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Sun Li

Sun Li - foto: Ruud Pos
Sun Li - foto: Ruud Pos

(Hong Kong, 1980) debuted in 2016 with a book about the family story behind a Chinese restaurant. She is also the principal author of the collection for ages 6+, Bedtijdverhalen voor Rebelse meisjes: 100 bijzondere Nederlandse vrouwen (Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Special Dutch Women, 2021). In 2023 she published the Chin. Ind. Rest. kookboek, written with Danny Lee, Ka Fai Lee and Yan Ting Yuen: besides the classics - from babi pangang, bami and fu yong hai to koo loo kai - it includes dishes the personnel eat themselves, and it reflects on the history of such restaurants in the Netherlands. Together with Tjyying Liu she wrote the play Happy in Nederland about a mother and daughter and their Chinese-Indonesian restaurant. You can see it from January through March 2024 in Dutch theatres (26 January in Theater aan het Spui in The Hague).


Archive available for: Sun Li

  • China door de ogen van een nieuwe generatie

    China through the eyes of a new Generation 

    With: Sun Li, Willem van den Dool, Zhang Yueran

    In this episode of the Writers Series, Zhang Yueran one of the most influential Chinese writers of our time, went into conversation with Sun Li, author of De zoetzure smaak van dromen (The Sweet and Sour Taste of Dreams). Both writers explored how history influences their present and how they, as the new generation, give words to stories of their (for) parents.

    Sun Li interviewed Zhang Yueran about her novel Cocoon, a poignant and thrilling story about Friendship, Family Secrets, Trauma and the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution seen through the eyes of the young generation. It's one of the most extraordinary and successful novels published in recent years in China.

    This Writers Series program is in English and featured interpretation from Chinese into English by Annelous Stiggelbout.

    Zhang Yueran (China, 1982) is considered one of the most influential contemporary Chinese authors: a new, fresh voice from a generation coming to terms with China's recent past.

    Her works invariably sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Zhang started writing short stories at 14 and won a major literary award in 2001. She studied English and law at Shandong University and got her master's degree in computer science in Singapore.

    She has published collections of short stories, including Sunflowers Got Lost in 1890 (2003) and Ten Love Stories (2003).

    Her novel Cocoon (2016) became her international breakthrough in the English translation (2022) by Jeremy Tiang. In France Le clou was awarded the Prix Transfuge for best Asian novel and was shortlisted for the Prix du meilleur roman étranger.

    Cocoon tells in layered and hypnotic prose about two childhood friends who meet again. Both have always been determined to follow the tracks of their grandparents' generation to the heart of a mystery that perhaps should have stayed buried.

    Zhang has been the editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Newriting since 2008 and teaches international literature at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

    A wonderful commentary by author Ian McEwan:

    'Cocoon is a stunning novel, a magnificent and impressive achievement of the greatest possible order. Zhang Yueran's unflinching psychological realism is magnificently enhanced by her magical descriptions. The novel's two narrators, childhood friends, speak on behalf of a lost generation struggling to bridge a deep divide. Their parents and grandparents are damaged and guilty, stunned by the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. Li Jiaqi and her old friend Cheng Gong walk "through a fog woven of secrets, walking forward lost, unable to see the road ahead and not knowing where to go."

    A glimpse of a forbidden sister, a dead baby, is one of the most poignant moments in contemporary literature, and Li Jiaqi's hopeless rapprochement with her emotionally unapproachable father is one of the most moving. A grandparent who has been between life and death for countless years evokes the image of a chilling cultural standstill. Zhang Yueran's sentences and images have an unreal sheen of both hard-won insights and eternal truths. This novel is a triumph.'
    - Ian McEwan

    Sun Li (b. 1980) was born in Hong Kong and grew up in the north of the Netherlands. She studied at Groningen University and Durham University. The Sweet and Sour Taste of Dreams is her debut novel and describes the family story behind a Chinese restaurant. It depicts a family that was Chinese when it arrived in the Netherlands, but over time, like Dutch-Chinese cuisine, has fused with Dutch culture.

    She is also the principal author of the collection for ages 6+, Bedtijdverhalen voor Rebelse meisjes: 100 bijzondere Nederlandse vrouwen (Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Special Dutch Women, 2021). In 2023 she published Chin. Ind. Rest. Kookboek, written with Danny Lee, Ka Fai Lee and Yan Ting Yuen: besides the classics - from babi pangang, bami and fu yong hai to koo loo kai - it includes dishes the personnel eat themselves, and it reflects on the history of such restaurants in the Netherlands.

