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‘Understanding the ‘other’ is the beginning of empathy’

  • Published at 04:37 pm November 13th, 2019
DLF_November 8_Pg 3_Understanding the 'other'

Sumana Roy, Monica Ali, Maria Filomena Bouissou Lepecki, Yara Rodrigues Fowler, and Minna Lindgren discuss resistance and refuge in literature at DLF 2019

Women write as writers and not as women writers, even though that is the category they are often put in, prominent female fiction writers said at a panel discussion at the Dhaka Lit Fest 2019.

The authors discussed identity, politics, philosophy of the writing, while speaking on the topic titled ‘Fiction: Resistance or Refuge.’

Sumana Roy said that women writers’ works often get categorized in a way that predefines the reach of the work. “My German agent told me about my book -- which was a memoir -- that only women will read this,” said Roy, who is the author of How I Became a Tree, a work of nonfiction, Missing: A Novel, and Out of Syllabus: Poems.

Award winning Brazilian novelist Maria Filomena Bouissou Lepecki said that writing fiction is like taking a deep dive into the human experience. “Through reading you can live many lives. Fiction is part of the human kind,” said Lepecki, whose first published novel Cunhataí received three awards, including the Best Book of the Year Award in 2003.

British-Brazilian novelist Yara Rodrigues Fowler said fiction can build or disrupt identity. “Fiction can be a place for joy and tranquility and that is also a type of resistance,” said the author, who was named one of The Observer’s new faces of fiction in 2019 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize.

Award winning Finish author and journalist Minna Lindgren said she writes humorously to draw readers and lead them to a more serious place. With an increasing population of 90 year olds in Finland, this demographic emerged as the new marginalized. 

“I write funnily because no one wants to read about the problems,” said the author, whose work The Sunset Grove trilogy (2013 - 2015) is a hilarious, sharp and satirical tale about three 90-year-old ladies solving murder mysteries. The work became a bestseller not only in her native Finland, but worldwide, with translations into 10 languages. The trilogy is currently being adapted for film.

British Novelist Monica Ali said authors don’t necessarily have to deal with politics directly to make important political statements. “A domestic story can be as political as discussing government plots,” said the award winning author, whose novels include Brick Lane, In the Kitchen and Untold Story.

Talking about the voices and perspectives in fiction Monica Ali said she looks outwards as well as inwards for her stories. “The ‘other’ is what fiction is all about. It is also important for moral reasons. If you can do that, that is the beginning of empathy,” she said.