Friday, 10 August 2018

Summer break: happy reading!

Asian Books Blog is taking a summer break. We'll be back on Friday, September 14.  In the meantime: happy summer reading!

Monday, 6 August 2018

In Celebration of Books: The Singapore Literature Prize 2018

Nominee Books on Display



The Singapore Literature Prize, which carries a cash award of S$10,000 for each winner in each language category (Chinese, English, Tamil, Malay), held tonight at the NTUC Center, 1 Marina Boulevard, is in its 12th rendition (a biennial award), celebrating the best in Singapore poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. Organised by the Singapore Book Council (formerly National Book Development Council), it's certainly had its share of controversy (no rehashing here, you can read about it on Wikipedia).  The evening kicks off with video footage of Suchen Christine Lim (who needs no introduction really) exhorting the winners not to let winning halt them in their tracks: the sort of a "okay, what now?" moment that freezes a writer after a big win. 

Friday, 27 July 2018

The Art of War becomes The Science of War. Guest post by Christopher MacDonald

Christopher MacDonald is Chinese-to-English translator and interpreter based in the UK. He spent a year in Xian, in 1985, and has since lived and worked in Taipei, Hong Kong and Shanghai, as a translator, interpreter, and trade and investment consultant. He has recently brought out The Science of War, which is supported by a new translation of the classic text, The Art of War.

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise attributed to the strategist Sun Tzu. It is composed of 13 chapters, each devoted to a distinct aspect of warfare and how that applies to military strategy and tactics. For more than two thousand years, strategists in China have followed its system of military teachings. This has now also influenced Western thinking, not only in the military sphere, but also in realms such as business and the law.

In The Science of War, Christopher MacDonald tells how military principles and teachings first crystallized into Sun Tzu’s treatise and how they guide China's leaders’ thinking to this day.

Here Christopher discusses why he chose to translate The Art of War, and why his own book is called The Science of War.

So, over to Christopher…

Friday, 20 July 2018

Student bookshelf: Exploring modern Mongolian poetry through a contemporary medium


Simon Wickham-Smith, author of
Modern Mongolian Literature in Seven Days
Aurelia Paul recently graduated from Boston University, where she was studying comparative literature and Chinese. In her column Student bookshelf, she shares responses to materials she has explored in her classes.
This week I read about literature from a digital source, a blog series on the Best American Poetry website. Simon Wickham-Smith created the blog series in 2009, with the aim of making modern Mongolian literary works more accessible for a global audience. One of the difficulties that students studying Mongolian literature in English often come across is that physical texts are hard to obtain and expensive to purchase because publishers use short run printing.  Digital genres such as blog posts and online articles, and PDFs of printed works can help counteract this problem. In addition to being published online, Modern Mongolian Literature in Seven Days is also free to read, and this promotes equal access to knowledge.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Backlist Books: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

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

This post is about The Good Earth, the first volume in a trilogy that tells the story of a farmer named Wang Lung and his descendants in the early 1900s in China. In 1932 the novel won a Pulitzer Prize, and in 1938 the author won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 2004, Oprah put the book back in the spotlight when she chose it for her book club.

The author was an American who spent considerable time in China both as a child and as an adult. Some insist that she was nevertheless a cultural outsider bound by stereotypes, while others feel her depiction of life in China was well informed and thus informative.

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

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 and children’s books, but also some adult fiction. 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…

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Indie spotlight: An indie author’s guide to marketing, part I – branding

Indie spotlight focusses on self-published authors and self-publishing. Here, in the first 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 branding. She will follow-up with a post on selling, on Monday.

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…

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

First Encounter by James Rush

The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press (OUP) contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books introduce a new subject quickly. OUP's expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

James Rush is Professor of History at Arizona State University, where he has taught since 1990. He has served as director of Arizona State University's Program for Southeast Asian Studies and as a consultant to The Asia Society, El Colegio de Mexico, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.  He is the author of several books, including Opium to Java: Revenue Farming and Chinese Enterprise in Colonial Indonesia, 1860-1910; The last Tree: Reclaiming the Environment in Tropical Asia; and Hamka’s Great Story: A Master Writer’s Vision of Islam for Modern Indonesia. He has just brought out Southeast Asia: A Very Short Introduction.

James says his new book: "strives to tell the complicated story of Southeast Asia’s multi-ethic, multi-religious societies and its eleven contemporary nations both simply and legibly. Its historic arc focusing on kingdoms, colonies, and nations and its analysis of the region’s deep social structures provide a clear narrative around which otherwise random details and anecdotal information (or the day’s news) can be understood in the context of larger patterns of history, politics, and society. In it, the modern Southeast Asian societies of Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia and the region’s other six countries come into sharp focus."

