Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Deni Béchard, Dinaw Mengestu, Yejide Kilanko and our Unforgotten Lands

Deni Béchard
Last night I went to the launch of the French translation of Deni Béchard's Cures for Hunger and it was an all-star Montreal writerly event. Translated by Dominique Fortier, an excellent writer in her own right (Du bon usage des étoiles, among others), Béchard's book caused something of a stir when it came out a year ago. The book traces the history of Béchard's relationship with his father, André, and meditates on the influence the senior Béchard had on his son's entire life.

André Béchard was an assumed identity, and the man had a colorful, criminal, adventurous past, robbing close to 50 banks in Quebec and running from the law. Deni grew up negotiating a fraught relationship with his father (who lived in Vancouver) and his mother (in Virginia) and also inherited a love of adventure from his father. The book is a really beautiful and moving tale of loss and love.

We were very happy that Deni Béchard was in this neighborhood during our Festival because he agreed to host an event on African writing. Anyone who keeps up with Deni's Facebook page will know that the man is always on the move: Afghanistan, Tanzania, the Middle East, so he seemed like a natural choice when we were looking for a host for an event entitled Unforgotten Lands: Writing and Remembering.

This event is scheduled for Saturday, April 27 at 11:00 a.m. and will be discussion with Dinaw Mengestu and Yejide Kilanko.

Mengestu is an interesting figure: born in Ethiopia, he came to the US when he was 2 years
Dinaw Mengestu
old and his first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, zeros in on an Ethiopian man living in Washington, trying to come to terms with his past and his rootlessness (there's a Ulysses-like quality to the book as the protagonist wanders the city, always on the move, unable to let the past go: in a certain way, it set the stage for Teju Cole's amazing book Open City a few years later). The book got great reviews and Mengestu followed that a few years later with How to Read the Air, a novel that has, according to Montreal writer Miguel Syjuco in the New York Times:

"...forged something meaningful from his cultural perspective. The book lingers in the mind as personal - not in the characters' specifics, but in their frustrated dislocation in the world. Now that the remarkably talented Mengestu has successfully explored these ideas in two books, one looks forward, excitedly, to watching the author's gaze expand to the world beyond his own experience."

(Yes, a slight dig there at the end, but a constructive and hopeful one.)

Mengestu, incidentally, was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Grant for 2012, one of the most prestigious honors given to a writer (among other professions).

Yejide Kilanko
The other writer involved in the above event is a Canadian-Nigerian novelist called Yejide Kilanko whose book Daughters Who Walk This Path got some good reviews but also some stinging criticism for its portrayal of Nigerian society and, in particular, the role of and violence against women. The book portrays contemporary life in Nigeria, a perspective that for years was uncommon but is now, thankfully, becoming more accepted.

This is a great opportunity to hear three young writers with vastly different backgrounds at early stages in their careers. Tickets to the event, Unforgotten Lands: Writing and Remembering, with Dinaw Mengestu and Yejide Kilanko, hosted by Deni Béchard, are a steal at $10 and can be purchased here.

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