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, but also some children’s books. 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!

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

In Praise of the International Dublin Literary Award


I was honoured this year to be invited to be a judge for the International Dublin Literary Award (IDLA, formerly known as the IMPAC Prize), one of the most prestigious awards for fiction. As a translator, I was hugely excited to have the opportunity to expand my reading horizons and read some of the best contemporary fiction, so I said yes. In short order, box after box after box of books arrived for me, trundled down the rough track that leads to my house in Dorset by a surprised delivery driver.
IDLA is special for several reasons, not least because submissions can be made by any public libraries world-wide who wish to sign up for the scheme, so the prize is a great way of flagging up the hugely important role that such libraries have always played in the lives of readers, young and old. But what does the IDLA have to do with my usual blog topic, translation? Ah, well, that’s the magic of the IDLA. It’s the only major literary prize that treats translations into English on the same basis as works written originally in English.  Although the number of translations submitted was, unsurprisingly, less than ‘originals’, six splendid translations, out of a total of ten, made it onto the official shortlist.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Indie spotlight: An indie author’s guide to marketing, part II – selling

Indie spotlight focusses on self-published authors and self-publishing. Here, in the second of a two-part series on marketing, Alexa Kang, a Boston-based, Chinese-American author of World War Two historical fiction, published through her own house, Lakewood Press, gives advice on selling. This follows her post on branding, which appeared last Friday.

Alexa recently brought out Shanghai Story, which is set in 1936 Shanghai. It is the first book of a projected trilogy set to chronicle the events in China leading up to World War Two, as well as the experience of Jewish refugees in Shanghai.

So, over to Alexa…