|Junying Jeanie Kirk|
Dr Junying Jeanie Kirk (Ph.D., MLitt, MBA, MA, MITI, NRPSI) has recently finished her trilogy 'Journey to the West'. This includes The Same Moon, Trials of Life, and Land of Hope. What's more, these lines from a reviewer better describe the trilogy, “It's an international thriller that reminds of a Bourne movie, and it's beautiful, and very atmospheric insight into life in China, both in the past and the present.”; “This will emotionally affect you, it will bring every ounce of compassion and empathy you hold in your soul to the surface and leave you deep in thought.”
In a literary conversation with S. Anupam, she talks about some of the best novels, her inspirations to write and more. Excerpts...
All of my previous professional roles you mentioned above have helped me in my writing pursuit, but if I have to pinpoint one as the most helpful, I would probably say being a ‘researcher’. I spent a number of years in a few wonderful British universities researching into the lives of ethnic minority students in higher education, and I have learnt a great deal. In the process, I was able to develop skills and an in-depth understanding of human experiences, all of which add colour and texture to the way I perceive what is happening in the world and the impact on different people, depending on where we come from, gender, class, cultures, religion, ethnicity and so on. It helps me as an author to detach myself and capture what is the big picture behind what we see every day.
I should add that the fact that I came from China and have lived in two very different cultures has inevitably shaped my writing, and my outlook, giving me an insight which is invaluable in so many ways, not just by literary means.
How did you perceive the character of Jane (Jane Eyre)? What differences do you find in the characterization of Austen’s Emma & Jane Eyre of Charlotte Brontë?
First of all, I’m delighted that we share our love for Jane Eyre - it is one single most important book in my long reading life that I can sincerely say that it is and will remain the most influential literature in my writing. In fact, I made various references to it in my debut The Same Moon - incidentally, Jane Eyre was also the all time favourite of Pearl Zhang, the protagonist in my “Journey to the West” trilogy, and you must wonder why that is the case :).
Honestly, I have read Austen and found her books interesting, but neither Elizabeth Bennet nor Emma quite matches the impact of Jane Eyre, far from it. As characters, they simply did not appeal to me as a reader, because I could not relate to them. On the contrary, I find Jane Eyre a much more rounded character and easy to identify with, despite her being a poor English governess and me a Chinese girl growing up in a completely different culture and era. Jane Eyre, to me, is a timeless heroine with whom women all over the world can relate to, on one level or another. As you said, Charlotte, as an author, did everything in the character of Jane, her free spirit, her independent will to triumph over life’s adversities, her determination and her unrelenting desire for love and freedom, there is something in Jane that made her stand out, and standing the test of time. She is eternal, yet timeless!
Among the movie adaptations – such as of Anna Karenina, Twilight, War & Peace and Jane Eyre, which one did you like most?
You can probably tell that I am partial towards Jane Eyre - I have enjoyed all films and TV adaptations of Jane Eyre, and it’s something I’ll never tire of watching. Having said that, I’m also a huge fan of Leo Tolstoy and enjoyed his novels immensely. I loved Anna Karenina, and in a way, she reminded me of Jane Eyre, albeit more flawed. Given the time and the setting of Anna Karenina, she was a brave woman and hers was a very tragic story. But overall, I suspect that she would not have won as many hearts as Jane Eyre, given that many of us readers adopt a highly moral and judgmental way of thinking, whether justified or not.
I must admit that I read War and Peace in Chinese when I was a young student in China, so I am not sure how good the translation was. I do remember being hugely impressed, in awe in fact, with the sheer scope of the epic, and the amazing number of characters in the book - Tolstoy is a genius, and there is no doubt about that. I have put this book on my to-read list in the future, and this time, it will be the English version - can I tell you my likes and dislikes then? From my faulty memory, about a book I read over 30 years ago, I feel that I just won’t do it justice to say anything about the characters now.
As a woman, what’s your reaction when VS Naipaul says no woman writer could match his literary – not even Jane Austen?
All I can say that Nobel Prize winner or not, Naipaul is one arrogant and sexist man - I have never read any of his works, and I don’t think I ever will, knowing what he has said regarding women writers not being his equal. He may be a genius, but anyone making the comments like his is not worth my time and efforts! I don’t suppose that I missed anything either :)! The arrogance of any kind, from men or women, is not welcome in my world. Truly great men, or women, in my eyes, can afford being humble and modest - undermining fellow human beings reflect badly on themselves!
