Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Summer break: happy reading!

Asian Books Blog is taking a summer break. We'll be back on Friday, September 8.  In the meantime: happy summer reading!

Lion City Lit: Writing and talking about race in Singapore by Eldes Tran

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore, a multi-racial city. The majority population is of Chinese descent.  There are also large minorities of people of Malay or Indian descent, and of Eurasians. Our regular column Lion City Lit explores in-depth what’s going on in the City-State, lit-wise. Here Eldes Tran reports on a forum about racial discourse in Singaporean literature hosted last Thursday, July 27, at the National Library, by Epigram Books, a local independent publisher of Singaporean stories for all ages. Eldes is an assistant editor at Epigram Books.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Q & A: Ovidia Yu

Ovidia Yu was born in, lives in and writes about Singapore. After a happy childhood spent reading, drawing comics and dramatizing stories, she dropped out of medical school to become a writer. She achieved international success with a trio of Aunty Lee Mysteries: Aunty Lee’s Delights; Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials; Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge. Her latest novel, The Frangipani Tree Mystery, takes her crime writing in a new direction.

The novel is set in 1930s colonial Singapore. Ovidia says she chose to write about her grandparents’ Singapore because it was where and when most of the stories she and her friends heard as children were set. The Frangipani Tree Mystery introduces amateur sleuth Chen Su Lin, a local Chinese-Singaporean with a limp.  She is hired by Acting Governor Palin to look after his youngest daughter.  Whilst working for the Palins, it falls to Su Lin to help ace-detective Chief Inspector Le Froy uncover the cause of a mysterious death….

Friday, 28 July 2017

New book announcement: Yuki Means Happiness by Alison Jean Lester

Yuki Means Happiness is a rich and powerfully illuminating portrait of the intense relationship between a young woman and her small charge, as well as one woman's journey to discover her true self.

New book announcement: Bloody Saturday, by Paul French

Marking 80 Years since Shanghai’s darkest day, Penguin China are bringing out Bloody Saturday, a new Penguin Special by Paul French.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Indie spotlight: Travis Lee

Indie spotlight is our monthly column on self-publishing. This month our regular columnist, Tim Gurung, chats to Travis Lee about his new book Expat Jimmy, in which he draws on his own experiences of teaching English in China. The novel concerns a young American teacher, who arrives in Wuhan looking for a year-long vacation, paid for by teaching English as a second language. Waiting for him is Adam, a jaded laowai (foreigner / expat) determined to crush his preconceptions of China, and to introduce him to the dark side of expat life.

Just quickly...

Click here for full details of the 2017 Man Booker Prize 2017 longlist. The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy makes the initial cut, as do Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Blood and Silk: guest post by Michael Vatikiotis

Journalist and international negotiator Michael Vatikiotis has worked for publications and organisations as various as the Bangkok Post and the BBC World Service. He is also a former editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review. He is currently based in Singapore where he is the Asia regional director of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

Michael’s new book, Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia, explores the dynamics of power and conflict in one of the world's fastest growing regions. It peers beyond brand new shopping malls and shiny glass towers in cities such as Bangkok and Jakarta, to probe the heart of modern Southeast Asia. Why is Malaysia, one of the region's richest countries, riddled with corruption? Why do Myanmar, Thailand and the Philippines harbour unresolved violent insurgencies? How do deepening religious divisions in Indonesia and Malaysia affect the region and the rest of the world? What about China's growing influence?

Throughout Blood and Silk Michael offers vivid portraits of the personalities who pull the strings in Southeast Asia. His analysis is always underpinned by his decades of experience in the countries involved.

So, over to Michael…

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Backlist books: The Art of War by Sun Tzu

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

This post, the first in the series, is about The Art of War by Sun Tzu. This 2,500-year-old text, less than 11,000 words in total, is broken into thirteen themed sections, each of which contains a list of numbered principles only a sentence or two long. The message, in essence, is "Fight intelligently so you'll always win."

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

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Singapore: Unlikely Power by John Curtis Perry

John Curtis Perry is the Henry Willard Denison Professor of History at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. He has also served as the director of Tufts’ Maritime Studies program and was the founding president of its Institute for Global Maritime Studies. He has written widely on Asia-US relations, particularly on relations between American and Japan. In 1991, the Japanese government awarded him the Imperial decoration of the Order of the Sacred Treasure for his contributions to US-Japan relations.

Perry's latest book Singapore: Unlikely Power, explores the implausibility of Singapore's success. It tracks the meteoric rise of Singapore to the status of first-world dynamo in just three decades, shows how the city-state’s founders adopted a resolutely pragmatic approach to economic development rather than following any one fashionable ideology, and offers an overview of a country that has perfected one of the world's most influential political-economic models, despite its tiny size.

In this guest post, John Curtis Perry considers whether Singapore can offer a model to other countries.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

500 words from Kaitlin Solimine

500 words from is an occasional series in which writers talk about their newly-published books.

