Born in Guangzhou, China in 1996 and raised in Texas, author Rebecca F Kuang received an MPhil from Cambridge and an MSc from Oxford and is currently studying for a PhD in East Asian languages and literature at Yale. In 2018 she published the first of a trilogy of fantasy novels, The Poppy War, which is currently being adapted for television. This year, her publishing industry satire Yellowface was widely acclaimed. Her speculative fiction novel Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence, which topped the New York Times bestseller list last year and won a number of awards, is out in paperback on 28 September.
I like to do my homework with films, especially Christopher Nolan’s films, as they so reward doing your homework. I read all the material that inspired Dunkirk before I saw it in 2017, and this time I had to read the Pulitzer prize-winning biography that inspired Oppenheimer. (My fiance and I also sat down to watch Tenet for the fourth time with graph paper and multicoloured pens so we could map out the various timelines, and I regret to admit that this was extremely fun.) American Prometheus adds rich context to many of the chance encounters, interpersonal relationships and courtroom drama scenes in Oppenheimer.
Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star, translated by Benjamin Moser
A few months ago, I hosted a friend from Colombia who was touring my university. After a morning walk in the cemetery, we ended up at the campus Barnes & Noble, where we picked out favourite novels for the other to read. Rather predictably, we went for the Nobel laureates – I chose for her Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, and she chose Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. She also included a random bonus pick – a short, translated novel by Ukrainian-born Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector, which I enjoyed so much I have since copied out the following passage about writing in several letters to friends: “All this, yes, the story is history. But knowing beforehand so you never forget that the word is the fruit of the word, the word must resemble the word. Reaching it is my first duty to myself. And the word can’t be dressed up and artistically vain, it can only be itself. Well, it’s true that I also wanted to arrive at a sheer sensation and for it to be so sheer that it couldn’t break into a perpetual line.” The word can only be itself. Good advice for every time I sit down to write.
The Eight Mountains (dir Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch)
I texted a friend afterwards that this film, based on the novel Le otto montagne by Paolo Cognetti, was “Elena Ferrante, but for the boys”. It’s an easy comparison, but here are a few obvious overlaps: childhoods in Italy across an urban and rural divide; difficult, messy friendships where the power dynamics are always shifting; and figures who continue to define us throughout our lives, no matter how far we think we’ve escaped their influence or the influence of our past selves.
Over the summer in Taipei, I spent a lot of time wandering into the National Concert Hall and sitting in for whatever classical music programming they had on for the night. I was delighted to discover Luxembourg-based cello-accordion act Duo Kiasma, whose clever arrangements both pay homage to and challenge the classical music canon. They did a breathtaking version of Danny Boy in which the accordion imitated the rushing wind, and the cello imitated birds chirping. I was lucky to catch them in Taipei – they mostly tour in Europe, so UK-based readers will have an easier time finding them in concert.
Like many people I became aware of the Italian rock band Måneskin because of their electrifying cover of Madcon’s Beggin’, but I’ve since become a genuine fan of their original songs. I love Baby Said, and my fiance loves The Loneliest. Lead vocalist Damiano David and bassist Victoria De Angelis are such bona fide stars. I’m shocked by how young they are; they seem like they just dropped on to this Earth with all the swagger and power of classic rock musicians. I’m excited to see them in concert in Boston.
Amadeus Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 24 October
Amadeus – a three-hour biographical drama about Mozart, told from the perspective of a jealous Salieri – is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s a dazzling epic about rivalry, genius and, most importantly, gorgeous music. And it’s touring in concert, which means I get to hear all that music live! I will see it in Texas at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra next week, but the final stop is at the Royal Albert Hall in October. I’m pressuring all my London-based friends to go.