Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Nicky Harman interviews Jeremy Tiang, Singaporean writer, translator and playwright


Photo credit: Edward Hill

Nicky: When you were growing up, what were the first Chinese-language stories you came across, and what drew you to them?

Jeremy: Growing up in a former British colony can be a destabilizing experience. Singapore's official languages are English, Chinese (meaning Mandarin), Malay and Tamil, and there were always several languages swirling around me ― some of which I felt I was being encouraged to know (the English in the Enid Blyton books my parents bought us, the Mandarin they sent me to a neighbour to learn) as well as others I had less access to (the Cantonese they sometimes used with each other, the Tamil my dad occasionally spoke on the phone).  I encountered Chinese stories in all kinds of ways, on TV and in my school textbooks, but often freighted with cultural baggage: there was a weight of obligation on us, as English-educated people, to hang on to our Chinese heritage. It wasn't until I got some distance from Singapore, by moving to the UK for university, that I was able to enjoy Chinese-language literature on its own terms. While I came to appreciate the grounding I had received in Singapore, particularly in secondary school, I don't think I read a Chinese novel for pleasure till I was in my twenties. Once I was able to do that, I quickly developed a taste for it. And being a writer of English and a lover of Chinese fiction, it was a logical progression to literary translation ― the best way I could think of to get right inside these books.

Nicky: What and who really excites you now about Singapore contemporary literature? What are your favourite writers in other South-East Asian languages?

Jeremy: For better or worse, a large amount of Singapore's contemporary literature is written in English, and many of the writers who excite me (Sharlene Teo, Tania de Rozario) are Anglophone. Of course there continues to be exciting work in Chinese (Yeng Pway Ngon, Yu Miaomiao), Malay (Isa Kamari) and Tamil (Latha), but even with a recent rise in the number of translations, I don't know that we are yet at the point when these different language streams converge into anything approaching a national literature. Many Singaporean and Malaysian Sinophone writers choose to publish in Taiwan ― the so-called "Mahua" authors. One of them, Ho Sok Fong, has a book coming out soon from Granta, translated by Natascha Bruce, that I'm very much looking forward to. I'm glad you asked about other South-East Asian languages, because they're having quite a moment. Right now I'm very into Duanwad Pimwana (translated from Thai by Mui Poopoksakul), Norman Erikson Pasaribu (translated from Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao), and Nha Thuyen (translated from Vietnamese by Kaitlin Rees). I'm sure there are many other voices I would love who have not yet found their translators, and I can only hope they too find their way into a language I can read.

Nicky: Are there any obvious differences that strike you between mainland Chinese literature and Chinese literature from elsewhere?

Jeremy: Mainland Chinese literature already embodies huge regional variations, so it's unsurprising that work from outside the Mainland is similarly disparate. I could generalize in very broad terms (eg. Mainland fiction is more focussed on story, Taiwanese fiction is more focussed on style) but you'd have to take that with a giant grain of salt, because there are so many exceptions to any such statement. I suppose the one obvious different isn't anything to do with the writers: books published in China have to be approved by the censor. For that reason, even though I find it easier to read simplified Chinese, I don't tend to pick up the Mainland editions of Taiwanese or Hong Kong books.

Nicky: There is a big gap between the number of male and female mainland Chinese writers translated into English. Is this true in Singapore and elsewhere? Do you have any favourite women writers? 

Jeremy: So few Chinese-language writers from Singapore are translated ― maybe a couple a year ― that it's hard to make any kind of statistical analysis. One tremendously prolific female writer, You Jin, and her equally tireless translator Shelly Bryant, do a lot of the heavy lifting here. I've translated books by women writers such as Zhang Yueran, Yan Ge and Su Wei-chen, most of which were projects I pitched. The vast majority of the books I've been asked to translate have been by men. I'm not sure if this is because publishers subconsciously match up author and translator gender, or just because men are over-represented in translation. Probably a bit of both. I've also been working with some women playwrights recently (Chen Si'an, Wei Yu-Chia and Shen Wan-Ting, among others). There are many more I'd like to translate, if I ever got the opportunity. My favourite writers change pretty much constantly, but right now I am all about Sally Rooney and Olga Tokarczuk.