San Francisco-based Kaitlin Solimine has been a U.S. Department of State Fulbright Creative Fellow in China. She has received several scholarships, awards, and residencies for her writing, which has appeared in a range of publications from the Wall Street Journal, to China Daily. She here talks about her debut novel, Empire of Glass - the Center for Fiction, a New York-based organization devoted to promoting fiction, has longlisted it for their 2017 first novel prize.

Empire of Glass explores recent changes in China through the lens of one family's experiences. In the mid-1990s, an American teenager, named Lao K in Chinese, must decide whether to help her Chinese homestay mother, Li-Ming, who is dying of cancer, in ending her life. Twenty years later, Lao K receives a book written by Li-Ming called Empire of Glass; it chronicles the lives of Li-Ming and her husband, Wang, in pre- and post-revolutionary China over the second half of the twentieth century. Lao K begins translating Empire of Glass. But, as translator, how can she separate fact from fiction, and what will be her own role be in the book?

So, over to Kaitlin…

Friday, 14 July 2017

Q & A: Balli Kaur Jaswal

Balli Kaur Jaswal is a Singaporean novelist of Punjabi extraction.  As a child, she lived all over the world, thanks to her roaming diplomat father. After studying for an undergraduate creative writing degree in the US she continued work on her first novel, Inheritance, during a year spent in the UK, where she was a recipient of the David TK Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia – an award made annually to a novelist whose work deals with some aspect of East Asia. She then moved to Australia to do a postgraduate teaching degree in Melbourne, where she met her partner. She ended up staying in Melbourne for 5 years. In 2014, Inheritance won the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelist Award. She then moved back to Singapore, and in 2015 her second novel Sugarbread was a finalist for the city-state’s richest literary prize, the Epigram Books Fiction Prize.  Her recently-published third novel, Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows, was the subject of a hotly-contested auction won by HarperCollins, in London, for a six-figure GBP sum.

Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows follows members of the Punjabi immigrant community in the UK as they struggle to negotiate between two cultures. It is set in London, in Southhall, an area which is home to a large Punjabi population. Balli says her novel is about “a group of Punjabi widows who sign up for a literacy class, which quickly evolves into a space where they can speak freely about things that their community considers taboo. At first, their discussions are centred on erotic fantasies but as the trust builds, the women become empowered to break their silence about other injustices in the community.”

Liu Xiaobo

Amongst many other retrospects, tributes and obituaries, click here for the response from The New York Review of Books.

Friday, 7 July 2017

LSE Review of Books bookshop guides

The London School of Economics (LSE) is one of the world’s leading insitutions for the study of social sciences, economics, politics, and related subjects.

LSE Review of Books publishes daily reviews of books across the social sciences, all of them written by experts. This encourages wide public discussion of some of today’s most pressing global issues, including climate change, the struggle against religious fundamentalism, the challenges currently faced by Western-style democracies, the rise of China, how the internet is changing society, and issues connected with maintaining, or promoting, free speech.

The LSE Review of Books also runs an online guide to the world’s best bookshops, which has included contributions on Mumbai, and Fukuoka - and you don’t have to have a connection to the LSE to contribute.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Freedom to publish and the IPA Prix Voltaire by Trasvin Jittidecharak

The International Publishers Association (IPA) makes an annual award to publishers, the IPA Prix Voltaire. This rewards exemplary courage in upholding the freedom to publish and in enabling others to exercise their right to freedom of expression.

The IPA Freedom to Publish Committee is responsible for picking the shortlist. It announced the shortlist for the 2017 prize  in June.

Thai publisher Trasvin Jittidecharak is a member of the IPA Freedom to Publish Committee

Issues connected with freedom of speech, and freedom to publish, are of particular importance across much of Asia, since ours in a region where these freedom are often denied, or actively resisted. Trasvin Jittidecharak here offers an Asian perspective on the Prix Voltaire.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Extract: City of Protest: a recent history of dissent in Hong Kong by Antony Dapiran

As part of Penguin’s new Hong Kong series – for which see the previous post - Antony Dapiran has just brought out City of Protest: a recent history of dissent in Hong Kong, which explores the role of protest in Hong Kong life, up to and including the Umbrella Movement.

Antony has written and presented extensively on China and Hong Kong business, politics and culture. A contributing editor of Art Asia Pacific magazine, his writing has also appeared in publications including the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review, Nikkei Asia Review and Hong Kong Free Press. In a legal career of almost twenty years, Antony advised China’s leading companies raising capital and doing business internationally.

He here provides a short extract from the preface to City of Protest.