Here James provides a personal account of how his interest in Southeast Asia came about.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Romance and Intrigue on the Bund: Shanghai Grand by Taras Grescoe



Delve into the history of Shanghai in the interregnum between two World Wars and you will find an assortment of characters involving taipans, buccaneers, fortune-seekers, soldiers-of-fortune, intrepid newsmen, shady underworld triad bosses, spies, Communist insurgents, political emigres and colourful Western adventurers taking residence in Shanghai. These names will crop up again and again: industrialist and magnate Sir Victor Sassoon and his son E.D. Sassoon (who constructed the famous Cathay Hotel); triad bosses Du Yue Sheng, Curio Chang and Pockmarked Huang; Morris ‘Two-Gun’ Cohen (bodyguard to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen); Trebitsch Lincoln (the spy called ‘abbott of Shanghai’); revolutionary fighters like Chang Hsueh Liang, newsmen like John B. Powell, Victor Sheean and Edgar Snow; writers and intrepid China chroniclers like Emily Hahn and John Gunther; literati poets and writers like Lu Xun and Zau Sinmay, just to name a few.  All these moseying around the centre-stage action -- the seismic political and corrupt chicanery of Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek and the Soong family in battling the early beginnings of Communism, Mao Tse-tung and the Japanese invasion.  

Monday, 4 June 2018

Read Indonesian literature! by Claudia Landini

Claudia Landini has just returned to her native Italy after spending 30 years as an expat, most recently in Jakarta.  She here gives a personal account of her encounters with Indonesian literature.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom, by Sher Banu A.L. Khan

Sher Banu A.L. Khan is an assistant professor at the Malay Studies Department, National University of Singapore. She is the author of Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom: The Sultanahs of Aceh, 1641−1699, which was published in May.

The Islamic kingdom of Aceh was ruled by queens for half of the 17th century. Was female rule an aberration? Unnatural? Indigenous texts and European sources offer different evaluations. Drawing on both sets of sources, Sher Banu shows that female rule was legitimised both by Islam and adat (indigenous customary laws), and provides insights on the Sultanahs' leadership, their relations with male elites, and their encounters with European envoys who visited their courts.

So, over to Sher Banu…

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Backlist books: Not out of Hate by Ma Ma Lay

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

This post is about Not out of Hate, an allegorical tale of a young Burmese woman in an unhappy marriage with a westernised Burmese man. Often compared with George Orwell’s Burmese Days, it communicates an anti-colonial message from the point of view of the local Burmese.

The book can be read as the story of one dutiful young woman’s relationship with her overbearing husband—or as an allegory for her country under British rule.

Published in 1955 in Burmese under the title Mon Ywe Mahu, it won a national literary award and sold many copies. Decades later, in 1991, it became the first Burmese novel to be translated into English and published outside the country.

See below to find out what you need to know to decide whether you should read Not out of Hate, or what you should know about it even if you never do!

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Youth: Medal of Courage. Do Chinese films ‘translate’?

Youth (芳华) is a Chinese film by popular director Feng Xiaogang with a screenplay written by Geling Yan. The film follows a group of young people in a military art troupe in the People's Liberation Army during the Cultural Revolution, through the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979, and on into middle age. It was the 6th highest-grossing domestic film of 2017 in China, and has won a number of awards at Asian film festivals. Youth and Feng Xiaogang also won Best Picture and Best Director at the first Marianas International Film Festival. So how has Youth ‘translated’ to the West? And I don’t mean its subtitles (these were adequate, though nowhere as idiomatic as Tony Ryan’s, in Jia Zhangke’s films). What interests me is what the ordinary film-goer, non-China-specialist, will make of it, what they are likely to take from it, and what will go right over their heads.

My gut feeling to start with was that films are much more likely to ‘translate’ well than novels. We all know that Chinese literature is finding it hard to go west, despite the best efforts of writers and their translators. But surely a film, with a relatively simpler story-line, luscious cinematography and gorgeous music and dancing, will have universal appeal?

Friday, 18 May 2018

Quick Notice: Lord of Formosa by Joyce Bergvelt

Koxinga was the Ming-dynasty champion who drove the Dutch colonialists from Formosa (Taiwan). In the West he is relatively little-known. But perhaps he'll soon be as famous in Europe as he is in East Asia, as Joyce Bergvelt has taken his dramatic life story and turned it into a sweeping historical novel.

