Tuesday 31 March 2015

Q & A: Rena Pederson / The Burma Spring

The Burma Spring, by award-winning journalist and former US State Department speechwriter Rena Pederson, is a biography of Aung San Suu Kyi.  It offers a portrait of the woman herself, and also portraits of Burma, and of the Burmese people. (Burma was renamed Myanmar by the military government, but since this was not democratically elected, Western policy has often been to refer to the country as Burma. Rena adopts this policy too.)

Quick Notice / The Vegetarian, by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

About the Book

Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more 'plant-like' existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. 

Quick Notice / A Kim Jong-Il Production, by Paul Fischer

About the Book

We’ve all heard the phrase the truth is stranger than fiction.  Never has that been truer than in the real life story that unfolds in Paul Fischer’s A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power.

This Week in Asian Review of Books

Asian Books Blog is not a review site. If you want reviews, see the Asian Review of Books. Here is a list of its newest reviews:

Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life by Jie Li reviewed by SY Koh
Green Shoots Under Soot-Stained Skies by Mark L. Clifford (excerpt)
Ouside reading: essays on Asian writing selected by the ARB editorial team
Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand reviewed by Nigel Collett

Saturday 28 March 2015

Irrawaddy Literary Festival Starts Today

The 3rd Irrawaddy Literary Festival starts today.

Check out the website here.

Check out the Facebook page here.

If you happen to be visiting the Festival, and you'd like to write about it for the blog, then let me know!  (Email: asianbooksblog@gmail.com)

Thursday 26 March 2015

Guest Post: Dominique Wilson / Researching The Yellow Papers

Dominique Wilson is an Australian historical novelist. She here gives an in-depth account of how she researched her novel The Yellow Papers, and also offers advice to others on how to research historical novels set, or partly set, in Asia.

The story
The Yellow Papers is a novel set between Australia and China, from just after the two Opium Wars to the time of the Cultural Revolution. It is a story of love, obsession and friendship set against a backdrop of war and racial prejudice. 

It begins in 1872 when China – still bruised from its defeat in the two Opium Wars – sends a group of boys, including seven-year-old Chen Mu, to America to study and bring back the secrets of the West. But nine years on Chen Mu becomes a fugitive and flees to Umberumberka, a mining town in outback Australia. He eventually finds peace working for Matthew Dawson, a rich pastoralist. 

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Indie Spotlight: Juan Rader Bas

For this month’s Indie Spotlight, Raelee Chapman chats with Juan Rader Bas, who describes himself as a Fil-Am Kicking Scribe (Filipino-American, martial arts devotee & writer). Juan Rader Bas’s debut novel, Back Kicks and Broken Promises, was self-published with Abbott Press.  It is a coming of age novel about an adopted 17-year-old Filipino who finds self-expression and fulfilment through martial arts after moving from Singapore to New Jersey. Juan took time out from his busy schedule as a public school teacher, parent, martial artist and writer to discuss the indie process and his new writing projects.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Q & A with Cheryl Robson

Amongst many other achievements, writer, editor, arts entrepreneur, and charity activist Cheryl Robson founded Aurora Metro Books, which has offices in London, Sydney, and Singapore, where she is now based. Aurora Metro is strong in non-fiction titles relating to the arts, in biography, and in fiction for young adults.  It also has an exciting adult fiction list, including debut novels from many new voices; it is particularly keen to champion previously unpublished women writers. The company is committed to bringing non-English-language writers to an English readership in good, accessible translations. Authors from over 20 countries are represented in its lists, and many of its translated titles are available in English for the first time.
I asked Cheryl about her life and about Aurora Metro, and its big ambitions.

Quick Comment from PP Wong

As reported here, The Life of a Banana by PP Wong has been longlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize).  It is one of four titles with Asian interest to have caught the judges' eyes, the others are I Am China, by Xiaolu Guo, A God in Every Stone, by Kamila Shamsie, and The Bees, by Laline Paull, who was born in the UK of first generation Indian Immigrants

PP had this to say about the Prize's support for Asia's women writers: "I'm absolutely thrilled that four Asian authors have been longlisted. In the last year, I have seen some positive steps in the Western publishing industry towards supporting fresh, fearless narratives by female Asian writers. For example, Celeste Ng was chosen as Amazon's book of the year. While Yiyun Li and Madeleine Thien were nominated for the UK Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. There is still more work to be done in encouraging more diverse voices, but I am hopeful that changes are already starting to happen."

The Prize will be awarded in London, on June 3.  Good luck, PP!