The Hong Kong Series: new books celebrating the many faces of HK

Twenty years ago, Hong Kong’s sovereignty was handed from Britain, to China. Since then, Hong Kong has accumulated new stories worth telling: stories looking slantwise at history; stories containing lessons for people everywhere. The multicultural hub, bustling with possibility and promise, has become a centre for creativity and a source of inspiration for those on the mainland, throughout the Chinese diaspora, and beyond. But what conclusions can be drawn from a city that faces daily contradictions, such as bank towers looming over shanty towns, mango trees growing on industrial roundabouts, and art that seems driven by commercial requirements? Then there are the political strains of negotiating Hong Kong people’s desire for Western-style democracy, with Beijing’s insistence the Chinese way is best.

These and other issues are explored in a new Hong Kong Series from Penguin. Authors of launch titles are Dung Kai-cheung, Antony Dapiran, Xu Xi, Christopher DeWolf, Ben Bland, Simon Cartledge, and  Magnus Renfrew. They use both fiction and non-fiction to examine Hong Kong’s past, and future, its people, politics and art, its architecture and economy. All except Xu Xi are based full-time in Hong Kong. Collectively, the launch titles shine a light on the whole of Hong Kong’s society, and on the city’s changes over the past twenty years.

Friday, 30 June 2017

New book announcement: Monsoon Summer by Julia Gregson

Oxfordshire, 1947. Exhausted by the war and nursing a tragic secret, Kit Smallwood flees to Wickam Farm to recuperate. There she throws herself into helping set up a charity sending midwives to India - and she also meets Tomas, a handsome, complicated, and charming Indian trainee doctor nearing the end of his English education, she falls utterly in love.

Tomas makes her laugh and marriage should be the easiest thing in the world.  But when he informs his family that he is shortly to return home with an English bride, his parents are appalled.

Despite being Anglo-Indian herself, Kit's own mother is equally horrified. She has spent most of her life trying to erase a painful past and the problems of her mixed-race heritage - losing her daughter to an Indian man is her worst fear realised.

Indie spotlight: how to launch a new book like a pro by Tim Gurung

Hong-Kong-based Tim Gurung edits indie spotlight, Asia Books Blog’s monthly column on self-publishing. Tim is the self-published author of both fiction and non-fiction titles. His non-fiction covers topics as various the Gurkhas, the afterlife, fatherhood, and women's rights. Launching a book can be nerve-wracking. Tim here draws on his own experience to offer a few tips, particularly for debut authors.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Just quickly...

The International Publishers Association (IPA) today announced the shortlist for the 2017 IPA Prix Voltaire, which rewards exemplary courage in upholding the freedom to publish and in enabling others to exercise their right to freedom of expression. Shortlisted publishers include Kim Jeong-ae (North Korea / South Korea), Way Moe (Myanmar), and Minhai Gui (Hong Kong / Sweden). For more information click here.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Just quickly...

Click here for my review of Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows by Ballin Kaur Jaswal, for Asian Review of Books. 

Friday, 23 June 2017

My working day by Eldes Tran

My working day is an occasional series in which publishing professionals talk about their jobs.

Eldes Tran is an assistant editor at Epigram Books, Singapore’s largest independent publisher of local stories for all ages. She mostly edits nonfiction manuscripts, but also some children’s books. Apart from editing, she also acts as a project manager seeing a book through all stages, including making sure the right illustrator is picked, the layout is balanced, and deadlines are met.

Epigram Books is Eldes’ first foray into book publishing, but she has been an editor for 11 years in the US and Asia. She started at newspapers Newsday and the Los Angeles Times, and later spent six years in Hong Kong with the South China Morning Post and New York Times.

So, over to Eldes...

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Hong Kong authors mark 20 years since the handover by Pete Spurrier

Close to a hundred people filled the Bookazine bookshop in Prince’s Building, Hong Kong, on the evening of June 15, to hear six local authors discuss the 20 years which have passed since the handover in 1997.

As the publisher of four of these writers, I was roped in to MC the event. I started off by asking how many of the crowd were in Hong Kong on that rainy night of June 30, 1997. About half, it turned out. But of those, far fewer had expected to still be here 20 years later.

First question went to Rachel Cartland, author of Paper Tigress, an account of her 34 years working in the Hong Kong government. Many people in the audience remembered seeing police officers replacing their cap badges as sovereignty was transferred at the stroke of midnight on handover night. Rachel stayed in office through 1997 and beyond, so did she have any badge to change? No, she said, but non-stop heavy rain during the handover period ruined everyone’s extra-long public holiday allowance!

Friday, 16 June 2017

Q & A Gregory Norminton

Gregory Norminton is an English novelist of French and Belgian extraction, who has spent time in Malaysia, Malaysian Borneo, and Cambodia. He has recently published The Ghost Who Bled, a collection of fourteen short stories that range widely in space and time. He takes the reader from medieval Byzantium and Elizabethan London, to Japan and the jungles of Malaya in the more resent past, to Edinburgh in the present-day, and on to a climate-changed San Francisco of the near future. His scope is ambitious, but he says: “I reserve the right - as all authors should, provided they do the research and are humble towards their material - to set stories in places that I have not visited. Since much of my writing is either historical or speculative, what choice do I have?”