Lord of Formosa is a tale with everything: wonderful settings; political intrigue; ambition; derring-do; tragedy; pathos; glory.

Student bookshelf: influencing women's behaviour in Tang China

Aurelia Paul is a senior year student at Boston University, studying comparative literature and Chinese. In her fortnightly column Student bookshelf, she shares responses to texts she's reading in her classes.

Here she discusses literature that was used to influence women's behaviour in Tang China. Contrasting approaches, threatening and praising readers, are taken by two classics of Chinese literature.  The Book Of Filial Piety for Women by Miss Zheng, the wife of an official named Chen Miao takes a gentle, praised-based approach to influencing female conduct. Meanwhile, Song Ruozhao’s Analects for Women prefers persuasion via threatening language.

So, over to Aurelia…

Thursday, 17 May 2018

PEN Transmissions

English PEN promotes free speech round the globe. It runs Writers in Translation, a programme to promote the translation of vibrant new work from beyond the English-speaking world into English.  English PEN has just launched PEN Transmissions, an online zine dedicated to international writing.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Indie spotlight: Alexa Kang on Shanghai Story

Indie spotlight focusses on self-published authors and self-publishing. Here, Alexa Kang, a Boston-based, Chinese-American author of World War Two (WWII) historical fiction, discusses Shanghai Story, which publishes through her own house, Lakewood Press, on May 18.

Shanghai Story is set in 1936 Shanghai. It is the first book of a projected trilogy set to chronicle the events in China leading up to WWII, as well as the experience of Jewish refugees in Shanghai.

So, over to Alexa…

Saturday, 12 May 2018

500 words from Marshall Moore

500 words from is an occasional series in which novelists talk about their new novels. Marshall Moore will soon be bringing out Inhospitable.

Marshall Moore is an American expat living and working in Hong Kong, where he founded Signal 8 Press – his own novel is to be published next week by Camphor Press.

Inhospitable is a ghost story set in Hong Kong. It explores life as an expat there, and also the idea that ghosts from the past follow you when you leave your home country. Along the way it compares Chinese and Western ideas about ghosts. As the title suggests, it comments on Hong Kong's hospitality sector, and it also takes on the city's real-estate obsession.

So, over to Marshall…

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

500 words from David Nesbit

500 words from is an occasional series in which novelists talk about their new novels. David Nesbit has just published his debut novel Twilight in Kuta.

David Nesbit is a British expat living and working in Indonesia. He has previously written short stories and non-fiction pieces on the country.

Twilight in Kuta looks beneath the tourist brochures to explore love and lies in paradise. When young British tourist Neil meets Indonesian girl Yossy on Kuta beach and decides to settle permanently in Bali he knows his life is about to change forever. But will the change be for better or worse? As cracks start to appear in his relationship, he is forced to re-evaluate all he holds dear. His and Yossy’s stories intertwine with those of a mixed-race schoolgirl, a Javanese ex-soldier, and a village girl desperate for love. The various narrators offer different interpretations of the events that unfold.

So, over to David…

Friday, 27 April 2018

Q & A: Karien van Ditzhuijzen

Karien van Ditzhuijzen is the editor of Our Homes, Our Stories, a newly published anthology of work from migrant workers in Singapore. Raelee Chapman investigates, and puts questions to Karien.

Migrant domestic workers are omnipresent in Singaporean society. They care for our children, clean our homes, wash our cars and walk our dogs, but their inner lives remain mostly invisible. They are a sector of society most vulnerable to exploitation and too little is known about the challenges they face such as homesickness, wage deductions, illegal employment, abuse, health issues and psychological problems.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Backlist books: The Fugitive by Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Pramudya Ananta Tur)

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

This post is about The Fugitive, a novel about one of the leaders of a failed Indonesian rebellion against the Japanese near the end of the Second World War. It is the first novel of an Indonesian nationalist who went on to become the country’s best-known novelist despite spending a considerable fraction of his life behind bars for expressing his political views.

This 171-page novel was written while the author was in a Dutch prison camp and published in Indonesia in 1950. The version I read, the 1990 English translation by Willem Samuels, now seems to be out of print, as is the 1975 English translation by Harry Aveling. The author’s better-known Buru Quartet is still available in English.

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

Friday, 20 April 2018

Signal 8 Press by Marshall Moore

Signal 8 Press (S8P) is an independent publisher in Hong Kong. The company originally published books focussed primarily on the Asia-Pacific region, with a particular interest in books that reflected an East-meets-West sensibility. Although Asia remains its top publishing priority, it has now branched out to publish books from and about other regions, in various genres and categories.

