30 Oct History is a dish made of 100 sparrows
Or so sayth Anchee Min, one of three authors who participated in a round table discussion at the International Festival of Authors today. Min was joined by Tom McCarthy and Adam Lewis Schroeder on a panel to discuss “Rewriting History through Fiction.”
Although the round table was billed as a conversation about “the re-imagining of historical events in fiction with moderator Martin Levin,” it turned out to be more of a fascintating and at times awkward look into the mind of Anchee Min. She followed up the sparrow comment by adding that history was also a “plateful of moths” (dead ones). Min talked about her experiences growing up in Maoist China, and being brainwashed by Mao, who she referred to as a “poet,” and recited some of his poetry in Chinese. At times, she was slightly more on-topic, recalling her struggle to bring history to life through her writing, and her journey through archival materials to find truths about Chinese history. Min struck me as an intelligent, passionate and slightly eccentric personality. Perhaps that’s a fair observation about many writers?
Although Min stole the show, I’d originally picked this panel because I was interested in hearing Tom McCarthy speak. A few months ago, I came across a piece on Triple Canopy about the International Necronautical Society. Intrigued, I listened to the recording and tried to decipher what it all meant. And then because McCarthy’s newest book C was released, I started to come across his name everywhere. Isn’t it strange how that happens sometimes? It could be called serendipity, I suppose, if you want to be generous with the meaning of the word.
McCarthy was also an interesting panelist, although I wished I was sitting closer to the stage so that I could more clearly see his expression as Min embarked on some of her odder tangents. McCarthy insists that his novel isn’t historical fiction, but that it’s a story about media (and incest.) He also talked about Beckett, and the notion of bearing witness to history, and commented on the ability to draw inspiration and context from ads for women’s knickers while viewing microfiche during archival research.
In case you’re wonder about Adam Lewis Schroeder–he was the quintessential Canadian. Polite, charming and on-topic: a good bridge between Min’s rambling, and McCarthy’s reserved Britishness.
As for the re-imagining of historical events? The moral of the story is that such events are re-imagined constantly: history is as impermanent as a moth, and as flighty as a sparrow.