He answered a few questions for Asian Books Blog.

New book announcement: Blood and Silk by Michael Vatikiotis

Michael Vatikiotis is a member of the Asia Society's International Council and has a decade of experience working as a conflict mediator for the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. He is a former BBC journalist who has worked in Asia for over thirty years, living in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and his current home, Singapore.

Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia is in part his memoir and in part a political study of the dynamics of modern Southeast Asia, a frontline of two of the most important global conflicts: the struggle between a declining West and a rising China, and that between religious tolerance and extremism.

Southeast Asia accounts for sizeable chunks of global investment and manufacturing capacity; it straddles essential lines of trade and communication.  Whether it is mobile phone parts or clothing and accessories, Southeast Asia is a vital link in the global supply chain.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman wins Man Booker International Prize

A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman has won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. The novel was translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. Celebrating global fiction in translation, the Man Booker International Prize awards both the winning author and translator GBP25,000. (USD32,000 approx).

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Indonesian emerging voices at Ubud

The Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswati, a not-for-profit organisation with the mission of improving the lives of young Indonesians through literature and the arts, has announced that after after a two-year hiatus their emerging voices programme, a free, four-day event celebrating young writers, filmmakers and artists from across the Indonesian archipelago, will again be held alongside the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, which this year runs from 26-29 October.

Friday, 9 June 2017

500 words from John Holliday

500 words from is an occasional column in which authors talk about their newly-published books.

John Holliday, an Australia-based, British-born writer, has just published Mission to China: How an Englishman Brought the West to the Orient. The book, part adventure story and part social history, examines the life of one of John’s ancestors, Walter Medhurst, a 19th century Christian missionary to Chinese communities throughout Asia, and to China itself.

John had long been aware of having an ancestor who was a famous missionary, but it was not until 2008 that he discovered an orphanage founded by this ancestor in Jakarta was still functioning. A visit to the city, and a commitment to build a library for the orphanage, prompted him to undertake research into Walter Medhurst’s life, and, ultimately, to write his biography.

Asia well represented in PEN Translates awards

PEN is an international organisation which promotes literacy and free speech around the globe. English PEN runs PEN Translates, which each year awards grants to UK-based publishers to offset the cost of translating new titles into English. It  has just announced the winners for 2017.  The list includes books translated from 14 languages and 16 countries, including a Uyghur memoir, Palestinian short stories, Somali poetry, a Czech feminist novel, an anthology of Russian women literature, Belarusian essays, a Korean novel, and a Chinese graphic novel. Female authors and translators make up more than half of the award winners.

Friday, 2 June 2017

New book announcement: Hong Kong on the Brink by Syd Goldsmith

In 1967, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, Hong Kong was rocked by a series of pro-communist riots against British colonial rule. These were so serious they threatened the colony’s existence. During the emergency, Syd Goldsmith was the American consulate general’s Hong Kong and Macau political officer – and the only white foreign service officer who spoke Cantonese. His role was to provide Washington with analysis of the unfolding drama, and to report back on the Hong Kong government’s ability to survive.  He had access to information from the CIA, a Chinese double agent, and Hong Kong Government sources.

Hong Kong on the Brink: An American diplomat relives 1967’s darkest days is his account of a simmering city, plagued by violence and strikes whilst also dealing with a crippled transport network, water-rationing, takeover threats from Beijing, and roadside bombs.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Lion City lit: European Union Writers Festival


Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore. Our regular column Lion City Lit explores in-depth what’s going on in the City-State, lit-wise. 
Here Lucía Damacela talks with the organisers of the City's first European Union Writers Festival, which took place on May 25 and 26, at Lasalle College. An initiative of Dr. Darryl Whetter, programme leader of Lasalle's MA programme in creative writing, and Deepika Shetty, press and information officer for the European Union delegation to Singapore, the event was sponsored by the European Union, in partnership with Lasalle College.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Lion City Lit notes: update to William Farquhar and Singapore book launch

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore – the Lion City. Lucía Damacela keeps an eye on local listings. 

The book William Farquhar and Singapore, by Nadia H. Wright, which will be launched in Penang, as we announced in a previous note, is also being launched in Singapore. Here are the details:

Date: May 30, 2017
Time: 6:00 p.m.
Place: The Salon, National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road, Singapore 178897
Transport: Bras Basah and Dhobi Ghaut MRT.
Price: Free admission - RSVP at admin@entrepotpublishing.com.

Opening address by Professor Tommy Koh, National University of Singapore. Talk by the author, Nadia H. Wright. Official launch by Scott Wightman, British High Commissioner to Singapore.



Saturday, 27 May 2017

Just quickly...

Click here for Lucia’s interview, featured in the Wordsmith section of digital literary magazine Crack the Spine.

