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Han Kang novels In Conversation

Shanghai Noir

Storytelling seems to be a recurring theme in my life. Last week, it was the wonders of the Mythical Saloon. This week, I listened to Kristen Roupenian speak about her debut short story collection You Know You Want This. It's quite an experience listening to someone you know sit up on the stage and talk about her writing. Especially when one of the stories that made its way into the collection, "Night Runner", was the work Kristen had brought to our Napa Valley Writers Workshop.

One of the themes of Kristen's collection is storytelling. Her characters are constantly telling themselves stories about what just happened. As in the case of Margot in "Cat Person", wildly veering from delight at how very well her date is going with Robert to abject fear that he's driving her into the woods to rape and murder her. Like Margot, we all tell ourselves stories to understand and contextualize the world around us, however inaccurate those stories may prove to be.

Fiction, however, is not about the truth in the superficial sense of the word. You're supposed to make up characters, put dialogue into their mouths, and place them in impossible situations. At the same time, you should also be drawing on your own life, extracting some small drop of heart's blood to leave on the page. Han Kang is one of those writers who gives all to her writing. It's almost overwhelming especially when, like me, you read all of her work back to back. I worked in chronological order from The Vegetarian to Human Acts to The White Book. Coincidentally, this is also the progression in which Han's work becomes increasingly autobiographical. You can read the review I wrote for Bookish Asia or the slightly longer version I published on my website as In Conversation.

My father is my first storyteller and his stories usually have to do with growing up in Shanghai. He does it well. The last time we were in Los Angeles together, my father had his three grandchildren in thrall to his tales of World War II. He even made my mother laugh. Some of the stories he told I had heard before. But my father never ceases to surprise me. Malaria? You can read about his brush with death in this week's blog post: Fever & Famine.

Meanwhile, my debut on the VERSO stage approaches with frightening speed. Sunday, April 14 at 7:30pm to be exact. I'm told that parts of the event will be live-streamed on Instagram. Yikes.

Soon thereafter, on Wednesday, 24 April, you'll find me on another stage. This time, it'll be an all-writers panel at Leiden University College discussing the links between Asia and Europe. More news to follow!

Female Language
The Smell of Memory
Fun in the Dark
Homeward Bound
Uncle Xi Wants You!

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