Marshall Moore is the founder and publisher of S8P. He here gives an overview of the company’s history, and of the problems of publishing in our grim old world.

Student bookshelf: The Tale of Genji

Aurelia Paul is a senior year student at Boston University, studying comparative literature and Chinese. In her fortnightly column Student bookshelf, she shares responses to texts she's reading in her classes.

Here she discusses The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, focussing on Genji’s fall from grace and Murasaki’s early feminism.

The Tale of Genji is sometimes called the world’s first novel. It is a classic work of Japanese literature that has been preserved since the early years of the Heian Period in the 11th century. It was written by the noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu.

Genji, a superbly handsome man, is the second son of Emperor Kiritsubo, and a low-ranking concubine, Lady Kiritsubo. For political reasons he is delegated to civilian life and he becomes an imperial officer. The Tale of Genji concentrates on his romantic life and describes the customs of the aristocratic society of the time.

In the Kocho chapter, Genji arranges for the construction of Chinese pleasure boats in Lady Murasaki’s (the author’s) garden where a party is held in honour of a Spring Festival visit by the Empress Akikonomu and her ladies. The following day Lady Murasaki sends eight of her prettiest attendants to deliver a message to the Empress. Four are dressed as birds and four as butterflies. The children approach the Empress with gifts of cherry blossoms and yamabuki (Japanese roses). Tamakuzara, Genji’s adopted daughter. is in attendance, and attracts his roving eye.

The Heartvine chapter concerns Genji’s sexual entanglements. He is now pursuing Lady Murasaki. Meanwhile his wife, Aoi, and one of his former conquests, the Rokujo lady make no secret of their jealousy for one another.

So, over to Aurelia…

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Sight/Unseen drama conference

In 2016 Aurora Metro Books published Southeast Asian Plays, an anthology of eight plays from the region, all translated into English. Plays came from Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia. They were by playwrights Jean Tay, Floy Quintos, Tew Bunnag, Ann Lee, Nguyễn Đăng Chương, Joned Suryatmoko, Alfian Sa’at, and Chhon Sina.

The plays were selected and edited by Cheryl Robson, publisher at Aurora Metro, and Aubrey Mellor.

On April 26-27 these and other plays will be explored at Sight/Unseen, a drama conference to be held at Goldsmiths, University of London. Here, Cheryl Robson talks about how the conference came about, and gives an overview of what it will offer.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Two nonagenarian authors and an outburst




This blog starts with the London Book Fair, or rather flirts with it without actually going through the doors. Instead we’re at the Translators Association (UK), which celebrates the fair in a particular way – by hosting a whole day of translation workshops, known snappily as “LBF-minus-1” the Monday before the fair. The symposium aims to provide full and frank discussion on a whole variety of topics, plus, of course, an all-important chance to catch up with other translators from all over the country, in fact, the world. The highlight for me this year was a panel called “Promoting non-fiction in translation,” because of something unexpected that happened. Ruth Martin, Co-Chair of the Translators Association, Kate Mascaro from Flammarion, Nichola Smalley from And Other Stories, and Trista Selous, translator from French, started by going over familiar but useful territory: promoting a book to readers benefits from the personal touch to bring the author and their book to life (but it’s more difficult with non-fiction than with a novel). Translators can help, by blogging and using other social media. Many of the major nonfiction prizes are explicitly open to translations, and publishers should be encouraged to submit them. Nonfiction translators should make sure their publishers give them an author credit on Amazon - they can then edit their own author page and boost their profile. But in general the panellists felt that translated non-fiction just is less sexy and harder to promote than novels. The discussion was all fairly low-key, until a passionate intervention from the audience: a freelance journalist spoke up to accuse publishers of killing their translated books from the get-go, by being negative, unimaginative, and inefficient. Even the press releases, which they may or may not send you when you ask, are badly-written, she said. Why can’t publicity departments dream up inspiring ways of presenting translated authors to the reading public? What’s wrong with thinking big and bold, for instance, radio and TV features?

Friday, 13 April 2018

500 words from Joyce Bergvelt

500 words from is an occasional series in which novelists talk about their new novels. Joyce Bergvelt is about to publish her debut novel Lord of Formosa.

Joyce is Dutch, but she spent a formative year in Taiwan, and she is fluent in Mandarin. She now works as a journalist.