Lion City lit notes: upcoming events in early June 2017



Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore – the Lion City. Lucía Damacela keeps an eye on local listings. Here she offers a  sample of literary events taking place in Singapore in the days ahead.

Book launch: William Farquhar & Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles' Shadow by Dr Nadia H. Wright 
Date: June 3 2017 
Time: 2:30 p.m. 
Place: Penang Conference Hall 1, Penang Institute, 10 Jalan Brown George Town, Pulau Pinang 10350, Malaysia 

Friday, 26 May 2017

Indie spotlight: Tim Gurung

Some of Tim's books
Hong-Kong-based Tim Gurung has just taken over as the editor of indie spotlight, Asia Books Blog’s monthly column on self-publishing. Tim is the self-published author of both fiction and non-fiction titles. His non-fiction covers topics as various the Gurkhas, the afterlife, fatherhood, and women's rights.

Tim says: “I have been self-publishing since early 2015. I am now working on my 15th book. I became a self-published author by choice, started from almost zero experience of publishing, and learned the trade almost on my own. And after selling a little over ten thousand books by now, I should know a few things about self-publishing, right?”

In this his first column, he outlines how to categorise indie authors, and advises how authors can move between the categories.  

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Just quickly...

Click here for Rosie’s review of Imprint 16, edited by Carol Dyer, in Asian Review of Books.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

This weekend: literary events in Singapore

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore – the Lion City. Lucía Damacela keeps an eye on local listings. A sample of literary events taking place in Singapore this weekend

Migrant Poetic Tales

Saturday, 20 May 2017
5pm to 6pm
Booktique
CityLink Mall, #B1-17A, 1 Raffles Link, Singapore 039393
Free Admission (tickets through Peatix)

A dialogue between Singapore poets, migrant workers and the community at large, this event features migrant writers from Bangladesh, The Philippines, India-Tamil, Indonesia and Singapore. The event is co-organized by Amrakajona Zakir, a two-time winner of the Migrant Poetry Competition.

Friday, 19 May 2017

New book: Policing Hong Kong by Patricia O’Sullivan

Policing Hong Kong – An Irish History is part of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Studies Series. It explores the role of Irishmen in the Hong Kong Police Force, from 1864-1950.

In 1918 Hong Kong was a tranquil place compared to war-torn Europe. But on the morning of the 22nd January, a running battle through the streets of a somewhat disreputable district, Wanchai, ended in what came to be known as “the Siege of Gresson Street”. Five policemen lay dead. Local people were so shocked that over half the population turned out to watch the victims' funeral procession.

One of the dead, Inspector Mortimor O’Sullivan, came from Newmarket, a small town deep in rural Ireland. Many of his colleagues were also Irishmen, from Newmarket. 

Patricia O’Sullivan is a writer and researcher on the lesser-known aspects of Hong Kong’s history prior to 1941. Mortimor O’Sullivan was her great-uncle. This book is the result of her stumbling on an article concerning his death. 

Using family records and memories alongside extensive research in Hong Kong, Ireland, and London,  O'Sullivan tells the story of her great-uncle, his colleagues, and the criminals they dealt with. She also gives a rare glimpse into the day-to-day life of working-class Europeans at the time, by exploring the lives of the policemen's wives and children. 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Asian Festival of Children’s Content

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) is held annually in Singapore. This year it takes place next week, from Wednesday May 17, to Sunday May 21. The Festival, organised by the National Book Development Council of Singapore, aims to strengthen the creation and promotion of children’s books and other content, with an emphasis on Asia. Lucía Damacela reports.

More than one hundred local and international authors, illustrators, editors, and other professionals from the publishing industry will participate in this year’s AFCC. Countries represented include Australia, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Thailand, the United States and the United Kingdom.

This year, the country of focus is Indonesia. The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) is a regional intergovernmental body promoting cooperation through education, science, and culture. It operates a regional centre for quality improvement of teachers and education personnel in Jakarta, where  Dr. Felicia Utorodewo is the director in language. She will be speaking at AFCC, as will Dr. Murti Bunanta, children’s literature specialist and president of the Indonesia section of the International Board on Books for Young People. Mr. Wandi S. Brata, CEO of Indonesia’s Gramedia Publishing, will also attend, along with a team from Indonesia’s Society for the Advancement of Children’s Literature.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Just quickly...

Click here for my review of Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan in Asian Review of Books.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival 2017

The Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival starts in London today, and continues until Friday, May 26.  This is the only UK-based literary festival dedicated to discussing writing about Asia. It takes a pan-Asian approach including books from Turkey in the West, to the Philippines in the East.

Writer, journalist and translator Hande Eagle is the Literature Programme Manager at Asia House. She is responsible for organising the Festival.  Hande is a Turkish national, who has been a long-term resident of the UK.  She only started her job in January, when “half of the Festival had already been organised and I had to absorb everything in the blink of an eye.”  She here answers questions about the upcoming Festival. 

How did you become involved in the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival? 
After graduating from a UK university, the University of Leicester, with a BA in Sociology, I worked in HR at a multi-national medical company. After some time, I realised that this really wasn’t the career path I wanted to go down. So, I moved back to Istanbul in 2008 and started soul-searching. I had started writing at a young age and I wanted to write. I was interested in literature and art and as part of that, having lived in the UK as a Turkish national for over ten years, I was also interested in translation. So, by taking small steps, I entered the world of publishing. At first I worked as an Assistant Editor at a prestigious art magazine, and later decided to become self-employed and direct my own translation and editorial business. Towards the end of 2009 I was invited to write for the arts and culture pages of Cumhuriyet, a Turkish national daily established in 1924. This was something I had dreamt of since I was a little girl because I am from a progressive family who very much admired Cumhuriyet’s stance towards social life, culture and politics in the 1980s and 1990s. I wrote for Cumhuriyet for five years. Meanwhile, in 2012 I moved back to the UK and continued to work with numerous publishing houses, private art institutions, magazines and newspapers in Turkey and in the UK. Over time, I felt that I needed something more. I wanted to be involved in events organisation and in working on different ideas with a team, to add a new aspect to my career and also be more engaged with people. I had known about Asia House for a couple of years when I applied for the position of Literature Programme Manager at the end of 2016. I was both excited and intrigued by the idea of managing the only pan-Asian literature festival in the UK. 

Friday, 5 May 2017

Q & A: Michael Breen

A long-term resident of Seoul, Michael Breen is a British journalist who first went to Korea as a freelance reporter, contributing to a range of international publications. His wife is Korean, and he speaks the language, although he engages the help of translators and interpreters when necessary. He has just published The New Koreans: The Business, History And People Of South Korea. The book began as an update to an earlier one, The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies. This was written in the late 1990s, and Michael found so much had changed that his intended update turned into a new book. 

Who are the South Koreans, and where does their future lie?  The New Koreans explores the nature and the values of the Korean people against the background of a detailed examination of the complex history of the Korean Peninsula, in particular its division, and South Korea’s emergence as an economic power.

Given this is your second book on the subject, are you worried tracking the contemporary history of South Korea will come to dominate your writing life?
I’m not done with Korea, but I’m done with this topic of the general study of it. A quick update to the new book would be manageable, but a major strategic shift on the part of the Koreans – like, say, re-unification – would need another whole new book and I’m not sure I’m up for that.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

500 words from J.W. Henley

500 Words From is a series of guest posts from writers, in which they talk about their latest books. J.W. Henley has just brought out his second novel Bu San Bu Si: A Taiwan Punk Tale, which throws readers headlong into the grimy underworld of Taipei’s outcasts, revealing a side of Taiwan few outsiders ever see.

Bu San Bu Si (not three not four) is a Taiwanese idiom used to describe punks, lowlifes, and losers – people who don't fit in. Henley’s protagonist, Xiao Hei, is bu san bu si. Talented and self-destructive, young and reckless, Xiao Hei is the guitar player for Taipei punk band Resistant Strain. He takes punk as a lifestyle. Live Fast. Die Young. Get Drunk. Stay Broke. And yet, at the back of his mind he feels a gnawing lust for fame; a longing for the big time.  He seizes his chance, even though it is offered by former mob boss Jackie Tsai, a key player in the Taipei criminal underworld. Once Xiao Hei is bound to Jackie, everything is on the line. His family. His girl. His band. Even life itself. How much is he willing to sacrifice for fame? How much is he willing to give, and who is he willing to give up?

Journalist J.W. Henley has lived in Taipei for over ten years, documenting the underground music scene, and playing in Taiwanese punk and metal bands. Bu San Bu Si is his second novel, following up on the success of his first, Sons of the Republic. 

So, over to J.W. Henley…

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

On a Chinese Screen / guest post by My Maugham Collection

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) was a prolific British playwright, novelist and short story writer, who, in his day, was among the most popular writers in the English-speaking world. He was most productive during the first half of the last century, and was said to be the highest-paid author in London during the 1930s. He travelled extensively in Asia, and wrote about his experiences in books such as On a Chinese Screen, and The Gentleman in the Parlour, an account of his travels in Burma and Vietnam.  He wrote a series of short stories set in colonial Singapore and Malaya.

My Maugham Collection is a blog focussing specifically on the blogger’s collection of first editions of Maugham’s books, and, more generally, on all things Maugham-related.  Here, the blogger discusses On a Chinese Screen. The book is mostly composed of a collection of quick sketches of Westerners who are out of their depth in China.  It casts a sharp eye over, amongst others, colonial administrators, missionaries, businessmen, and overbearing women.

So, over to My Maugham Collection...

Friday, 28 April 2017

Aquatic culture in Việt Nam / guest post by Ben Kiernan

Newly-published Việt Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present,  by Ben Kiernan  explores the history of the different peoples who have lived in the three major regions of Viet Nam over the past 3,000 years. It brings to life their relationships with these regions' landscapes, water resources, and climatic conditions. It addresses head-on the dramatic impact of changing weather patterns from ancient to medieval and modern times. The central importance of riverine and maritime communications and systems to life in Việt Nam is a key theme.

Ben Kiernan is the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History at Yale University. He founded the University's Cambodian Genocide Program, which later became the Genocide Studies Program, and has served as Chair of Yale’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies. He has written extensively on South East Asia, on genocide worldwide, and on genocide in Cambodia.

Here he discusses Việt Nam as an aquatic culture.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Lion City lit listing: Art Book Fair at Gillman Barracks

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore – the Lion City.  Lucía Damacela keeps an eye on local listings.

What: An annual event, the Singapore Art Book Fair (SABF) showcases contemporary art books & magazines.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Lion City Lit: OF ZOOS

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore. Our regular column Lion City Lit explores in-depth what’s going on in the City-State, lit-wise. Here Lucía Damacela continues her occasional series highlighting Singapore online literary magazines, by talking to New York-based Kimberley Lim and Singapore-based Hao Guang, respectively the founding editor and the co-editor of OF ZOOS, an annual, theme-based, online magazine publishing poetry and poetically sensible art by Singaporeans for Singaporeans, and for everyone else. It published its first issue in April 2012.  

Monday, 24 April 2017

Saturday, 22 April 2017

500 words from Tim Symonds

500 Words From is a series of guest posts from writers, in which they talk about their latest books. UK-based Tim Symonds writes Sherlock Holmes novels. He has just published Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Dragon Sigil, which takes Holmes and Watson to the Forbidden City in Beijing - at the time in the West still called Peking - during the turbulent last days of the Qing dynasty. If you’ve never heard of a sigil, it’s an occult symbol. In Tim’s novel, a menacing nine-dragon sigil is embroidered on the back of a gown the Empress-Dowager Cixi gives her son. 
So: over to Tim...

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Man Booker International Prize 2017 shortlist announced

The Man Booker International Prize celebrates fiction from around the world translated into English. The judges have now revealed the shortlist for the 2017 prize - the second time it's been awarded.

Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) travels to London

Ameena Saiyid, Managing Director of Oxford University Press, Pakistan (OUP), has just announced in Karachi that to celebrate 70 years of Pakistan’s creation, Pakistan’s biggest literary event, the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), which her company produces, will be launched in London on 20 May 2017 at a prestigious arts centre, the Southbank Centre, as part of their Alchemy festival – an annual festival celebrating the rich cultural relationship between the UK and South Asia.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Q & A: Choo Waihong

Choo Waihong has just brought out The Kingdom of Women: Life, Love and Death in China’s Hidden Mountains, an account of the Mosuo tribe, who worship the female spirit, and are the last surviving matrilineal and matriarchal society in the world. The book raises questions about gender roles in modern, urbanised society, and provides a glimpse into a hidden way of life teetering on the edge of extinction in today’s China.


A Singaporean, Choo Waihong was a corporate lawyer with top law firms in Singapore and California. She dealt in fund management law, not women’s rights, but, separately, she was involved with AWARE, a women’s rights group in Singapore; she acted as its vice-president for two terms.


In 2006, she took early retirement, and left behind the fifteen hour days of corporate life to travel in China. From the moment she stepped into the Kingdom of Women, Waihong was captivated. She became the first outsider to move into the heart of the tribe, where she stayed for six years. She now spends half the year with them in Lugu Lake, Yunnan. The rest of the time she continues to live in Singapore, while also travelling to Europe and America to spend time with her family.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Lion City lit notes: Singaporean writers shortlisted for international short story prize

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore. Our regular column Lion City Lit explores in-depth what’s going on in the City-State, lit-wise. Lion City lit notes provide quick updates between columns. By Lucia Damacela

Friday, 14 April 2017

Seen Elsewhere: Some People Juggle Geese

American-born, Singapore-resident writer and editor Lucy Day, who blogs at Some People Juggle Geese, has compiled a list of her own blog posts which may be of interest to readers of Asian Books Blog. Take a look!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Bamboo Trilogy / Ann Bennett

UK-based Ann Bennett’s newly-published Bamboo Road is part of a Second World War trilogy of historical novels set in Southeast Asia. Her trilogy can be read in any order and includes her earlier titles Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Island. Here Ann explains what inspired her to write a trio of linked, standalone stories.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Newly published: The Kingdom of Women by Choo Waihong

The Mosuo tribe is the last surviving matrilineal and matriarchal society in the world. Choo Waihong brings their story to light in The Kingdom of Women: Life, Love and Death in China’s Hidden Mountains.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Lion City lit notes / SingPoWriMo starts tomorrow

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore. Our regular column Lion City Lit explores in-depth what’s going on in the City-State, lit-wise. Lion City lit notes provide quick updates between columns. By Lucia Damacela

Friday, 24 March 2017

Six images: The Ramayana

The Ramayana, traditionally ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki, is an ancient Sanskrit poem. It tells of  Prince Rama’s banishment from his kingdom by his father; his travels and adventures in forests across India with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana;  Sita’s kidnap by Ravana, the demon king; Rama’s struggles  to rescue Sita.

