TH: Do you think that the views of Britain and its past in this issue will come as a surprise to your readers?
Yes, most certainly. I think Chinese readers can rarely glimpse into such personal accounts of Britain’s history, from its colonial history through the writing of Andrea Stuart, or more recent history ‘and social history’ like in the stories by Hanif Kureishi or Geoff Dyer. We thought that the personal angle of these pieces would make British history very accessible and real to Chinese readers, who otherwise might know of it only through text books and the general media.
Several of the pieces in the issue – by David Mitchell, Rachel Seiffert and Mark Haddon for instance – deal with childhoods spent in various corners of Britain. Do these younger perspectives offer a way of unlocking the culture?
Young perspectives always facilitate access to a culture because they are more easily accepted, and it is easier, most times, to assimilate with them. It might well be that any reader, including a Chinese reader, will feel the sense of terror and of inevitable catastrophe described in ‘The Gun’, or the sense of loneliness in ‘The January Man’. Without ‘infantilizing’ culture, young perspectives perhaps just take the locks away; the reader does not need to be shy before cultural differences any more.
It was reported recently that Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, a past Granta Best of Young American Novelist, was in the Chinese best-seller lists. This bodes well for Granta coming to China. What are your hopes for the magazine launching in your country, hungry as it is for literature?
The Chinese best-seller lists are sometimes hugely disappointing but also sometimes surprisingly hopeful for people like us. It can happen that very literary novels suddenly sell well, which gives us the energy we need to complete projects such as bringing Granta to China. We have high hopes that we can make the magazine ‘Chinese’ and successful by imposing its high values of quality and thorough reporting of what is going in the world of literature, here and elsewhere. We are much looking forward to publishing the Best of Brazilian writers, as well as Best of British, but also to construct our Desire issue with more local content. There are a lot of young people out there with lots of curiosity and a very critical mind when it comes to literature we hope to challenge them into discussions and to trigger their interests into following Granta for years to come.
The British landscape features prominently and variously in the issue you’ve assembled, from Robert Macfarlane’s sparse and frost-covered Cumbria, to Gary Younge’s failed postwar utopia, Stevenage, and Hanif Kureishi’s culturally divided Bradford. How important was landscape for you when creating this issue?
Landscape is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Britain. And yet in British literature landscape has always played an important role. Britain’s urban landscape is a recurring theme in very contemporary novels that are coming to us, but rural Britain is on our minds now as it was when we were reading modern British classics. We thought it should be possible for us to include landscape without making it the central theme, and yet allowing readers to feel how important urban and rural contrasts are in Britain’s literature and culture today, like a red thread coming from British literature of earlier centuries.
How did you first discover the magazine?
Patrizia van Daalen: For me it was the first time I went to London, age fourteen or something like that, in the living room of the older brother of the friend I was travelling with. I could not read English with confidence then, so the Granta issues I found there seemed way out of reach for me, both linguistically and intellectually. The fascination stayed though, strong enough for me to get back to Granta when I could finally read English properly!
Peng Lun: When I was a journalist in my twenties, I spent a lot of time writing and translating for some other magazines. One or two of editors asked me to write regularly about Western magazines, such as what their cover stories are. This task pushed me to surf on the Internet for information various magazines and I found Granta. The interesting themes of the different issues attracted me.
Granta China 1: Britain
David Mitchell The January Man
A.S.Byatt No Grls Alod. Insept Mom
Andrea Stuart Sugar in the Blood
Rachel Seiffert Hands across the Water
Hari Kunzru Lila.exe
Kazuo Ishiguro The Gourmet
Mark Haddon The Gun
Robin Robertson 1964
Photo Essay Home
Geoff Dyer On the Roof
Joe Dunthorne Critical responses to my last relationship
Ross Raisin When You Grow into Yourself
Gary Younge Stevenage
William Boyd The View from Yves Hill
Robert Macfarlane Nightwalking
Hanif Kureishi Bradford
Jeanette Winerson Orion
Sarah Waters Helen and Julia