Lord of Formosa takes us back to 1624. In southwestern Taiwan the Dutch establish a trading settlement; in Nagasaki a boy is born who will become immortalised as Ming dynasty loyalist Koxinga. Lord of Formosa tells the intertwined stories of Koxinga and the Dutch colony from their beginnings to their fateful climax in 1662. The year before, as Ming China collapsed in the face of the Manchu conquest, Koxinga retreated across the Taiwan Strait intent on expelling the Dutch. Thus began a nine-month battle for Fort Zeelandia, the single most compelling episode in the history of Taiwan. The first major military clash between China and Europe, it is a tale of determination, courage, and betrayal – a battle of wills between the stubborn Governor Coyett and the brilliant but volatile Koxinga.

So, over to Joyce…

The White Book shortlisted for Man Booker International Prize

The Man Booker International Prize celebrates works of fiction from around the world, that have English translations published in the UK. The shortlist of six books in contention for the 2018 prize has just been announced. The GBP50,000 prize for the winning book will be divided equally between its author and translator.

The list includes Han Kang, and Deborah Smith, who together won the prize in 2016 for The Vegetarian. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

Asian Contemporary Voices: Interview with Kirstin Chen, author of Bury What We Cannot Take

Courtesy of Susan Deragon


















Kirstin Chen's new novel, Bury What We Cannot Take (Little A, March 2018), has been named a Most Anticipated Upcoming Book by Electric Literature, The Millions, The Rumpus, Harper’s Bazaar, and InStyle, among others. She is also the author of Soy Sauce for Beginners. She was the fall 2017 NTU-NAC National Writer in Residence in Singapore, and has received awards from the Steinbeck Fellows Program, Sewanee, Hedgebrook, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. Born and raised in Singapore, she currently resides in San Francisco. Visit her at kirstinchen.com

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Student bookshelf: exploring Mongolian folktales

Aurelia Paul is a senior year student at Boston University, studying comparative literature and Chinese. In her fortnightly column Student bookshelf, she shares responses to texts she's reading in her classes.

Here she discusses Mongolian Folktales edited by Hilary Roe Metternich.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Interview with Singapore Unbound Founder Jee Leong Koh

This is Lucía Orellana Damacela first column as International Correspondent for Asian Books Blog. Interview with New York-based Singapore Unbound founder and organizer Jee Leong Koh.
 
How was SG Unbound born, when, who created it?
It all began when writer and arts administrator Paul Rozario-Falcone and I got together one wintry afternoon in Cornelia Street Café, in New York City, to discuss the possibility of organizing a Singapore literature showcase in our adopted home. The literary scene in Singapore was growing, with new writers, presses, and publications, and we thought it was time to introduce the Big Apple to the Little Red Dot.

To rally support from the creative community in NYC, we started the Second Saturdays Reading Series, a monthly gathering featuring an open mike and a published author, and hosted in different private homes around the city. The first Second Saturdays gathering was held in Paul and Al’s home in Carroll Gardens in February 2014.

With the support of this community, we mounted the first Singapore Literature Festival in NYC in October that year, showcasing 14 Singaporean writers. The festival was so warmly received that I
was encouraged to make it a biennial event. At the 2nd Festival in September 2016, Singapore Unbound was officially launched.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

New life stories, one at a time by Choo Waihong

At Chinese New Year, The Kingdom of Women:  Life, Love and Death in China’s Hidden Mountains by Choo Waihong won the Asian Books Blog Book of the Lunar Year in the Year of the Rooster.

The “prize” for the winning author of the Book of the Lunar Year is to write a guest post about a secular charity of his or her choice, promoting literacy or education in Asia.

Waihong chose to write about New Life Stories, a Singapore-based non-profit supporting pre-school education for the children of incarcerated mothers. New Life Stories helps provide vulnerable children with essential educational and social skills, to ensure they aren't left behind in the crucial early years of their development. It also supports the children's incarcerated mothers, both while they are in prison, and during reintegration into society.

Together, mother and child are able to rewrite the stories of their lives and to chart a more positive future.

So, over to Waihong, to talk more about New Life Stories...

Friday, 23 March 2018

The evolution of City of Devils / guest post by Paul French

Paul French is a widely-published journalist and commentator on China. Previous books include a history of foreign correspondents in China and a biography of the legendary Shanghai adman, journalist and adventurer Carl Crow.

City of Devils is French’s much-anticipated second narrative non-fiction book, following Midnight in Peking which was a New York Times bestseller, and a BBC Radio 4 book of the week.

