Exploring the Human Connection with Wuhan’s latest Author

"Several times during my journey in China, I felt like I needed a guide to go with me wherever I went, to help me when I was down, and show me the right path when I was lost" Fist sentence of "The Foreigner" by Hortêncio Cassemene.

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The Foreigner by Hortencio Cassemene

On Sunday 6 May the most Wuhanese hotel in Wuhan hosted the Best Author Awards & Brunch by Elevare, an active company directed by the charming Shubila Ruth, who was kind enough to invite a Wuhan Social journalist to this event.

Huang He Lou and cranes were here for the party.

This ceremony was also an occasion for “networking”, tightening the bounds of different foreign “communities” and Chinese local people to use the words of invited speakers.

A speaker with the English translator

Lectures were focusing on book publishing issues: find you audience, think about the cover of your book, etc. All of this was both in Chinese and English 

A speaker giving a lecture about book publishing with a Chinese translator.

A Book Award for Writers in China

Running for the prize: three international students with experience in China, and an illustrated book for kids written by a Veterinarian. Since the results between those monuments of prose were really close, it is not inappropriate to also advertise it.

Dealing with pets’ behaviors, this book is a must have for friends of animals

Besides the award itself, the afternoon was dedicated to lectures and workshops about different subjects, mostly related to book publishing-for adults, and animals comportment-for kids. Such a program must be considered as a faux-pas, especially since a special room was available for children…

A lecture for smart youngsters in Wuhan
Kids everywhere. Adorable but noisy 

In fact, a private English school, with all the kids along with teachers and parents, was invited. Although it sounds like a good idea (it allows the parents to come on a Saturday, it brings laughters and cuteness, etc. ) the activities should really be held separately.

All participants, you can see the flag of the English school.

The Foreigner, by Hortêncio Cassemene

The Foreigner, the winning book in Elevare‘s Best Author contest, was written by a student from Angola already famous in his country. It is a collection of thoughts and personal experiences of a 25 year old student facing hardships while studying abroad. Published with the help of Chongqing university of post and telecommunications, the book already made his author famous in his country.

The cover of the winning book, although it looks like a thriller rather than a biographic account

By coincidence, even though readers of those chronicles might be familiar with the word “irony” to describe this kind of situation, the book has the same title as a famous French one by Camus. This latter being inspired by a poem of Charles Baudelaire that I give here in a Portuguese translation by Christian Guernes:

O estrangeiro

– Diz, homem enigmático, de quem gostas mais ? Do teu pai, da tua mãe, da tua irmã ou do teu irmão ?

– Não tenho pai, nem mãe, nem irmã, nem irmão.

– Dos amigos ?

– Utiliza uma palavra cujo sentido desconheço até agora.

– Da pátria ?

– Ignoro em que latitude se situa.

– Da beleza ?

– Amá-la-ia de bom grado, deusa e imortal.

– Do ouro ?

– Odeio-o como odeia Deus.

– Ah ! De que gostas tu então, estrangeiro extraordinário ?

– Gosto das nuvens … das nuvens que passam …lá longe… das maravilhosas nuvens!

文如其人

As an example of genuine handwriting, here is a reproduction of the autograph that the author kindly made on a hard copy novel. Every one is familiar with the Chinese saying: “the writing is the man”, which is like a rule of the human mind for those who enjoy the art of handwriting.

A most complex and mysterious signature. The red seal in the bottom is an ex libris.

And here is the back cover with a quick presentation of the author.

Can we talk about this jacket?

A Chat about Literature

I also had the chance to interview the author himself and I am sure readers will find interest in this chat, even though my poor knowledge of the lusophone world was a tragedy for the conversation. I warn hasty readers that I decided to talk only about specific points of Hortêncio’s book, the latter still has many other well-written sentences and insightful ideas to exercise your sagacity.

if you are interested you can buy the book by following this link

AL-interviewer
HC-author

AL: To begin with, let us talk about the first thing seen by a reader: the title of your book. Why did you choose The Foreigner?

HC: The title was meant to evoke everyone who is studying and living in a different country, community, place where you are treated like a different person, you end up being called a foreigner, an outsider. I talk about adapting to a new environment, so you have to change things to adapt to the new environment.

AL: What about the cover? 

HC: How to pick a cover? Based on the inside of the book: you have to express with images the feelings, the emotions you put into the book. A while back a friend took this picture and I ran into it one day. For my surprise, it is the same person who did the picture for the first book. This was more than a coincidence. The colors were made by OkStudio with precise reasons, even though I was not expecting such a result! Colors represent the flag of Angola, my country, red is also an important symbol in Chinese society. And of course the Chinese title makes reference to the environment where I wrote my book

AL: Let me quote a most interesting idea of your book: “There is a language that does not depend on the words we express but on the essence of human nature. It is a language that can only be understood by one who sees everyone as a normal human being just like him. When people finally start using this language, things like race, culture and origin, will be only one aspect of the person, but not something we focus or judge the person on. We will then interact with people naturally. ” For a writer the question of language is of course of great importance, so could you try to define what you mean by this essential language?

