Although she is an American now based in England, Alison Jean Lester has variously studied, worked, and raised children in China, Italy, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore. Her first novel, Lillian on Life, was published in 2015, and her second, Yuki Means Happiness, came out in July.
Set in Tokyo, Yuki Means Happiness concerns the relationship between Diana, a young nanny newly-arrived from America, and her charge, two-year-old Yuki Yoshimura. As Diana becomes increasingly attached to Yuki she also becomes aware that not everything in the Yoshimura household is as it first seemed. Before long, she must ask herself if she is brave enough to put everything on the line for Yuki, and thereby confront too her own demons.
So, over to Alison Jean…
Friday, 22 September 2017
Thursday, 21 September 2017
This post is about The Mahabharata, specifically a short prose retelling by William Buck. The 2,000-year-old Sanskrit original is the longest epic poem in the world, consisting of over 200,000 verses or 1.8 million words. If you combine The Mahabharata with the much shorter Sanskrit epic The Ramayana, you get more words than there are in The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Bible, and the complete works of Shakespeare combined. Even the short version of The Mahabharata bristles with more heroes, fair maidens, and helpful, mischievous, or jealous gods than you can shake a stick at. Nevertheless, let’s shake that stick.
See below to find out what you need to know to decide whether you should read The Mahabharata, or what you should know about it even if you never do!
Wednesday, 20 September 2017
The novel sets off, so to speak, when Charles Wang, an American-born Chinese for whom the American dream has turned into a nightmare, decides he wants to take his family on a healing trip to China, but first they must survive a road trip through America.
So, over to Elaine…
Friday, 15 September 2017
In the previous post, Jo explained how living in Singapore has helped her writing career. All the Little Children is a dystopia. Jo here reflects generally on dystopias.
Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Jo trained as a journalist, and worked for numerous organisations including the BBC and The Economist. In 2015, she founded SWAGLit an online literary magazine for writers in Singapore.
All the Little Children is set in Britain, and features working-mother Marlene Greene. Marlene hopes a camping trip in the forest will provide quality time with her three young children - until they see fires in the distance, and columns of smoke distorting the sweeping view. Overnight, all communication with the outside world is lost.
Saturday, 9 September 2017
Nigel Barley is a British anthropologist and novelist who has written extensively about Southeast Asia, particularly about Indonesia.
Snow Over Surabaya is a fictionalised account of the life of Muriel Stewart Walker, originally from Glasgow. Under a multitude of different names, including, Surabaya Sue, this self-proclaimed Hollywood scriptwriter joined the struggle for Indonesian independence after the Second World War, and broadcast its revolutionary message to the world on Rebel Radio. She undertook shady business to help finance the new Republic and experienced battle in the November 1945 British attack on Surabaya that some have seen as a war crime. She went on to become an intimate of revolutionary leaders including Bung Tomo and Soekarno, and lived to see Indonesia become a free nation.
Surabaya Sue is virtually unknown in the West and, even in Indonesia, there have always been doubts about her version of events. Snow Over Surabaya embraces doubt, and brings a spirited account of her adventures to a wide readership.
So, over to Nigel…
Books come to writers in lots of ways – taking shelter from the rain, one day, in Singapore cathedral or a snotty letter from an insurance company. Some have come from other writers. Island of Demons, my novel about the artist Walter Spies, was born of a lunch with Tash Aw who wanted to find out about Margaret Mead for his Maps of an Invisible World. Meanwhile, Snow Over Surabaya was conceived in a Balinese restaurant and literary salon, called Biku, over a very ex-pat tea with writer Tim Hannigan. Both of us had produced a biography of Stamford Raffles but with a different take on the man. I knew Tim must be thoroughly evil to disagree with me on the subject but we were brought together and discovered that we got on like a house on fire. Someone had suggested the subject of Muriel Stewart Walker to him but he hadn’t got along with it. "You do it," he said. "Right up your alley." As he said it, I knew he was right. By the end of tea, I’d written the first paragraph in my head. That makes a book real.
Muriel was born in Glasgow at the very end of the nineteenth century and she lived almost to the end of the twentieth. Along the way, she took many names, Mrs. Pearson, Manxi, Surabaya Sue, K’tut Tantri. She claimed to have worked in the Golden Age of Hollywood, seen a film that made her fall in love with Bali and created the first luxury hotel there. She lived through the Japanese occupation of Indonesia in World War Two, the struggle for independence, the Battle of Surabaya, knew all the revolutionary leaders, did propaganda broadcasts and smuggled guns, money and – probably – drugs, to help the infant republic.
All this, emerges from her autobiography, Revolt in Paradise (1960). But Muriel was also a fantasist, spinning a web of romance about herself so that the book consists more of careful omissions and wild inventions than facts. She has been constantly rediscovered by believers and the sceptical, both in Indonesia – where she is part of official history – and in the West but remains highly controversial.
Snow Over Surabaya starts with what we know she must have seen and experienced, simply from being who and where she was, and unchains her from her prudery and self-censorship, to reveal the feisty, ego-centric survivor she became. There can be no doubt that she was totally committed to the cause of Indonesian freedom but that didn’t prevent her spying for the British and Americans as well. Since she did that for money, in her world, it didn’t count. And it is her indestructibility that allows a book set in a time of war, famine, and atrocity, but high ideals, to be seen as funny and life-affirming. Muriel is flawed, often terrible, and sees the world as centred about herself. She died still dreaming that one day someone would make a Hollywood movie about her life as a romantic heroine. It would make a good one.
Details: Snow Over Surabaya is published by Monsoon, available in paperback and eBook, priced in local currencies.