Can I first say that I am a fan of Orhan Pamuk after I read his book Snow? As for which kind of author I classify myself, I guess I’ll go for the ‘sentimental’ kind - I wrote my first book, because I decided that it was time that I reflect upon my life, so my starting point was an emotional one - I have also created characters who are not perfect, flawed but real. I wanted to produce stories that people can believe in, characters readers can identify with, and I wanted very much that my books would be read long after I am gone - they will show people what it was like to be living in another era which is different from their own, but among all the strangeness and historical backdrop, they could find something familiar, be it a character or an incident.
Russian literature with its timeless, immortal and some extreme philosophies of Fyodor Dostoevsky (in Crime & Punishment, The Brothers Karamzov), Tolstoy, Gorky, Puskin and Chekhov once led the world literature, but things have changed. These days we hardly come to know any Russian novel. As per your opinion what can be the reason behind it?
I tend to agree with you - Russia produced an amazing number of literary giants, and I have read something about everyone you mentioned above while in China. Sadly, I have not read any of them in recent years, and I have no idea who, if any, in modern Russia, is writing great works as those awesome writers you have listed. I am no expert in Russian literature, nor qualified to comment on her lack of modern writers of note, and I fear that if I put forward any unfounded assumptions or worse, a guess, then I’d land myself in hot water - it is not fair to draw conclusions without proper research - My many years of research experience simply forbids me to make claims which are not based on valid sources.
Responses from the readers....
I confess that as an Indie author, my books have not reached as many readers as I would have liked, but thankfully with those I have reached, their responses have been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. I have readers in Asia, from Phillipines and India, in Canada and the USA, in South Africa, in Europe, and as far as Australia, so I am happy. Here is one quote from a fellow author and an avid reader on GoodReads who commented on The Same Moon: “You will come to writing that is crystal clear in its dissection of motives and emotions. It is uncompromising in its honesty. The descriptions of romance, friendship, academia and family life are concrete, meticulous, accurate and moving.”
Currently, I am reading Mo Yan’s Big Breasts and Wide Hips - I’m reading the Chinese original so I am not sure how good the translations of his books are. I highly recommend books by this amazing, Nobel-prize winner. Another Chinese author I really like is Yu Hua - try his book Brothers, which has been translated into English. I would also recommend a couple of Chinese classics - one is the original Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en’ and the other is Water Margin (known in Chinese as Shui Hu Zhuan, or Shui Hu), also known as Outlaws of the Marsh, Tale of the Marshes, All Men Are Brothers, Men of the Marshes, or The Marshes of Mount Liang, a 14th-century novel written by Si Nai’an.
- Some of my favourites are:
- “Knowledge is Power” - Francis Bacon
- “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Opening Lines of Anna Karenina
- “The journey of a thousand Miles begins with a single step.” - Lao Tzu
- “Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” - Voltaire
Indian books & authors...
My apologies - I must admit that my reading of Indian writers is extremely limited and it is something I would rectify soon. I’ve read a little of Salman Rushdie, God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh on my bookshelves, but have not got round to them yet. I have read a couple of books by India Knight, but she is British :). I personally know an Indian British poet Roshan Doug and I have read his poems. I’d love to have some recommendations from you.
About 'Journey to the West' Trilogy
|Journey To The West|
The Same Moon - Pearl Zhang was born in Sichuan Province in China and grew up during the Cultural Revolution. She was raised in a typically Chinese manner, went to school, got a job, got married, and her whole life path was mapped out.
Then she seized the opportunity to study in the United Kingdom - and stayed. How did she adjust to the Western way of life, and what did she have to do to overcome the barriers? She was in a new world, both foreign and exciting - under the Same Moon.
Trials of Life - Pearl meets Andrew Church, the man of her dreams and then gets a job at a UK university. Her senior colleague Dick Appleton does not welcome her - How can she battle against the powerful machine behind the big men? Would reality teach Pearl a lesson that there is no perfect justice in this world? Or does the ancient Chinese belief hold true that everything happens for a reason? Is it fate or simply the trials of life?
Land of Hope - Jack Gordon, Inspector in the SCS (Serious Crime Squad) hires Pearl Zhang, a professional Chinese interpreter. Together they fight injustice in the corrupt underworld of international crime, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Pearl is the voice of broken dreams, translating raw, deranged, and colourful tales of those who cannot speak for themselves. As Pearl gets more and more tangled in the lives of strangers, Jack becomes a welcome diversion, complicated by the fact that both are married. Their trans-continental roller-coaster ride derails when Pearl tumbles into the sinister world of her clients, a world full of secrets, lies, and unspeakable violence - only this time, it's directed at her.