Friday, 19 October 2018

Indie Spotlight: Matthew Legare

Indie spotlight focusses on self-published authors and self-publishing. Here, Matthew Legare discusses his new novel Shadows of Tokyo, the first in a projected historical thriller-noir series set in pre-World War II Japan. The second book, Smoke Over Tokyo, is coming soon.

Matthew is an indie author publishing under the Black Mist Books imprint. He also reviews new fiction and interviews authors on his blog.

So, over to Matthew…

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

On translation, by Nicky Harman

Nicky Harman, Yan Ge, Natascha Bruce

Let’s talk literary translation, or how to keep audiences riveted by swearing at them

Last week, I was at Cheltenham Literary Festival, appearing on a panel with Yan Ge and Natascha Bruce. We had carte blanche to talk about Translating China, but decided to focus on Yan Ge’s new novel, The Chilli BeanPaste Clan (Chinese: 我们家) because (let’s be honest) it helps sales, and because the three of us all had plenty to say about the book.

The Chilli Bean Paste Clan is set in a fictional town in West China and is the story of the Duan-Xue family, owners of the town’s lucrative chilli bean paste factory, their formidable matriarch, and her badly-behaved, middle-aged son. As the old lady’s eightieth birthday approaches, her children get together to make preparations. Tensions that have simmered for many years come to the surface, family secrets are revealed and long-time sibling rivalries flare up with renewed vigour. 

Friday, 12 October 2018

The Deer and the Cauldron, guest post by John Minford

Between 1997 and 2002, John Minford, now Emeritus Professor of Chinese at the Australian National University, brought out a three-volume translation of the rollicking Chinese martial arts novel, called, in English, The Deer and the Cauldron, with Oxford University Press Hong Kong (OUP HK). Now OUP UK has published it in the UK.  As John explains: "I worked on the translation with David Hawkes, my father-in-law, and, on the last volume, with my late wife Rachel May, for about 10 years from the mid 1990s."

John here writes about the sprawling and beguiling example of Chinese popular culture he and his collaborators worked on for so long.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Oxford University Press Pakistan book fair

The annual month-long Oxford Book Fair, organized by Oxford University Press (OUP), is running until 7 November at Oxford bookshops in cities throughout Pakistan. The much-awaited yearly event always draws a large number of visitors.  The selection of books featured includes both locally published and imported children's books, English Language Teaching material, reference books, and school and higher education textbooks.

For the general reader, there are non-fiction titles on international affairs, politics, history, anthropology, women’s studies, art, and literature.

Biographies and memoirs of prominent Pakistani personalities are being showcased.

Oxford’s hallmark English and bi-lingual dictionaries and thesauruses are available at special, reduced prices.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

A Yellow House: Elaine Chiew Talks to Karien van Ditzhuijzen

Credit: Lina Meissen Photography
After a childhood of moving around Asia, the Middle East and Europe, Karien van Ditzhuijzen moved to Singapore in 2012. Karien has a degree in chemical engineering, but gave up her career developing ice cream recipes to become a writer. She now dedicates her life (in no particular order) to advocating migrant workers’ rights, her family, her pet chicken and being entertained by monkeys while writing at the patio of her jungle house.

As a freelance writer and blogger Karien contributes to several publications in Singapore and the Netherlands. In 2012 she published a children’s book in Dutch recounting her childhood in Borneo. Karien van Ditzhuijzen’s debut novel A Yellow House was published by Monsoon Books in 2018. This poignant coming-of-age story, told in the voice of inquisitive ten-year-old Maya, explores the plight of migrant domestic workers in Singapore and the relationships they form with the families they work for.

Karien has been working with migrant domestic workers since 2012, when she joined HOME, a charity that supports migrant workers in Singapore. In the following years Karien worked closely with domestic worker writers, documenting their stories and sharing them on the blog www.myvoiceathome.org and as editor of the anthology 'Our Homes, Our Stories'.


The strong women Karien met through her charity work were the inspiration for A Yellow House.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

500 words from Robert F. Delaney

500 words from is an occasional series in which novelists talk about their new novels. Robert F. Delaney has just brought out The Wounded Muse.

Robert has been covering China as a journalist for media outlets including Dow Jones Newswires and Bloomberg News since 1995, and was recently appointed U.S. Bureau Chief for the South China Morning Post. In his spare time, he turned to writing about the personal struggles of those caught in the middle of China’s ongoing transformation into an economic powerhouse. Many of the themes for The Wounded Muse were first developed in his earlier collection, Route 1 to China. Robert now splits his time between New York City and Toronto.

The Wounded Muse, a novel based on actual events, follows Qiang as he returns to his homeland, China, from Silicon Valley, during the lead up to the 2008 Olympic Games. In Beijing, he finds wrecking balls are knocking down entire neighborhoods to make way for fancy modern structures. Qiang begins shooting footage of the tumult for a documentary. When he’s arrested, it falls on his sister, Diane, and an American journalist, Jake, to figure out how to end his detention. With different ideas about how to approach a vast Chinese security apparatus, Diane and Jake don’t know how to trust each other. Meanwhile, Dawei, an itinerant Jake befriended years earlier, returns to Beijing to retrieve a memento that has suddenly become valuable. Dawei finds himself ensnared in a plan to force the authorities to release Qiang.

