Monday, September 08, 2008

The Human Cost

Robert Fisk was the most popular author of the weekend. His main session was sold out and a repeat session added to the programme, in which the large room was almost filled for a second time. Besides his solo session, he was also one of the three writers on this panel - "The Human Cost".

Along with Robert Fisk were Chinese writer Xinran, also a big drawcard, and New Zealand nurse Lisa Blaker, whose book "Heart of Darfur" describes her experiences in Darfur with Medecins sans Frontieres (which should have accent marks, but I don't know how to do them in blogger). Xinran was China's first radio talkback host, and she has written books recording the experiences of Chinese people of her parents' generation during the Cultural Revolution. Her comment was "no matter good or bad, past is the roots of our today".

The session was chaired - eventually - by radio journalist Sean Plunket, who arrived a little late, confessing that he had misread the times on his airline ticket! Christopher Moore introduced the panelists while waiting for Sean to arrive.

Sean asked the panellists to discuss their idea of courage. Robert Fisk said that he is not easy with the idea of courage, and that it is easy to identify those who don't have it. He then added that you see courage in people who try to keep you alive as well as themselves.
SP: Do you think you have courage?
RF: No. He added that when you take a risk as a journalist, writer, doctor etc you do it in a very calculated way, judging whether it is worth the risk. Once you decide, you are committed, but it's not courage.

This was the reaction of all the panellists. Lisa had read a section of her book which described an incident shortly after she arrived which would have most of us petrified and unable to move. But in response to the question she replied "I was just doing my job". However she had a lot of praise for the local people who stand tall, have smiles on their faces and have a sense of who they are in the most appalling conditions.

It was a fascinating session and I have a lot of notes. This was one of the sessions which was about the content and background of the books, and not the art of writing. However books did come into it.

Robert Fisk commented that he doesn't like fiction or poetry, but went on to say that the best book on war is Tolstoy's "War and Peace", and that he is moved by the poetry of Christina Rosetti. While in Serbia he re-read Anna Karenina, and he says that for him, Russian novels capture something that no one else does.

Xinran was taken from her parents in the Cultural Revolution, since they were educated people. She was raised by the Red Guard for six and a half years. During this time a kind schoolteacher gave her Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" to read, although she wasn't supposed to be allowed books. It was an eye-opener for her - her reaction was that she was not the only one, and that some other child had a more miserable life than she did.


Anonymous said...

"... her reaction was that she was not the only one, and that some other child had a more miserable life than she did."

This is a powerful thing to discover.

I am glad you are having a good time and that books are coming into it. ;)

Jan said...

Lots to take in here.
Christchurch as ever sounds a wonderful place to be.

Kay Cooke said...

Another fantastic report. You took some great notes and have fed them back marvellously, threading them into an intelligent, considered and astute descriptions. I have found your report of the Festival thoroughly absorbing and informative.