At the Karachi literature festival, books really are a matter of life and death

Alex Preston in The Guardian:

BooksIn Britain, where every two-horse village has a book festival and authors have become stumbling, portly simulacrums of their rock-star cousins, forever touring their greatest hits, we’ve grown to take our literary get-togethers for granted. It’s hard to imagine that a festival might be revolutionary, politically divisive, that attending could be a matter of taking your life in your hands. The Karachi literature festival (KLF) is now in its sixth year, and welcomed more than 100,000 people through its security scanners last weekend. The festival ended with a lavish British Council-hosted dinner, where the only clue that we were anywhere out of the ordinary was the throb of police boats circling the dark waters of Chinna Creek nearby.

…In my talk the next morning, alongside the writer Mohammed Hanif and Malayalam author Benyamin (whose excellent Goat Days is translated into English), I speak about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s idea of the danger of a single story, the way that humans tend to form a single, exclusive narrative to capture their experience of the world. My idea of Karachi, of Pakistan as a whole, has been fed to me by media reports of bomb blasts and terror attacks, of a country where a significant proportion of the population was illiterate, where those that did read turned to journalism rather than novels to inform their view of the world. Yet here I am in a hall where there is standing room only, speaking to a crowd of enthusiastic, urbane readers, rather to my surprise, very safe amid so many kindred spirits.

More here.