HC: The language of the universe is a concept invented by Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist. For example, when you meet someone, even though they have a different skin colour and the actual language they are speaking is different from yours, you can feel an unspoken connection from a long time ago. The universal language shows humanity, not a Portugese, a Chinese or an Angolan citizen.

In China you are shifting from one place to another,  easily connecting with different people and I have experienced amazing interactions with a great number of people, even for a short amount of time, through this common human language. If we can find again this language and use it efficiently, we can forget about the differences and the labels used nowadays; avoid mental barriers, cultural shock, religious differences. All those labels do not define who we are. My voice itself is influencing you if I want to make you understand my point of views and my ideas. Instead of cultural shock, most problems are caused by people with poor communication skills or a complex of inferiority. 

AL: Indeed, you advocate a lot for interaction with real humans, not with ideas and representations, and this conception of social relationships is present in your book, especially in the pages about friendship, a topic dear to you. Since we are talking about language, I might remind our readers that your native language is Portuguese. You nevertheless chose to write this book in English, because you were looking to write for more people. What does it imply for your work, how does it changes your writing process to use a learned language?

HC: That was the biggest challenge for me. When I first started I was thinking in Portuguese. I was not writing but translating my thoughts. In this process you end up loosing the original idea. So I learned to think in English: right now I am thinking and talking English with you. After coming to China, I really decided to improve my English along with my Chinese and since recently I started to use English as the working language for my major. Although, writing a book requires a different level of language and specific writing skills: I thus needed the help of different people, including a professional American editor, I thank all of them again.

AL: Why not write in Chinese?

HC: I am writing mostly for foreigners living in China. Interviewed persons are all English speakers  and international students or teachers. English is then more suitable for my purpose.

AL: Let me quote other extracts, where you talk about the difference between “conscious liars”, who is talking about everything without believing himself in his words; and the “unconscious liar” who “talks about what he really understands, but he is called a liar because people do not understand what he says and how he talks”.

HC: When Einstein and Planck talked about their theories, no one believed them. But they had faith in the truth they discovered and knew that new generations will come and believe in their ideas. If I try to prove a point, i will use my own paradigm.

Let me take an other example. While I am facing you, if I write a 6 in front of me, you will see a 9. To understand what I mean you have to put yourself in my situation. If you define me as a liar, whatever I will say will sound like a lie. If you define me as a friendly person, you are more likely to understand me. I am an unconscious liar.

AL: At the very end of the book you indeed say so: “This book is worth nothing reading if no one is able to read and understand it”. Is the book a liar as well?

HC: In the beginning I said it was not a scientific book. I am only trying a possibility, a way. If you read this book, and if you realize you need to change your life, my goal has been achieved. Some people might think that my ideas are not good enough for them and that might be true. But more often than not people think they are doing well in China, but they simply try to change their environment all the time according to what they want, and not what is offered to them. When those people go back to their hometown, they complain about the bad things of China, they only focus on wrong perspectives.

AL: What are your next projects? Will you publish again in the future?

HC: I already translated my first book into English and I want my writings to be international so I will have them translated as much as I can. Also I would like to study psychology as a major later to focus especially on the subject I prefer and deepen my insights.

AL: How would you convince Wuhan Social readers to buy and read your book?

HC: When I introduced the book to my school, they thought that this kind of educational adaption book was focusing too much on struggles and that I did not provide the solutions. I did not have them back then, so I interviewed people: this aspect of the book will provide a diversity of point of views and opinions to the reader.

A good teaser is also what Dr. Aidogie said: “This book would have made life a lot easier if I had access to its contents prior to my study.”

The quote of Dr. Osamuyimen Aidogie on the back cover.

AL: Who do you admire, what is the place of literature in your work?

HC: On top of my scientific interests (psyhology, the importance of consciousness, hypnose…) I deeply admire Paolo Coehlo, Augusto Cury, John C. Maxwell who wrote about leadership. This later greatly inspired me in the way I communicate and interact with other people.

AL: What is the genre of your book according to you? A novel, an essay, a biography?

HC: The first book was labelled as a “self help book” by my editor. I guess this one is the same. I want to inspire people. For example, a lot of people I interviewed are going to publish their own book after seeing my story. 

You can see it as a novel as well, since I do not hesitate to speak about personal matter, like a love story I had with a girl before. Mostly I try to make people better, which is the idea of leadership according to Maxwell, whom I was talking about.

AL: Do you have a word for conclusion?

HC: I did not expect all this wonderful feedback from my readers. They really found an account of their own experiences: I am glad I was able to put words on their emotions. The award I just got is the proof that good surprises happen in life and that my writings are inspiring people. 

The glorious trophy

And in the end I would like to express my gratitude to Shubila and HCM for organising the Ceremony 2018 Best Authors Awards and at last would also like to thank each and everyone who voted for me.

Shubila Ruth handing a 1000 yuan check to the winner. May this money help him publish many more books!