The Bookers winning novel, ‘The Discomfort of Evening’, was discussed at the Lahore Literary Festival by writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and panelists Eman Omer, Nur Nasreen Ibrahim and Michele Hutchison here on Saturday evening.

The novel narrates the story of a child (girl in this case) who is growing up in a conservative, religious and farmer family in a Dutch village and struggles with everything as she grows up in a household where most of the things are not answered.

Marieke told the panelists it was basically her own story, where she struggled to understand the meanings of many things that were important for as she crossed over from childhood to adolescence. The parents of the girl mourned a child loss and would remain unresponsiveness to other children.

She accepted that there were some sensitivities in a deal with topics like woman body and sexuality, but then a writer cannot shy away from difficult topics; they have to deal with them. “I had to take up all those topics despite being sensitive. In families where religion matters a lot and defines most of life, as was the case with me, answers to many questions become more elusive. Most of the answers are unsaid and left to the kid to deduct from communication in silence.”

In order to travel to those silent areas and reproduce them in adulthood, she kept her inner child alive and used her imagination in later years. However, apart from the imagination, the reality of childhood also comes into play; in fact, the novel is a mixture of both. One additional thing one needs to keep in mind is to keep imagination closer to reality, and have a continuous reality check on all of them as did.

She accepted that finding answers for, or defining, women body through a religious prism is a difficult task and she had to struggle in many such areas.

Lucas also said that she had to drop a joke about Hitler from her novel because it was considered to sensitive by her publisher.

Michele Hutchison, the translator of the novel to English, spoke about her translating experience and still keeping the novel Dutch in spirit. “I stuck to the lines written by Lucas rather than allowing myself some creative license and go away from written words to convey the meaning.”

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2021

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