Nicky: What are you working on now?

Jeremy: I have three books on the go at the moment: Far Away by the Taiwanese author Lo Yi-Chin (for Columbia University Press), Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge (who is from China, but now lives in Ireland, though right now she's in Norwich; that's for Tilted Axis), and Delicious Hunger by Singapore's Hai Fan, for Honford Star (this one isn't confirmed -- it depends on us securing funding). I'm also actively pitching books by Zou Jingzhi, Liang Hong and Nieh Hualing (publishers! If you would like a novel-in-stories about the Cultural Revolution, a book-length reflection on the plight of rural Chinese villages, or a continent-spanning memoir about one woman's journey from China to Taiwan and then to Iowa -- you know where to find me). And then there are the other bits and pieces (short stories and samples here and there), not to mention my own writing (I'm supposed to be writing a novel, in amongst all this...) This is a lot, now I look at it. Fortunately I have trained my body to no longer require sleep.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Focus on NIAS Press: Yuan Shikai. By Patrick Fuliang Shan

The Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), an integrated part of the University of Copenhagen, is an academically independent Nordic research and resource centre, focusing on modern Asia from a predominantly social sciences perspective.

NIAS Press is a globally focused publisher with the rigorous academic standards expected of a university press, but with the speed and decisiveness of a commercial publisher. Its lists cover all areas of Asian Studies, but it specialises in publishing innovative research on modern east and southeast Asian society.

This week, we're exploring NIAS Press in a series of three posts. In this third and final post, one of the Press' authors, Patrick Fuliang Shan, talks about his new book, on the first regular president of China, Yuan Shikai: A Reappraisal.

Dr. Patrick Fuliang Shan is a professor in the department of history at Grand Valley State University in the United States, where he teaches Chinese history, east Asian history, and world history. His earlier book, Taming China’s Wilderness: Immigration, Settlement, and the Shaping of the Heilongjiang Frontier, 1900-1931 probes the history of China’s northeastern frontier during a crucial period of historical transformation. He has published widely in journals and anthologies. He is a past president of the Chinese Historians in the United States.

Yuan Shikai: A Reappraisal is the first book in more than half a century to study Yuan Shikai, his life, and his political career. It sheds new light on the controversial history of this talented administrator, valiant general, and committed moderniser - and a man who, ever since his death, has been denounced as a national thief who usurped the fruits of the 1911 Revolution which overthrew the last empire in China. The book rectifies the traditional negative view by utilizing numerous new primary sources and by citing abundant recent publications. It explains that Yuan built the first modern army and implemented a series of reforms to modernize China. More crucially, he played a key role in directing the 1911 Revolution into a less bloody national conflict. However, his fatal mistake was his imperial endeavor in establishing a new dynasty in 1916, which led to a nation-wide civil war and his own death. Overall, Yuan Shikai: A Reappraisal offers a comprehensive analysis of Yuan’s life and his complex role in the shaping of modern Chinese history.

So, over to Dr. Patrick Fuliang Shan...

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Focus on NIAS Press: Haunted Houses and Ghostly Encounters. By Chris Shepherd

The Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), an integrated part of the University of Copenhagen, is an academically independent Nordic research and resource centre, focusing on modern Asia from a predominantly social sciences perspective.

NIAS Press is a globally focused publisher with the rigorous academic standards expected of a university press, but with the speed and decisiveness of a commercial publisher. Its lists cover all areas of Asian Studies, but it specialises in publishing innovative research on modern east and southeast Asian society.

This week, we're exploring NIAS Press in a series of three posts. In this second post one of the Press' authors, Chris Shepherd, talks about his new book, Haunted Houses and Ghostly Encounters: Animism and Ethnography in East Timor, 1860–1975.