City of Devils is set in Shanghai, 1941, where even the wildest dreams seem possible. It is a true story of two friends turned enemies. In a city under siege Viennese Joe Farren rose to fame by cashing in on Shanghai’s desperate pleasure seeking. King of the chorus lines, his name was splashed in neon across the infamous Badlands nightclub ‘Farren’s’. American fugitive Jack Riley, his fingertips acid-burnt, found a future in Shanghai as ‘The Slots King’. ‘Dapper Joe’ and ‘Lucky Jack’ collided, clashed and came together again in a frantic struggle to survive the city’s last days. Paul French resurrects the denizens of old Shanghai’s ganglands, the drug-running, the gambling, and the graft, vividly restoring this long-overlooked side of the city’s history.

Here Paul explains how he came to focus on ‘Dapper Joe’ and ‘Lucky Jack’, in a book initially intended as a portrait of Shanghai.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Off to The Script Road, the Macau litfest

 Yao Feng in conversation with Han Dong, March 2018

The Script Road in Macau has always had a reputation for being a good place to get invited to – a serious litfest and, most of all, a lot of fun. And so it proved. The first few days focussed on writers such as Ana Margarida de Carvalho (Portugal), Rosa Montero (Spain), Li-Young Lee from the US, Chan Ho-Kei from Hong Kong, and writer and translator, Jeremy Tiang, and children’s author Bao Dongni, Han Dong, Yu Jian and Yin Lichuan from China. The last three, who largely made their name as poets, also direct films, so while I was there we saw Han Dong’s One Night at the Wharf and Yu Jian’s Jade Green Station.

Monday, 19 March 2018

500 words from Wayne Ng

500 words from is an occasional series in which novelists talk about their new novels. Wayne Ng is about to publish his debut novel Finding the Way.

Wayne was born in Canada to Chinese immigrants who fed him a steady diet of bitter melons and kung fu movies. He is an award-winning short story and travel writer who has twice backpacked through China.

Finding the Way concerns the life of Lao Tzu. In the sixth century, BCE, the legendary philosopher Lao Tzu 
seeks redemption and an opportunity to spread his beliefs
 in the Zhou royal court. He is confronted by a boastful king and a mad queen. But he also discovers a protégé in
 Prince Meng, the thoughtful but hesitant heir to the throne.
 Lao Tzu’s ideas of peace and natural order, however, leave him ill-prepared for palace intrigue and the toxic rivalry between 
Meng and his twin brother, the bold and decisive Prince Chao.
 Chao undermines Meng at every turn as he tries to usurp Meng’s birthright. Confucius arrives and allies with Chao, thus raising the stakes for control of the dynasty, culminating in a venomous clash between Taoism and Confucianism. With the king ailing and war imminent, Lao Tzu is betrayed; he must cast aside his idealism to fight for his life.

So, over to Wayne…

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Backlist books: Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj

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

This post is about Four Reigns, a nostalgic historical novel set in Thailand that tells the decades-long story of a Thai woman living under the reign of a series of four kings in the period from 1882 to 1946. Trained as a girl in the palace as a royal attendant, she experiences the ups and downs of daily life and the changing of the times from a privileged point of view. Even-keeled to a fault, she tries to hold her family together, though they have different roles to play in a changing society and thus do not always see eye to eye.

This 663-page novel, originally written as a series of newspaper columns by an Oxford-educated Thai writer and statesman, was published in book form in 1953 and translated into English in 1981.  As well as idealising the national pride of the Thai people and their reverence for Thai royalty, the novel illustrates a kind of Buddhist fatalism or detachment from material things and circumstances beyond one’s control.

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

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

500 words from Clarissa Goenawan

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

Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean author. Rainbirds is her first novel.  It is set in 1990s Japan. In the small, fictional town of Akakawa, Keiko Ishida has just been murdered. In Tokyo, her brother Ren, the narrator, drops everything, including, temporarily, his girlfriend, to rush to the scene. As he tries to solve the crime, he begins to make sense of aspects of his sister’s life previously hidden from him, and thereby, too, aspects of his own life currently mysterious to him.

So, over to Clarissa...

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Han Kang and Wu Ming-Yi contenders for Man Booker International Prize

The Man Booker International Prize celebrates 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. The work of translators is equally rewarded, with the GBP50,000 prize divided between the author and the translator of the winning entry. The 13 novels in contention for the 2018 prize has just been announced. European languages dominate, but titles have been translated from 10 different languages, including Asian and Middle Eastern ones.

Han Kang has made the longlist for The White Book, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith. Wu Ming-Yi is also in contention for The Stolen Bicycle, translated from Chinese by  Darryl Sterk.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Jagadhita: the world we create

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival has just announced its 2018 theme. From 24-28 October, more than 150 writers, artists, thinkers and activists from across the world will converge for the 15th Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF), to share stories and ideas under the theme Jagadhita.

