It has been an amazing experience. And I am so privileged to live in the same country where the Ubud Writers&Readers Festival takes place. In the splendid frame of green and golden Ubud in Bali, I spent three days of pure bliss concentrating on one of my biggest passions: reading.
The whole event was perfectly organised. It took place in four venues in Ubud, and it hosted writers talks, panels discussions, books launches, movies, workshops and special events linked to gastronomy, touring, yoga and much more. Not enough time to do it all, and my husband and I spent the three days with the programme in our hands, uncertain on whether to privilege the talk of a world-renowned writer or the discussion on Papua.
I was absolutely delighted to have a chance to listen to Anchee Min’s lively presentation of her book The cooked seed. Anchee Min is a Chinese writer whose Red Azalea I read many years ago, and stayed with me. With a lot of incisive humour, she told us how she managed to get a visa to go to the States, and of her ordeal to gain a dignified status as an immigrant.
My first session was with Anuradha Roy leading a discussion on animals in literature, one of the few panel discussions I participated in, because I privileged single authors presentations. Among these, the ones I absolutely adored were Chigozie Obioma’s presentation of his first novel The fisherman (which I bought and of course asked him to sign for my collections of books signed by their authors 🙂 ), and Christina Lamb’s talk about her last book Farewell Kabul, with such an interesting insight on Afghanistan and the life of one of the greatest foreign correspondents of our times.
There were other sessions I was absolutely ecstatic about, in particular the one of Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean lady who managed to flee to China and later to South Korea, and wrote a book about her experience, The girl with seven names. The hall was packed. As my friend Colm pointed out, it does not happen every day to listen to people from North Korea talking about how life is in their country.
The festival was also important to me because it allowed me to get an insight on topics of crucial importance for the country I am presently living in. I particularly loved (and cried a lot during) Galuh Wandita’s account of her experience in Timor Leste and more generally in trying to uncover the truth on some of the past events of Indonesia. Galuh is an absolutely charming woman, who cried when talking about the reunion of “stolen children” with their true parents in Timor Leste. I bought the book she contributed to, Enduring impunity, which tells about atrocities women went through in various moments of the history of Indonesia, Timor Leste and Myanmar. She signed the book for me, and wrote “To Claudia, with love and hope“.
The same love and hope gripped me deeply when I listened to my beloved and much admired Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh, whose newsletters I have been reading regularly in the last two years, and whose work in support of Palestine I strongly admire. It was an absolute treat to find out that he would participate in the festival. I wrote him before going, and told him that my husband and I would be sitting in the first row to applaud his tireless work to speak the truth about Palestine. And there we were, in an amazing place with like-minded people linked by the same desire for justice and peace, listening to one of the clearest minds about the wrongs done to Palestine. A moment that has filled my heart with a warmth that keeps me going, now that I see that news about the situation in Palestine have again lost the headlines.
Let me finish this post with the good-bye Anchee Min gave us after her speech. It was perfectly in line with the creative, cheerful and participated atmosphere that permeated this fantastic festival: