May 15, 2009

AWRF 2009: Mo Zhi Hong

The Auckland Writers & Readers Festival 2009 takes off today right in our own back yard, just the other side of that constructivist public artwork which is Aotea Square's present embodiment. Books in the City will be there, living the promise of Auckland City's friendly work-in-progress signs. Yes, I'll be "Getting on with Writers and Readers".

Mo Zhi Hong. In fact, I'm already getting on with getting on. I scored a coffee at the Library cafĂ© with my favourite Aucklander of the moment, Mo Zhi Hong, the author of The Year of the Shanghai Shark, which won the Best First Book Award in the South East Asia and Pacific Region of the Commonwealth Writer's Prize 2009. This makes him a finalist for the overall award, which will be announced at the Festival on Saturday night. In anticipation of our date, I read the book fervidly, on a plane, on the bus, the footpath, at meals, in bed. In every case, it was a wonderful experience. I couldn't believe that it was a first book, and by a software developer at that.

Then when I met MZH, as he styles himself, that was a wonderful experience as well. Here is the impression I took away: nonchalant intelligence, or perhaps intelligent nonchalance, tenderly illuminated by an appreciation for the unexpected, the non-standard, the evocative.

Here is what the judges wrote about his book:

“The Year of the Shanghai Shark is the story of a young boy’s rite of passage as he enters into the bustling, cosmopolitan street life of the contemporary Chinese cities of Dalian and Shanghai, under the tutelage of his uncle, a professional pickpocket. This superbly realised world brings us a gallery of eccentric and unforgettable characters such as the elderly poet who writes poems in the town square with a brush dipped in a can of water, the local repair man who has ingenious ways of fixing broken things and the cousin who excels at school but discovers that he has to learn English if he is to pursue his dream of emigrating to America. The beguiling voice of the narrator draws us into the shifting world of petty crooks, first-world businessmen, tourists, the NBA and McDonald’s. In this limpid and elegant novel Mo offers the reader a China caught in the vortex of change.”

My conversation with MZH started off by giving Books in the City its first-ever literary scoop:

KC “When I went to get your book out, I was surprised to see it was catalogued as teen fiction.”
MZH (looks dismayed, shakes head, laughs) "Not teen fiction!"

Auckland City Libraries, Christchurch City Libraries, Wellington City Libraries, take note!

La Cina e' vicina. China is near. This was the title of an Marco Bellocchio film from the sixties about family and radical politics as lived in Italy on the eve of the student protest movement. With its clever wordplay, and for its great irony,  it became a catch phrase. The narrator of The Year of the Shanghai Shark is an orphaned teenager for whom the Cultural Revolution, born the same year as the student movement, is such ancient history as to have no significance. He and his friends are living through a different revolution.  Is their China any closer?

The year of the Shanghai shark by Mo Zhi Hong. Read the book and make up your own mind.

Read the rest of MZH's interview here.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 02:30
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