The theme is drawn from Balinese Hindu philosophy. Jagadhita is the individual pursuit of universal harmony and prosperity, interpreted in English as The World We Create.

The Festival's five-day programme will explore countless ways to create a world that we want to live in; how we strive as individuals and as communities to manifest positive change; and how to nurture this through respect and action that sustains compassion for each other and ourselves.

"Last year's theme, Sangkan Paraning Dumadi, or Origins, was an important reminder of our shared humanity," says UWRF founder and director Janet DeNeefe. "At a time when disparities rather than shared values are shaping political decision-making, we'll ask what harmony and prosperity looks like in 2018 and consider the tensions that have emerged between personal and collective fortunes in contemporary life. We'll be celebrating the writers, artists, thinkers and activists from across Indonesia and the world who are making a powerful contribution to our harmony and prosperity. Through the Hindu philosophy of Jagadhita, we'll explore the world they create."

Student bookshelf. The DaodeJing and the Zuangzi by Aurelia Paul

Aurelia Paul is a senior year student at Boston University, studying comparative literature and Chinese. In her fortnightly column Student bookshelf she shares responses to texts she's reading in her classes.

Here she discusses Zuangzi's curiosity and Laozi's austerity in the DaodeJing and the Zuangzi, two foundational texts of Daoist philosophy.

The DaodeJing (Tao Te Ching ) is a Chinese classic text traditionally accredited to the 6th-century BCE sage Laozi. It deals with metaphysics, morals and politics.

The Zhuangzi contains stories and anecdotes exemplifying the carefree nature of the Daoist sage. It is traditionally accredited to Zuangzi, another influential Chinese philosopher who lived around the 4th century BCE. (Zhuangzi, as on the book cover, is a variant spelling.)

So, over to Aurelia…

Thursday, 8 March 2018

International Women's Day in Asia

Today's International Women's Day is a time to reflect on the needs of women, particularly rural women, in Asia, and to stress the importance of international efforts to ensure that in the region, and elsewhere:
 - all girls have access to health care in infancy
- all girls receive primary education
- all girls are literate
- all forms of discrimination against all women and girls is ended
- all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private is ended
-  trafficking and sexual exploitation is ended.
- child, early and forced marriage is ended
- female genital mutilation is ended

Monday, 5 March 2018

Lover, photographer, gun-runner, spy: Xiao Bai's literary spy thriller French Concession

The Asian literary spy genre isn’t a defined genre as such, but perhaps it should be.  Xiao Bai’s French Concession stands in a solid pantheon (if one may call it pantheon within such an amorphously-bordered genre that encompasses such disparate geographies and time periods) that includes Mai JIa’s recent thriller Decoded, compared to Eileen Chang’s Lust, Caution (per one review) and poses as a counterpoint to a host of other Asian literary spy thrillers written as far back as Francis Van Wyck Mason’s 1933 Shanghai Bund Murders.  One key difference with Xiao Bai’s offering is that it’s a literary spy novel written by an Asian writer in his native language, and subsequently translated for a Western audience, thus the translation itself (by translator Chengxin Jiang) stands as a conduit that needs to be considered.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Lion City lit: #BuySingLit 2018

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.

#BuySingLit is a movement to celebrate stories from Singapore. Advocating buy local, read our world, local book publishers, retailers and literary non-profits come together to encourage more people to discover and embrace Singapore's literature. 

Building on the success of the inaugural edition in 2017, #BuySingLit 2018 runs from 9 - 11 March, at multiple venues.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Student bookshelf by Aurelia Paul: Who Ate Up All the Shinga?

Aurelia Paul is a senior year student at Boston University, studying comparative literature and Chinese. In her fortnightly column, Student bookshelf, she shares responses to texts she's reading in her classes.

Here she discusses Who Ate Up All the Shinga? An Autobiographical Novel by Park Wan-suh.

Park Wan-suh is a best-selling and award-winning writer from Korea. She was born in 1931 in a small village near Kaesong, a protected hamlet of no more than twenty families. Park was raised believing that "no matter how many hills and brooks you crossed, the whole world was Korea and everyone in it was Korean." But then came the Japanese Occupation, complicating her day-to-day life, and her beliefs.

Who Ate Up All the Shinga? Examines the ways in which collaboration, assimilation, and resistance intertwined within the Korean social fabric before, during, and after the Japanese Occupation. The novel is notable for Park's portrait of her mother, a sharp and resourceful widow who both resisted and conformed to stricture, becoming an enigmatic role model for her struggling daughter.

So, over to Aurelia...

Calling all writers...

Some writers work best in their office or home while others benefit from the stimulation and fresh perspective that a foreign sky affords. International authors Robin Hemley, based in Singapore, and Xu Xi, based in Hong Kong, are two of the latter types and have taught writing workshops and retreats around the world for many years. They founded Authors at Large (AAL) to cater to and benefit like-minded writers, both established and emerging, who love travel, time and space to write, and the community and fellowship of other writers at the end of a productive writing day.

Imagine a week on a private soi by the beach in Thailand, or at a remote arts centre in Orkney, Scotland, or a weekend in the heart of Berlin. These are the locations AAL has just announced for its writing retreats in 2018.

Friday, 16 February 2018

And the winner is...

Happy Year of the Dog. We have been running a poll to find Asian Books Blog's Book of the Lunar Year in the Year of the Rooster just closed. In third place, The Green Phoenix, by Alice Poon. In second place, Snow Over Surabaya, by Nigel Barley.  And the winner is The Kingdom of Women, by Choo Waihong.


Choo Waihong's "prize" is to be  invited to write a guest post highlighting the work of any secular organisation promoting literacy within Asia. Keep an eye out...



Thursday, 15 February 2018

Backlist books: King Rat by James Clavell

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

This post is about King Rat, a semi-autobiographical novel set in Singapore’s Changi prison camp during the final days of World War II. In the novel, a young Brit (a character who represents the author) is befriended by an enterprising American who has amassed a surprising amount of power via surreptitious trading within the Japanese-held POW camp.

This debut novel, treating a variety of themes more or less closely related to wartime ethics, was an immediate bestseller when published in 1962. King Rat and other successful novels in Clavell’s Asian Saga (including, famously, Shogun) have been adapted into television miniseries.

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

Friday, 9 February 2018

500 words from Fiona Mitchell

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

Fiona Mitchell is British writer and journalist who spent three years in Singapore before returning to the UK.

The Maid's Room is her first novel.  It explores the lives of female migrant domestic workers in Singapore, and of the luckier expat women who employ them.

So, over to Fiona…

Student bookshelf by Aurelia Paul: dreams in The Sarashina Diary

Aurelia Paul is a senior year student at Boston University, studying comparative literature and Chinese. In her fortnightly column, Student bookshelf, she shares responses to texts she's reading in her classes.

Here she discusses The Sarashina Diary, a memoir written by Lady Sarashina, the daughter of Sugawara no Takasue, a lady-in-waiting of Heian-period Japan - the Heian period was from 794 to 1185.

Lady Sarashina kept a diary to mark her bold 11th-century journey from the east of Japan to the capital. She continued writing for 40 more years. Her work stands out for its descriptions of her travels and pilgrimages, and is unique in the literature of the period, as well as one of the first in the genre of travel writing.

In many ways, Lady Sarashina seems modern. She married only at the late age of thirty-three and identified herself as a reader and writer more than as a wife and mother. Enthralled by romantic fiction, she wrote extensively about the disillusioning blows that reality can deal to fantasy.  She also recorded her dreams...

Friday, 2 February 2018

500 words from Harvey Thomlinson

500 words from is an occasional series in which authors talk about their newly-published books. The Strike.
Here, Harvey Thomlinson talks about his new experimental novel,

Harvey is best known as a translator of novels by rebellious Chinese writers like Murong Xuecun and Chen Xiwo. His own innovative writing has attracted attention for its adventurous writing style, particularly sentence structures. Harvey also runs Make-Do Publishing, a press which specializes in fiction from Asia.

The Strike vividly explores a crisis in the lives of Old Yu and Little Xu, two outsiders in a frozen Chinese border town hit by a traumatic strike. Caught up in the upheaval, guilt-ridden Old Yu embarks on a reckless journey to find the rebellious woman he betrayed. Meanwhile, young drifter Little Xu enters into a dangerous relationship with a stranger on the run.

So, over to Harvey…

Why Camphor Press reissued The Teahouse of the August Moon / John Ross

When publishers reissue older titles, Asian Books Blog asks them why.

Here, John Ross explains why Camphor Press reissued The Teahouse of the August Moon, by Verne Sneider.

At the end of the Second World War the United States found itself in the position of an accidental imperial power administering numerous foreign territories. The first major novel to examine this challenge was John Hersey's A Bell for Adano (1944). A U.S. Army officer is placed in charge of a town during the American occupation of Sicily. He brings democracy and other changes to Adano, often siding with the local people against his unsympathetic commander, and - despite seemingly more important matters to attend to - helps the locals replace a beloved town bell, which was taken away by the Fascists.