The evening began with Catherine Belyea ,the host of CBC Radio’s "The Singer and the Song", paying tribute to a Burmese Writer ( I wish I could remember his name) who is under house arrest and encouraged us to sign the petition for his release. She then introduced Anita Rau Badami who started us off with her latest book "Can you Hear the Nightbird Call?".
"Can You Hear The Nightbird Call?" is the story of three women linked in love and tragedy that sweeps from the Partition of India and Pakistan to the explosion of Air India Flight 182. Anita Rau Badami is a very elegant-looking lady and her serene face belies a great sense of humour. I am extremely eager for a taste of her new book. Her previous two, "Tamarind Mem" and "The Hero's Walk" were excellent reads and when someone asks me for book suggestions from the South-Asian literary genre, "Tamarind Mem" is always in my top 5.
Next up was Stephanie Johnson, one of New Zealand's most accomplished writers and co-founder of the Auckland Writers' Festival. Her new novel, "John Tomb's Head" is a unique work told from the perspective of John Tomb, a man dead for 200 years.
After an intermission of 15 mins during which I got chatting with a young woman who had travelled all the way from the UK for this literary festival (and I thought they only did that for rock stars!), we were comfortably tucked into our seats again readying ourselves for a reading with Kiran Desai, this year's Man Booker winner.
Kiran Desai is an engaging reader. She reads quickly and with a lot of energy and expression. Her body language is casual and she uses her hands a lot while reading, (just thought it worth mentioning because it's something I didn't see the others do). When she's not using her hands to make a point, she rests her chin on them, again, so different from the reading style of other authors I have seen. She's extremely effervescent , greeting most people with a hug wherever she went. I'm not sure if she's always been this friendly or if she is just buoyed by her recent success. Either way, it was wonderful to see an author this approachable....I'd love to go see her read again.
The last reader of the evening was Kate Grenville and she read from "The Secret River" which was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize and winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Christina Stead Award. "The Secret River" is a historical novel set between the slums of 19th-century London and the convict colonies of Australia.
She gave us a detailed and informative introduction to the novel explaining that the character William Thornhill in "The Secret River" was based on her great-great-great grandfather Solomon Wiseman who was a waterman on the Thames. In 1804 he was caught stealing a load of timber and was transported to New South Wales (Australia) , but once pardoned, he found himself falling in love with the country and continued to stay on becoming quite a wealthy man. In researching her grandfather from official records, Grenville found there was no mention of the Aboriginal people in the records -just silence. She says, her book aims to mend that, it aims to give the Aborignal people a voice with which to tell their part of the story. Both sasgirl and I agreed she had the most soothing and melodious voice of the four - perfect for storytelling!
After the readings we were encouraged to browse through the collection of books in the mobile bookstore after which we stood in line for the signings. As expected, the line for Kiran Desai was a mile long, so I went across to Anita rau Badami instead. Told her how much I had enjoyed "Tamarind Mem" and she very graciously signed my book. I so wanted to ask her if she would grace our bookclub with a visit, but my courage failed me at the last moment!
An update: Sasgirl has updated her blog! ;)