Theres magic in them there Sanur starsa night of readings by the seaby Shelley Kenigsberg

There’s magic in them there Sanur stars:
a night of readings by the sea
by Shelley Kenigsberg

It’s not an ordinary full moon on 7 October. It’s the blood moon, a term that’s become popular when referring to the total lunar eclipses in the 2014–2015 lunar cycle. It’s entirely appropriate then, that it’s this night we’re gathered for the final event in the stellar festival that was Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2014.

Even though the term ‘blood moon’ has, apparently, ‘no technical or astronomical basis’ it is soon evident that we are about to have the blood flowing more strongly in our veins… as we’re dazzled by the bright sky and silver sea at our marvelous venue, the Tandjung Sari Hotel on Sanur beachfront.

When the sun has just set over Gunung Agung, we take our seats and the feasting begins. After first course, comes a story, read (and written) beautifully, by the talented Diana Darling, American born and now, resident of Bali for more than 30 years, a novelist (her The Painted Alphabet was described in The New Yorker as, “a dazzling gem of a novel.” Darling is, latterly, author of Tandjung Sari: A Magical Door to Bali celebrating the 50th anniversary of this legendary hotel. The opening pages describe the coastal town of Sanur, the birth of its reputation as a centre for witchcraft, the Dutch invasion in 1906, the Japanese troops on the same beach in 1942.

Turn the pages of the lavishly produced edition and you’re also taken on the journey of art, gardens, architecture and, thankfully, sketches of all the major contributing players who gave the hotel its reputation as a home for bon-vivants, intellectuals and aesthetes. Mick Jagger and other luminaries have stayed and played. Tandjung Sari has always been the place for the rich, famous and eccentric and is the perfect venue for our gathering of creatives.

The next course of the meal means time to regroup. Listen to stories, jokes, repartee at tables and then, more, from the writers.

When Zia Haider Rahman’s turn comes, we’re taken bounding around the sub-continent, with Bangladeshi cultural traditions meshing (or smashing) with a modern love story. There are intergenerational wars, status games, cultural cues and miscues… Arms, minds and hearts are opened.

Rahman, a British-Bangladeshi, published his first novel In the Light of What We Know this year. It garnered masses of critical acclaim. “An extraordinary meditation on the limits and uses of human knowledge, a heart-breaking love story and a gripping account of one man’s psychological disintegration…Personal and political, epic and intensely moving” (Observer).

That’s for starters. He reads a passage that makes us laugh, sigh and marvel at language… We are provoked and moved… It’s like James Wood, writing in The New Yorker, says: “Astonishingly achieved…In the Light of What We Know is wide-armed, hospitable, disputatious, worldly, cerebral. Ideas and provocations abound on every page.”

Then, when the fiery atmosphere is getting going, it’s time to bring on the passionate Rayya Elias — musician, author and filmmaker. Elias is Syrian born, Detroit raised and, according to her promo ‘New York tested’. She reads from her debut, a memoir entitled Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side. She grew up in Aleppo, in a Syria that is, more than likely, lost forever. When the family moved to America, the Elias’ found themselves in Detroit. This wasn’t likely to be a town big enough to contain the energy and output of a spirit like Rayya and she moved to (and got lost in) New York. Her forays into underground music and the drug scene of the 1980s led to her writing and directing two short films: Anonymous, a 35-minute harrowing piece about her time through an eviction on the Lower East Side, and The Lunchroom, a five-minute short depicting the difficulties of a young foreigner.

Her story is pure grit and candour. It’s deeply moving and funny and the warmth and energy with which she pours herself into life, is right here. It’s easy to understand why she’s been named, “one of 25 new faces to watch” (Filmmaker magazine, 2004).

The final speaker for the night is celebrated Icelandic novelist, Sjón (Sigurdsson). His novel The Blue Fox was awarded the Nordic Council’s Literary (equivalent of the Man Booker) and From the Mouth of the Whale was shortlisted for both the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

We hear a short story that has so much poetry and rhythm that it’s not at all surprising he is also a poet, librettist and lyricist, and has written four operas. Perhaps we’ve not heard much about Iceland, but it’s likely most have heard of Björk with whom he frequently works, including writing songs for her most recent musical project, Biophilia. The latest novel, Moonstone – The Boy Who Never Won 2013 Icelandic Literary Prize English. This and his other novels have been translated into 30 languages.

By the end of the evening, we’ve been read to, we’ve listened to deeply talented writers read their work (to my mind, one of the most enchanting things about writers’ festivals), we’ve asked questions of them, of each other, made interesting discoveries, made new friends and eaten and drunk. With offerings from four writers of the calibre of Darling, Elias, Rahman and Sjón mixed with food, wine and conversation we’ve created magic. Good Sanur magic. It’s been a special night.

Shelley Kenigsberg