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Ma Jian and Sjón talk to Daniel Hahn

Fictions: The Big Picture

Hay Festival 2019 , 

A conversation with two international superstar novelists who’ve created new works of extraordinary scale and scope. From exile, Ma Jian shoots an arrow at President Xi Jinping’s China Dream propaganda, creating a biting satire of totalitarianism that reveals what happens to a nation when it is blinded by materialism and governed by violence and lies. Sjón’s Codex 1962 is a breathtakingly ambitious novel. As the late, great Eileen Battersby wrote of him, the Icelandic writer “has mastered the fabulist’s technique of merging history with high-speed comedy and surreal profundity. With a man made of clay and a bewildered angel struggling to get rid of a symbolic trumpet, there are shades of the Bible as well as Milton. Sjón, an heir of Mikhail Bulgakov and Laurence Sterne, eases literary references into the text as mere suggestions.”