    This Writers Series program is in English and included interpretation from Chinese to English by Annelous Stiggelbout, who translated works by Zhang Yueran from Chinese into Dutch.

    The musical interlude was provided by pianist Willem van den Dool in collaboration with the Royal Conservatory of The Hague.

    This programme was curated for Writers Unlimited by Ilonka Reintjens in collaboration with Passaporta (Brussels), Atlantide Festival (Nantes) and Promethuis Publishers (Amsterdam).

    After the event, there will be a book sale by De Vries Van Stockum, along with an opportunity for book signing.

    Writers Unlimited organises the Writers Unlimited International Literature Festival The Hague every year in January and monthly Writers Series programmes throughout the year at various locations in The Hague, including the Central Public Library (Centrale Bibliotheek) The Hague. The festival, featuring more than 100 writers, poets, spoken word artists and musicians from the Netherlands and abroad, will take place over four days at venues including Theater aan het Spui, Filmhuis Den Haag, Paard, Koninklijke Schouwburg, neighbourhood libraries, Hague universities and secondary schools.

  • Writers Unlimited 2024

    You Are What You Eat - Table tales from cookbook authors about taste and culture

    With: Hassnae Bouazza, Judith Cyrus, Sun Li, Vanja van der Leeden

    In You Are What You Eat, we dived into the tasty world of culinary tales with chefs and cookbook authors. Because experiences and memories are shared through tastes and dishes, just as through books. A specific flavour can call up powerful emotions, just like a carefully chosen word.

    Together with Vanja van der Leeden (Indorock; Insane), Judith Cyrus (Paramaribo; Toespijs), Sun Li (Chin. Ind. Rest. Kookboek) and Hassnae Bouazza (Spicy Chef; Spicy Chef: Streetfood; Een koffer vol citroenen), we moved from the secret corners of grandmother's kitchen -- handed down from generation to generation, often orally -- to contemporary kitchens where dishes are sometimes given a surpising twist. And of course we dream a bit about the future: how do we make sure that coming generations keep sharing these tasty stories?

    Chef, food stylist and author Vanja van der Leeden, Dutch with Indonesian roots, has become a name in Dutch cuisine thanks to her cookbook Indorock, the saté book Indostok, and her latest recipe- and storybook Insane ("easily delicious and quite healthy").

    Judith Cyrus is a chef, runs Amsterdam-based lunchroom De Buitenvrouw and writes about cooking and food. She grew up in a Surinamese family in The Netherlands, where her mother brought her up with classic Surinamese dishes but also with oysters, asparagus and a glass of wine. In 2021 she publishes her first cookbook: Paramaribo, een culinaire smeltkroes (Paramaribo: A culinary melting pot) and in 2023 her second: Toespijs, Creools-Caribische gerechten (Toespijs, Creole-Caribbean dishes).

    Sun Li debuted in 2016 with De zoetzure smaak van dromen: het familieverhaal achter een Chinees restaurant (The Bittersweet Taste of Dreams: the family story behind a Chinese Restaurant). In 2023, Chin. Ind. Rest. kookboek appeared, which Li wrote with Danny Lee, Ka Fai Lee and Yan Ting Yuen. Besides classics like babi pangang, bami, foe yong hai and koe loe kai, it includes dishes eaten by the staff themselves, and looks back on the history of these restaurants in The Netherlands.

    November 2023, Chin. Ind. Rest. Kookbook was awarded the expert jury prize Food and Friends Golden Cookbook 2023. From the jury report: 'The book is of great cultural, gastronomic and historical value and deals with a cuisine that belongs to the heart of the culinary heritage of the Low Countries. It convincingly shows why Chinese-Indonesian restaurant culture was added to the list of Dutch intangible cultural heritage in 2020. With a fine introduction on the history of this cuisine, personal portraits of entrepreneurs and chefs as well as a wealth of dishes (inviting every home cook to get into the kitchen) this is the undisputed winner. Truly all the classics of the takeaway menu pass the review. "What happens behind the pusher, stays behind the pusher" no longer holds true.'

    The moderator was author Hassnae Bouazza, who wrote Spicy Chef (2020) and Spicy Chef: Streetfood (2022) together with Michelin-starred chef Soenil Bahadoer -- two culinary books with stories and Surinamese-Indian recipes. In 2022 she also published her "life's work" Een koffer vol citroenen (A Suitcase Full of Lemons), a requiem for and portrait of her mother.