This Week In Asian Review of Books

Asian Books Blog is not a review site. If you want reviews, see the Asian Review of Books. Here is a list of its newest reviews, and columns:

Voices from the Frontline: Narratives of Nonnative English Speaking Teachers by Icy Lee and Paul Sze reviewed by Peter Gordon
Confucius and the World He Created by Michael Schuman reviewed byJohn Butler
Islamic Schooling in East Java: a visit to a pesantren in Gontor by Pallavi Aiyar
A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor reviewed by Jane Wallace

Thursday 19 March 2015

Lion City Lit: Three From Ethos

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore.  Lion City Lit explores literary life in our own backyard. This week, we highlight three new titles from local publisher, Ethos.

Moth Stories, a collection of short stories by Leonora Liow
A young girl’s ambitions prompt dark stirrings in her nature. A father reckons with a lifetime of dysfunctional family relations. A foreign worker is cut adrift on a raft of shattered dreams. In the title story, Moth, a condemned woman reclaims her broken dignity. In a collection filled with pity, humour and irony, Leonora Liow explores the private universes of individuals navigating the arcane waters of human existence and illuminates the extraordinary humanity that endures.
Leonora Liow is a Singapore-based writer. Moth Stories is her debut collection.
Moth Stories is published in paperback, priced at SGD 20, excluding tax.

This Week in Asian Review of Books

Asian Books Blog is not a review site. If you want reviews, see the Asian Review of Books. Here is a list of its newest reviews:

The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Buried China by Huan Hsu reviewed by Juan José Morales
Sinophobia: Anxiety, Violence, and the Making of Mongolian Identity by Franck Bille reviewed by Joshua Bird
Poetry review: The Lost Novel by James Shea reviewed by Jennifer Wong
Wombs in Labor: Transnational Commercial Surrogacy in India by Amrita Pande reviewed by SY Koh

English PEN Supports World Literature

Take a look at World Bookshelf and the PEN Atlas, two really interesting sites from English PEN.

World Bookshelf is an online collection of the very best contemporary literature in translation. Some of the most important writers of our time have written for PEN Atlas, a weekly blog dedicated to international voices.

Visit World Bookshelf at

Visit the PEN Atlas at

Clarification from Rena Pederson

Rena Pederson, author of The Burma Spring, has been in touch to point out that in her book's Quick Notice I mentioned  that she used the term Burma throughout, although the country's name has been changed to Myanmar. However, I failed to mention she addressed this issue in the following editor's note: 

In 1989, Burma’s military rulers changed the official English name of the country from “the Union of Burma” to “the Union of Myanmar.”And in 2010, they changed it once more to “The Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”Some countries—including the United States and the United Kingdom—continued to use the country name Burma because the military government that changed the name to Myanmar was not elected democratically. Since there is now a quasi-civilian government in place, the growing trend has been to use the Myanmar nomenclature around the world. Because it was still the U.S. State Department policy to continue using the country name Burma at the time of this book’s writing, that is the term used predominantly here. Myanmar is also used where appropriate.

Rena has provided an e-mail interview for Asian Books Blog, which will be posted on Tuesday, 31 March.

Saturday 14 March 2015

China is Guest of Honor at BookExpo America's Global Market Forum in May 2015

China will send a high ranking delegation of up to 500 top publishing professionals, internationally acclaimed authors, and senior government officials to attend BookExpo America (BEA) in New York, in a unique effort to widen and deepen the cultural and business ties between the world’s two largest publishing markets.  “This is the most significant foreign delegation that we have ever hosted at America’s largest publishing convention”, notes Steven Rosato, BEA’s Show Director.  "We are honored to welcome China and we look forward to making this a rewarding experience for everyone involved."

Thursday 12 March 2015

500 Words From Olivier Lafont

500 Words From...is a series of guest posts from authors, in which they talk about their recently published books. Here Olivier Lafont, a Frenchman whose parents moved him to India as a child, and who is well-known in his adopted home as an actor, screenwriter, and brand-ambassador, discusses his debut novel, Warrior, which was shortlisted for the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize. 

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announce 2015 longlist

It was announced today that the following books are on the longlist for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize).  Note the  inclusion of I am China / Xiaolu Guo, A God in Every Stone / Kamila Shamsie, The Bees, by Laline Paull, and The Life of a Banana / PP Wong.  It will be interesting to see if any of them make the shortlist...

