Q: What do you have in common with other Chinese authors living and working in the West?
A: To answer this, I’d like to borrow from my all time favourite Franz Kafka, who wrote in his diary: ”What have I in common with Jew? I have hardly anything in common with myself…” As an author I struggle to find a voice of my own, which I believe could only be achieved by destroying any old habits and mechanism or at least re-thinking them.
Q: You finished your latest manuscript recently. Butterfly is your first novel written in English. Can you describe your work in one tagline?
A: I shared my manuscript with several of my readers. One of them came up with this tagline: “Butterfly, to put in one sentence, is the Chinese answer to The Reader (Bernhard Schlink), crossed with The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje).”
Q: Your own tagline?
A: As an author I don’t think in taglines. I would rather write about subjects that engage me long enough to finish a novel. This is a story that deals with the highly controversial subject of Sino-Japanese War, the Rape of Nanking whose shadow follows to our time and continues to influence people of two major Asian powers and their lives. Butterfly is, simply put, a love story between an unamed young Japanese soldier and a married Chinese woman. I am always drawn to such emotional cul-de-sac, the taboo so to speak. How far would one go to love? Is love love, or is love politics? Is love enough to save us? I wrote the story with these questions in my mind. I want people think.
Q: You were published in Dutch. Why the shift to English?
A: The reason is a quite obvious one, isn’t it. I want to reach an international readership, English seems to me a sensible choice.
Q: Most English writers have an agent representing them worldwide, this in contrast to the Dutch publishing climate where an author deals directly with publishing companies. You are currently looking for international representation for your work…
A: Yes, I’m in the middle of the hunt. It’s a whole new terrain for me, and I find it tiring and ominous a journey. I have browsed through – I don’t know – probably hundreds of UK/US agency websites, I find their tone very scary. I felt kind of overwhelmed by gulit that I’d ever written a book! Well, one must be masochistic to want this. Fortunately, there are exceptions…
Q: What’s next? You are working on something new in between the hunting scenes?
A: I’m writing my second novel in English. I’d like to end the year with something new and positive despite it all.