Chris is a semi-independent researcher affiliated with the School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University. He researches development, colonialism, indigenous politics and the history of science, with a special interest  in East Timor.

Haunted Houses and Ghostly Encounters: Animism and Ethnography in East Timor, 1860–1975, offers a history of Western ethnography of animism in East Timor during the Portuguese period.  It offers an original synthesis of the country’s history, culture and anthropology. The book consists of ten chapters, each one a narrative of the work and experience of a particular ethnographer. Covering a selection of seminal 19th- and 20th-century ethnographies, Chris explores the relationship between spiritual beliefs, colonial administration, ethnographic interests and fieldwork experience. Bringing colonial and professional ethnography into one frame of reference, he shows that ethnographers not only bore witness to processes of transformative animism, they also exemplified them.

So, over to Chris…

Monday, 17 June 2019

Focus on NIAS Press: A day in the life of a publishing assistant. By Adela Brianso Junquera

The Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), an integrated part of the University of Copenhagen, is an academically independent Nordic research and resource centre, focusing on modern Asia from a predominantly social sciences perspective.

NIAS Press is a globally focused publisher with the rigorous academic standards expected of a university press, but with the speed and decisiveness of a commercial publisher. Its lists cover all areas of Asian Studies, but it specialises in publishing innovative research on modern east and southeast Asian society.

This week, we'll be exploring NIAS Press in a series of three posts. In this first post, Adela Brianso Junquera talks about her working day.

Adela is a publishing assistant at NIAS Press. A master’s student of global health at the University of Copenhagen, she works part-time as a student assistant. In her free time, she is the co-editor of the global health blog, Eye on Global Health. Before moving to Copenhagen, she studied social anthropology and politics in Edinburgh.

So, over to Adela...

Friday, 14 June 2019

Researching historical Japan, by Matthew Legare

Matthew Legare is the author of the Reiko / Inspector Aizawa historical thrillers set in pre-World War II Japan, and published by Black Mist Books. Read his previous post about Shadows Of Tokyo, the first title in the series, here.

In this post Matthew writes about books he'd recommend to other authors researching historical Japan.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Tsundoku #5 - June 2019


Welcome to issue #4 of Tsundoku – a column by me, Paul French, aiming to make that pile of ‘must read’ books by your bed a little more teetering. June is a big month as publishers gear up for the summer months….let’s start with new fiction...

 
Asian Books Blog regulars will have read Andrew Lam on his new novel Repentance (see his recent 500 Words… column) and the story of Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Something happened while his father was fighting the Germans in France, and no one is sure exactly what. A fascinating dive into one avenue of Japanese-American history.


Vietnamese-American author Abbigail Rosewood’s debut novel If I Had Two Lives follows a young woman from her childhood in Vietnam to her life as an immigrant in the United States - and her necessary return to her homeland. Displaced in New York, returning to Vietnam is no easy process either.


Monday, 3 June 2019

Eminent Historian Professor Wang Gungwu converses with Elaine Chiew on his autobiography, Home Is Not Here

Photo courtesy of NUS Press

From the book jacket:


Wang Gungwu is one of Asia’s most important public intellectuals. He is best-known for his explorations of Chinese history in the long view, and for his writings on the Chinese diaspora. With Home Is Not Here, the historian of grand themes turns to a single life history: his own.


In this volume, Wang talks about his multi-cultural upbringing and life under British rule. He was born in Surabaya, Java, but his parents’ orientation was always to China. Wang grew up in the plural, multi-ethnic town of Ipoh, Malaya (now Malaysia). He learned English in colonial schools and was taught the Confucian classics at home. After the end of WWII and the Japanese occupation, he left for the National Central University in Nanjing to study alongside some of the finest of his generation of Chinese undergraduates. The victory of Mao Zedong’s Communist Party interrupted his education, and he ends this volume with his return to Malaya. 

Wise and moving, this is a fascinating reflection on family, identity and belonging, and on the ability of the individual to find a place amid the historical currents that have shaped Asia and the world.