Leonardo Padura and Yan Lianke Interview: Cuba Meets China



We attended a moving and playful literary summit between two great novelists from Cuba and China, who met for the first time on stage. Watch Yan Lianke and Leonardo Padura discuss their views and perception of each other’s socialist countries.

“We are both socialist states and when I hear Cuba being called China’s brother I think it makes sense because Cuban and Chinese people look the same. So when I saw Leonardo Padura I was a little disappointed because he doesn’t look like me at all.” Lianke argues that if you asked a Chinese where he would most like to travel in the world, the answer might very well be North Korea and Cuba: “Because in these countries they can find the long-lost shadow of China.” Lianke himself also nurtures a strong wish to go to Cuba one day – before it changes completely: “… my feelings for Cuba are quite complicated to speak of and also quite deep.”

“Literature is an everlasting fight to express a truth that is hidden.” For many years Cuba held one of the biggest Chinese communities in Latin America. The Chinese quarter in Cuba fascinated Padura, who wrote an article about it and furthermore incorporated it in one of his novels, seeking to depict it as what it truly was. The negative side of society and people, he feels, is something which the ruling forces in Cuba do not wish to be presented – which is exactly why it is important: “In my opinion, good literature is always the one that is able to express some of the recurring themes of the human condition,” says Padura who goes on to claim that his novels are in fact more real than newspapers. Lianke expands on this by arguing that it is often in literature that the truth is found: “So both Cuba and China are places where the truth is covered up. Said in another way, in our daily lives we live in a lie, so to me the best kind of literature is the kind that is based on one person’s voice, singing a song from his soul with a powerful and truthful voice.”

Yan Lianke (b. 1958) is a Chinese author, who has written a vast number of novels and short story collections. Due to the subject matter of his stories, such as AIDS, sex, political abuse and suicide, some of his books have been banned in China. Among his most well known publications in the course of his 30-year writing career are ‘Enjoyment’ (2004) (also published as ‘Lenin’s Kisses’ in 2012), ‘Serve the People’ (2008) (first published in 2005), and ‘Dream of Ding Village’ (2011) (first published in 2005). Lianke is the recipient of prestigious national as well as international awards such as the Lu Xun Literary Prize in 2000, the Lao She Literary Award in 2004 and the Franz Kafka Prize in 2014. ‘Dream of Ding Village’ was furthermore shortlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize and the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Award.

Leonardo Padura (b. 1955) is a Cuban novelist and journalist. Padura has written a wide range of publications including movie scripts, essays, books of short stories and a series of detective novels, which have been translated into more than 10 languages: ‘Pasado perfecto’ (1991) (Havana Blue, 2007), ‘Vientos de cuaresma’ (1994) (Havana Gold, 2008), ‘Máscaras’ (1997) (Havana Red, 2005) and ‘Paisaje de otoño’ (1998) (Havana Black, 2006). Among his other books are ‘La novela de mi vida’ (2002), ‘Adiós Hemingway’ (2005) and ‘El hombre que amaba a los perros’ (2009) (The Man Who Loved Dogs, 2014). In 2012 Padura was awarded the National Prize for Literature, which is Cuba’s most distinguished national literary award.

Yan Lianke and Leonardo Padura were interviewed by Peter Adolphsen and Laura Dombernowsky in connection to the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in August 2015.

Camera: Jakob Solbakken
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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