Rachel Cusk: Outline
Lissa Evans: Crooked Heart
Patricia Ferguson: Aren’t We Sisters?
Xiaolu Guo: I Am China
Samantha Harvey: Dear Thief
Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing
Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven
Grace McCleen: The Offering
Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star
Heather O’Neil: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
Laline Paull: The Bees
Marie Phillips: The Table of Less Valued Knights
Rachel Seiffert: The Walk Home
Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone
Ali Smith: How to be Both
Sara Taylor: The Shore
Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread
Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests
Jemma Wayne: After Before
PP Wong: The Life of a Banana

Quick Notice: Anatomy of Life by Devdan Chaudhuri

Anatomy of Life follows the life of an unnamed poet from the age of 16 to 25, as he negotiates contemporary urban India. The poet has a quest to understand the human self, and he makes many surprising and illuminating discoveries along the way.

Anatomy of Life is organised in six thematic chapters: Seasons; Myriad Void; Circles and Spheres; Centre and Periphery; Balance; The Wheel.  The chapters gradually draw these various themes together to reveal an invisible structure of life, one common to all humanity.

Friday 6 March 2015

Quick Notice / The Lost World of Ladakh: Photographic journeys through Indian Himalaya 1931-1934 by Rupert Wilmot, Roger Bates, Nicky Harman

A superb collection of 150 black-and-white photographs of 1930s Ladakh, capturing its final days as a hub of trade routes between Tibet and Kashmir, India and Yarkand. These portraits of people, landscapes and Buddhist ceremonies taken by amateur photographer Rupert Wilmot, are notable for their careful composition, fine detail and engaging informality. They have been meticulously researched and captioned by Nicky Harman and Roger Bates, respectively, niece and nephew of Rupert Wilmot, and include maps, an introduction and a bibliography. Of considerable historical and ethnographic interest.

Thursday 5 March 2015

Quick Notice / The Burma Spring: Aung San Suu Kyi and the New Struggle for the Soul of a Nation by Rena Pederson

Aung San Suu Kyi has been an inspiration around the world, but even in Asia relatively little is known about this strong, mysterious woman.  Though she’s been on the cover of Time magazine, and has won the Noble Peace Prize, her life, and the country she has fought so hard for, still too-often remain shrouded in secrecy and misinformation. Award-winning journalist and former US State Department speechwriter Rena Pederson brings to light fresh details about the woman, the country and the Burmese people. 

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Indie Spotlight: Monica Li

Indie Spotlight is our monthly column on self-publishing. Here, Raelee Chapman talks to Singaporean indie author Monica Li about her first novel The Dragon Phoenix Bracelet.

The Dragon Phoenix Bracelet is an historical novel that follows a family through the turbulent political history of twentieth century China. Tell us about what inspired you to write this novel. Who would you say the target audience is, and who are your literary influences?

Monday 2 March 2015

Lion City Lit: Singapore Mutiny

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore.  Lion City Lit explores literary life in our own backyard. This week, we offer a quick notice for Singapore Mutiny, a stirring account of combat and survival, by Mary Brown and Edwin A. Brown. This is a must-read for all history buffs, but especially for those with an interest in military history, or in the history of India, or in that of South East Asia.  

The Singapore Sepoy Mutiny of 1915 was an alarming episode in Singapore’s colonial history that saw 850 Indian soldiers serving in the British army revolt and slaughter 47 Brits, both soldiers and civilians. To mark the Mutiny's centenary Monsoon Books has brought out a diary kept at the time by the Browns, a colonial couple who were in the thick of the action.  The diary, never previously published, has forewords by Professor Brian P. Farrell, Department of History, National University of Singapore, Nigel Barley, the author and anthropologist, and Celia Ferguson, the Browns’ granddaughter.

Here’s an extract from the diary’s opening entry:
Chinese New Year 1915 will long be remembered in the Straits Settlements…We left for home, had a tiffin, and went to our rooms for a lie-off, having arranged to go for a good walk when the heat of the day was over. We had our tea, and at 5 pm got into the trap. We drove along Tanglin Road, into Stephens Road, and along Bukit Timah Road to the junction of Cluny Road, and there we dismissed the syce. We thought it a curious fact that no-one was playing tennis…and there was not a soul to be seen on the garrison golf course…You can imagine our horror when we found that the 5th Light Infantry had broken out in open mutiny and had been in Tanglin that afternoon, and were even then supposed to be marching on Singapore!

Also by Edwin A. Brown, Indiscreet Memories: 1901 Singapore through the eyes of a colonial Englishman. 

Both books are published in paperback, priced in local currencies, and widely available in Asia. Ebooks are available from online retailers.