charles H. Mountford and John Whitt. As I mentioned to Gregory McCormick when he emailed me just now about Blue Metropolis (about which more next week), I just love being invited to festivals – and not having to organize them myself.