Friday, 20 July 2018

Student bookshelf: Exploring modern Mongolian poetry through a contemporary medium


Simon Wickham-Smith, author of
Modern Mongolian Literature in Seven Days
Aurelia Paul recently graduated from Boston University, where she was studying comparative literature and Chinese. In her column Student bookshelf, she shares responses to materials she has explored in her classes.
This week I read about literature from a digital source, a blog series on the Best American Poetry website. Simon Wickham-Smith created the blog series in 2009, with the aim of making modern Mongolian literary works more accessible for a global audience. One of the difficulties that students studying Mongolian literature in English often come across is that physical texts are hard to obtain and expensive to purchase because publishers use short run printing.  Digital genres such as blog posts and online articles, and PDFs of printed works can help counteract this problem. In addition to being published online, Modern Mongolian Literature in Seven Days is also free to read, and this promotes equal access to knowledge.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Backlist Books: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Backlist books is a column by Lucy Day Hobor that focuses on enduring, important works from or about Asia.

This post is about The Good Earth, the first volume in a trilogy that tells the story of a farmer named Wang Lung and his descendants in the early 1900s in China. In 1932 the novel won a Pulitzer Prize, and in 1938 the author won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 2004, Oprah put the book back in the spotlight when she chose it for her book club.

The author was an American who spent considerable time in China both as a child and as an adult. Some insist that she was nevertheless a cultural outsider bound by stereotypes, while others feel her depiction of life in China was well informed and thus informative.

See below to find out what you need to know to decide whether you should read The Good Earth, or what you should know about it even if you never do!

Monday, 16 July 2018

Lion City lit: crafting happy endings and the contemporary Singapore novel

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore. Our occasional column Lion City Lit explores in-depth what’s going on in the City-State, lit-wise.

Here Eldes Tran reports on a recent forum on the novel in contemporary Singapore. Whatever happened to happy endings? was organised by Epigram Books, Singapore’s largest independent publisher of local stories for all ages, and the sponsor of the country's biggest prize for fiction.

Eldes is an assistant editor at Epigram. She mostly edits nonfiction and children’s books, but also some adult fiction. Apart from editing, she also acts as a project manager seeing books through all stages of production.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Mediating Islam guest post by Janet Steele

Janet Steele is associate professor of media and public affairs, and international affairs, at George Washington University, USA. She is the author of Email dari Amerika (Email from America) and Wars Within: The Story of Tempo, an Independent Magazine in Soeharto's Indonesia. She has just brought out Mediating Islam: Cosmopolitan Journalisms in Muslim Southeast Asia.

Mediating Islam asks: what is Islamic journalism? It examines day-to-day journalism as practiced by Muslim professionals at five exemplary news organisations in Malaysia and Indonesia.  At Sabili, established as an underground publication, journalists are hired for their ability at dakwah, or Islamic propagation. At Tempo, a news magazine banned during the Soeharto regime, the journalists do not talk much about sharia law; although many are pious and see their work as a manifestation of worship, the Islam they practice is often viewed as progressive or even liberal. At Harakah reporters support an Islamic political party, while at Republika they practice a "journalism of the Prophet." Secular news organisations, too, such as Malaysiakini, employ Muslim journalists.

In her guest post for Asian Books Blog, Janet talks about the generosity of her sources in the world of Islamic journalism, in the years leading up to the recent Malaysian general election.

Friday, 6 July 2018

500 words from C.G. Menon

C. G. Menon is a British Asian writer born in Australia. Her debut collection of short stories, Subjunctive Moods, is published by Dahlia Publishing.

Subjunctive Moods deals with tiny moments of missed connection and of realisation: the heartbeats by which we all grow up. The stories span generations, continents and cultures and feature both Malaysian and Indian folklore.

So, over to C.G...

Subjunctive Moods contains stories set in Malaysia, Australia and Britain. One of my primary focuses in all these pieces is identity: what is it that makes us belong to a particular place, culture or family? The touchstones of identity are different when seen through an external perspective; the most important bonds often stem from memories and experiences which are overlooked by others.

I believe we all have pre-conceived notions about what other cultural groups are like – “these people like music”, “those people tell stories”, and it isn’t until we’re taken out of our own familiar places that we begin to realise how reductionist these beliefs are. Going beyond our own boundaries makes us re-examine what home feels like, and to find a way to carry it with us. I think this is what makes folklore so pervasive, and its stories so compelling. Myths and their re-tellings teach us about how to be part of a community and how to grow. You don’t need to be familiar with the external trappings of the myth – the talking fish, the demon-without-a-nose, the vampiric woman – to understand what it’s telling you.

Student bookshelf: Mongolian woman experiencing change


Aurelia Paul recently graduated from Boston University, where she was studying comparative literature and Chinese. In her fortnightly column Student bookshelf, she shares responses to texts she read in her classes.

Here she discusses Martha Avery’s book Women of Mongolia, an interesting combination of interviews, narration, and black and white photographs. 

Martha Avery has organised the book into a large number of sections, for example, ‘Buddhism and Tradition’ and ‘Professional Women’. In her preface, she explains that, “the women whose lives appear here could be viewed as ‘country women’ and ‘city women,’ except that many of them fall in between.” Often, in countries that have high rates of rural to urban migration people get grouped into firm categories depending on their location. To do this, however, is to ignore personal migration histories and transitional periods. It is one of the things I like the most about Avery’s book that she decides to oppose the harsh divisions of rural/ urban and instead focus more on other cultural factors.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Backlist books: Burmese Days by George Orwell

Backlist books is a column by Lucy Day Hobor that focuses on enduring, important works from or about Asia.

This post is about Burmese Days, the story of an Englishman living in a remote town in Burma where the European Club’s members can almost be counted on one hand. The novel communicates an anti-colonial message by showing the colonists to be proud, ill-mannered, idle, drunk, driven by greed and ultimately self-destructive.

Burmese Days is not as well-known as the dystopian novel 1984 or the allegorical novella Animal Farm, but comes from the same sharp pen. The world depicted in the novel, Orwell’s first, is ugly and dark but occasionally reveals moments of great beauty.

See below to find out what you need to know to decide whether you should read Burmese Days, or what you should know about it even if you never do!