The characters Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, an emperor, Hanuman, the monkey god,  and Ravana are known throughout IndiaNepalSri Lanka and south-east Asian countries such as ThailandCambodiaMalaysia and Indonesia.


Versions of the Ramayana are found in Khmer, Bahasa Indonesia, Malaysian, Tagalog, ThaiLao, and Burmese, as well as in Indian languages.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Pirated books recovered from a book binding unit / printing press in Lahore

In a recent raid carried out at a book binding unit / printing press in Lahore around 17,500 pirated copies of Oxford University Press (OUP) textbooks were seized. The raid was conducted by the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) Lahore in conjunction with OUP Pakistan. The unit / press was allegedly involved in the printing of around 10,000 unbound; 2,200 finished; and 5,000 jackets of pirated versions of OUP textbooks including New Oxford Modern English, New Countdown MathsNew Oxford Primary Science, New Syllabus Primary Mathematics, and New Oxford Progressive English Readers.   

Friday, 17 March 2017

William L. Gibson on trilogies

William L. Gibson is the author of Singapore Black, Singapore Yellow and Singapore Red, which together form the Detective Hawksworth Trilogy, hardboiled historical thrillers set in late 19th Century Malaya and Singapore. Gibson says he always wanted to write a trilogy, and he here explains why he decided the three-novel format “would be the best way to tell the story I wanted to tell.”

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke longlisted for 2017 Man Booker International Prize

The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas, published by Chatto & Windus, has been long listed for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize - see previous post for more on the prize. 

The Man Booker International Prize 2017:  longlist announced



The Man Booker International Prize has revealed the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ of 13 novels in contention for the 2017 prize, which celebrates the finest works of translated fiction from around the world.

The prize is awarded every year for a single book, which is translated into English and published in the UK. Both novels and short-story collections are eligible. The work of translators is equally rewarded, with the GBP 50,000 prize divided between the author and the translator of the winning entry. In addition, each shortlisted author and translator will receive GPB 1,000 each. The judges considered 126 books.

The full 2017 longlist is as follows:

Author (nationality)            Translator                          Title

Mathias Enard                     Charlotte Mandell               Compass
(France)                                                                                

Wioletta Greg                       Eliza Marciniak                    Swallowing Mercury
(Poland)                                                                               

David Grossman                  Jessica Cohen                       A Horse Walks Into a Bar
(Israel)                                                                                  

Stefan Hertmans                 David McKay                        War and Turpentine
(Belgium)                                                                             

Roy Jacobsen                        Don Bartlett                         The Unseen
(Norway)                               Don Shaw                             

Ismail Kadare                       John Hodgson                      The Traitor's Niche 
(Albania)                                                                              

Jon Kalman Stefansson     Phil Roughton                     Fish Have No Feet
(Iceland)                                                                               

Yan Lianke                            Carlos Rojas                          The Explosion Chronicles
(China)                                                                                 

Alain Mabanckou                Helen Stevenson                 Black Moses
(France)                                                                                

Clemens Meyer                    Katy Derbyshire                   Bricks and Mortar
(Germany)                                                                           

Dorthe Nors                         Misha Hoekstra                   Mirror, Shoulder, Signal
(Denmark)                                                                           

Amos Oz                                Nicholas de Lange               Judas
(Israel)                                                                                  

Samanta Schweblin            Megan McDowell                 Fever Dream
(Argentina)                                                                          

The longlist was selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and consisting of: Daniel Hahn, an award-winning writer, editor and translator; Elif Shafak, a prize-winning novelist and one of the most widely read writers in Turkey; Chika Unigwe, author of four novels including On Black Sisters’ Street; and Helen Mort, a poet who has been shortlisted for many poetry prizes in the UK.

Nick Barley said, “It’s been an exceptionally strong year for translated fiction. Our longlist consists of books that are compulsively readable and ferociously intelligent. From powerful depictions and shocking exposés of historical and contemporary horrors to intimate and compelling portraits of people going about their daily lives, our longlisted books are above all breathtakingly well-written. Fiction in translation is flourishing: in these times when walls are being built, this explosion of brilliant ideas from around the world arriving into the English language feels more important than ever.”

The shortlist of six books will be announced on 20 April and the winner of the 2017 prize will be announced on 14 June at a formal dinner in London.