Xiaolu Guo: Everybody dreams of a borderless world

Born in China in a small village, and after studying film in Beijing Xiaolu Guo went into exile to London. Her work is inspired by her biography, resistance, identity, home – she lives between different worlds and languages. Today she is one of the most appreciated and proliferated authors and film makers in Britain – in November she will be in Berlin at Lettrétage, presenting her works.

Julia Schiefer: You are a film maker, author of best-sellers, awarded for both your writing and movies. The introducing text for the upcoming event in Berlin says that by creating a multi-dimensional experience you (and three other writers) will „take literature to a new level“. What do you have in mind for 16 November?

Xiaolu Guo: Please, PR is different from reality as we know it.

But answering your question, I will probably present the body of my own work, both novels and films along with images for 15 mins. But let me add, I find it cruel that all your life is about spending years and years writing in solitude and then you are just given 15 mins for the public presentation.

Snapshot from the set for “UFO in her Eyes” (Fiction, 2011). The life of a Chinese woman changes abruptly after she believes she has just seen a UFO. The Film is a comment on Chinese society and a sharp portrait of chaotic contemporary times in China. Photo by Philippe Ciompi, Rao Hui, Klaus Maeck & Xiaolu Guo

Julia Schiefer: You come from a small fishing village from South China, studying and living in Beijing before you finally migrated to London. This, that means, your biography is in some or the other way reflected in your stories. And not only themes of identity and cultural differences arise in and ignite your text and movies, but since 2003 English become your second language to write in. Do you think that your stories would have been different if it wasn’t for getting settled in London and ultimately speaking English?

Xiaolu Guo: My essential stories will be the same, i do believe a personal life is beyond linguistic idenities…

But if you talk about the way of narrative or the stylistic difference in different cultures, yes, it is totally different as an author in Chinese or for an author in English. I am both, but I don’t want to be defined by my linguistic technicalities. If I had lived long enough in Germany or in France, I would write in German, or in French.

Julia Schiefer: You called Berlin your „second home“ to keep „contact to the continent“. Why do you feel the need to keep contact?

Xiaolu Guo: Before the Brexit, to be in Britain also meant to be in Europe, but now it is no longer. How sad. You know, I am not British. I am an immigrant. And I am a cosmopolitan by no-choice. The illusion of living in a world without strict boundaries and with general openness has always been our dream – and the principle of life.

Julia Schiefer: Do you go back to China from time to time?

Xiaolu Guo: Very much so.

Julia Schiefer: Are there any changes you recognise?

Xiolu Guo: Yes, as everyone knows: ‘China changes everyday in a big scale.’ BBC or any media outlet would say that and we all know it, intellectually or physically. I think the question should be: ‘What does not change in China?’

Julia Schiefer: You were amongst the 44 authors that signed an open letter from PEN to Xi Jinping to call on him the release of activist, winner of the peace nobel prize and severely ill writer Liu Xiaobo. Now that Xiaobo has unfortunately died, the Chinese government faces massive criticism from the West. What do you think about it?

Xiaolu Guo: Tragic. As a Chinese proverb says: ‘Use an egg to attack a rock’, sums up the individual’s vulnerability in China under the current political environment.

Xiaolu Guo is a writer, academic and filmmaker. Her most notable novels are A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (Orange Prize for Fiction nomination) and Village of Stone as well as a short story collection, Lovers in the Age of Indifference. Her recent novel, I Am China, was longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Guo’s feature films include How is Your Fish Today (Sundance), UFO in her Eyes (TIFF), Once Upon a Time Proletarian (Venice) and She a Chinese, which won the Golden Leopard Award at 2009 Locarno Film Festival. Her memoir Once Upon a Time in the East was just out (Penguin Random House, 2017). She was a named as a 2013 Granta Best Young British Novelist and lives in Berlin and London.

Photo credits: Philippe Ciompi, Rao Hui, Klaus Maeck, Xiaolu Guo

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