Sunday, April 01, 2007

KLILF 2007: Camilla Gibb calls Rushdie a mediocre writer

The Kuala Lumpur International Literary Festival 2007 has just ended after three days and over thirty different events featuring writers from over ten countries. Holding the events in a shopping mall (this is MallAsia after all) had its plusses and minuses. For one thing it had a warmer (in some instances literally) and easier atmosphere. You could have cappuccino and a giant piece of carrot cake (I didn't see much wine about) while listening to your favourite author, and there was no necessity to sneak off to the nearby mall between sessions for shopping. You were already in one. But on the other hand, some of the mall employees had difficulty understanding why we didn't like their piped-in music played so loud and their industrial fan.

Anyway, from early feedback, it appears to have been an enjoyable experience. There were the obvious crowd pullers. Tash Aw (Malaysia) was without doubt the most popular, with people spilling over, down the staircase at Alexis. Benjamin Zephaniah (Britain) was the other top draw, wowing the young and the old with his infectious streetwise poetry and rhythm. Dina Zaman (Malaysia) got good crowds and interesting questions for both her questions. (One participant got so involved in the discussion that she purportedly stalked Azmi, the moderator, to the parking lot after the session and proceeded to explain to him the difference between the foreskin and the hymen, because she felt her original 'question' on Dina's tongue-in-cheek essay 'Born again Virgins' had not been adequately addressed.) Another well attended session was with Camilla Gibb (Canada) who responded to a question from the floor by saying that she was not afraid of having a fatwa against her for bringing up Muslim issues in Sweetness in the Belly, and adding (quite unnecessarily one would have thought) that the fatwa against Salman Rushdie was "... the best thing that happened to his career ... he is a mediocre writer."


And then there was Antares, who explained carefully and slowly how politicians have evolved from a specie of reptiles ...