Thursday, March 27, 2008

FLIP--Festa Literaria Internacional de Paraty


Nadine Gordimer with Amos Oz

Paraty’s glistening bay, cobblestone alleys and colonial architecture are near-fictional in their beauty. It seems only fitting then that since 2002 this spectacular Brazilian seaside town has hosted celebrated fiction and non-fiction writers from around the world for FLIP – Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty. This celebration of literature, which turns the town into a party hotspot, attracts Brazilian and international artists, publishers, writers and the literary-obsessed, for four days of intellectual stimulation, inspiration and festivities – my idea of a perfect vacation.

This year, in daily panels, 40 authors (two of them Nobel laureates) from eleven countries revealed their newest works as well as their views on life, politics and the art of writing.

Writers or performers?

With the exception of singer-songwriters and performance poets (of which FLIP boasted some, including Brazilians Lobão and Chacal), one can’t help but wonder: we know writers can shine in print, but can they light up a stage?

This year’s star-studded roster did not disappoint. The writers invited to perform seized the opportunity to create provocative, often hilarious exchanges across cultural and linguistic boundaries. Three-way simultaneous translation facilitated conversation all around.

Octogenarian Nobel prizewinner Nadine Gordimer of South Africa and Israeli novelist Amos Oz stole the show with Friday night’s panel ‘Panthers in the Basement’. Relieving the moderator of his job, the two veterans traded flourishes of artistic wisdom. “Curiosity is a moral blessing,” affirmed Oz. “Imagining the other is not just writers’ business, it is a way of life.”

Red ink

“I’m beginning to think there is no way to write the battlefield experience,” said Amos Oz, of his army days. “The first time I came under fire, do you know what my first instinct was? To call the police!”

Indeed, writing violence pervaded many of the panels as a central theme. Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) and Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) traced the links between their lives in South Boston and Mexico City, their novels and the crossroads with film. Prizewinning journalists Robert Fisk and Lawrence Wright presented weighty works on the Middle East and the precepts to 9/11.

The most stirring account of brutality and redemption came from former child soldier Ismael Beah of Sierra Leone. Reading from his autobiographical book, A Long Way Gone, the 26-year-old’s warm eloquence upstaged Paulo Lins (City of God). “Violence affects the human spirit the same way all over the world,” expressed Beah. “Books about Africa tend to focus purely on the violence. I try to give a human face to the problem,” he declared.

Business and Pleasure, Brazilian Style

FLIP would not be the Festa (party) it is if it were anywhere but the gorgeous Paraty. So in a place like that, surely I could be forgiven for having played hooky for one afternoon to cruise the islands of white-sand beaches set against lush rainforest. At night, dinners were enjoyed in town where local cuisine includes grilled fresh fish as well as a scattering of excellent Italian, French and Thai restaurants. The sweet sounds of bands like the awe-inspiring Trio Madeira Brasil formed the soundtrack to our dining experiences.

Downside? Not really

The one downside to FLIP was the throng. Twenty thousand people attended this year’s festivities. Lines wove their way around the main tent and when doors opened it felt like the bull run at Pamplona. Yet, despite grumblings from my queue-mates, as a writer I couldn’t manage to be irritated. Seeing authors treated like rock stars put me in an indestructibly good mood.

— Amber Levinson



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