So, over to Robert…

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Remembering Vietnam and Shanghai by Tess Johnston

Diplomat, author and historian Tess Johnston has published extensively about Asia, including 15 books about architecture in Shanghai.

An American, Tess has lived and served abroad with the US Foreign Service and the Consulate General, for more than half a century, including more than 40 years in Asia. Her first Asian posting was to Vietnam from 1967-74, at the height of the war; her second was to Shanghai, where she lived and worked for more than 3 decades.

In Saigon, Tess snared a job with one of the most famous,or infamous, of American wartime leaders, John Paul Vann.

In her latest book, A War Away: An American Woman in Vietnam, 1967-1974 Tess recounts stories of her Vietnam years, including her eye-witness account of the Tet Offensive, and what it was like to be one the few American women there during those harrowing years.

Tess has an abiding love for both Vietnam and Shanghai. Here she compares her memories of each place.

So, over to Tess…

Monday, 24 September 2018

Indie spotlight dual edition: (2) Understanding how to market on Amazon

Indie spotlight focusses on self-published authors and self-publishing. Here, in the second of today’s Indie spotlight dual edition, Ilan Nass, from Taktical Digital in New York City, gives general advice on how sellers can maximise sales through Amazon. Indie authors can adapt this advice to suit their own aim: selling books.

Indie spotlight dual edition: (1) Christie Dao on Actualize Your Dreams

Indie spotlight focusses on self-published authors and self-publishing. Here, in the first of today’s Indie spotlight dual edition, Christie Dao, a Vietnamese-American now based in Singapore, explains how she came to publish her inspirational book, Actualize Your Dreams, and why it was important for her to work with an Asian-American editor.

Christie Dao was born in Vietnam and moved to the United States as a 12-year-old. After graduating high school and gaining a full-tuition scholarship, Christie finished her bachelor’s degree one year ahead of schedule. After earning her master's degree, she relocated to Singapore as an employee of Intel Asia Pacific. She has lived and worked in Singapore for the last 18 years.

Actualize Your Dreams: from wishful thinking to reality is Christie’s self-portrait of growing up in an Asian household in the United States. It charts her determination to achieve and obtain her personal education and career goals from her teenage years until today. Learning English and the cultural norms Americans take for granted were just two of the stumbling blocks she encountered as a new immigrant to America. But she overcame the barriers, and her life came full-circle when her career brought her back to Asia, the continent she left as a 12-year-old.

So, over to Christie…

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

On translation by Nicky Harman

Spot the authors: Jia Pingwa, Mo Yan and Tie Ning are in the front row. Also in the picture are Alai, Yu Hua, Lu Min and many many others.

A MIXED BAG OF CHINESE AUTHORS AND TRANSLATORS, Guiyang, 2018
Nicky Harman reports on a meeting of minds.

The International Sinologists Conference on Translating Chinese Literature (汉学家文学翻译国际研讨会FISCTCL) brings authors from all over China and translators from all over the world, to a different venue in China every two years. This year, we were in Guiyang, China, for the fifth biennial conference. Despite the unwieldy title and even more unwieldy acronym, it is an extremely enjoyable event, one of a kind, giving translators a chance to meet and bend the ear of their authors (or people whom they would like to translate) and giving authors the chance to learn more about the process of translation and the promotion of their works overseas. FISCTCL is run by the China Writers Association (CWA), who have done a brilliant job over the last decade adapting the initially rather formal conference format, to the quirky demands of a bunch of maverick, enthusiastic and creative translators! The upshot is that for the last two FISCTCLs, we have spent most of the two days in discussion groups of about twenty. Depending on the mood and composition of the group, individuals can either give a presentation they have prepared in advance or have a free discussion.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Lion City lit: Inez Tan launches her debut short story collection



This Is Where I Won’t Be Alone: Stories launched in Singapore this weekend at Kinokuniya’s main store. Carissa Foo, who wrote If It Were Up to Mrs Dada (Epigram Books, 2018) led a discussion with the collection’s author, Inez Tan.

Inez spoke about the inspiration for the first two stories in the anthology, “Edison and Curie,” and “Oyster”. “Edison and Curie,” is about a pair of twins who differ greatly in their academic aptitude. The story is psychologically complex, exploring different aspects of identity, success, and coming of age. Inez explained that this story was born from a “collision” of different experiences and ideas. In particular, she spoke of Einstein’s famous twin paradox as an initial catalyst for the creation of “Edison and Curie”. The next story in the collection, “Oyster,” is grounded in a more personal experience. Inez began writing it after her mother gifted her some dried oysters to take back to the United States. Although “Oyster” was inspired by a real-world incident, the story itself brings us out of reality and into the imaginary realm of an oyster’s thoughts. The oyster arrives into a family fridge, and its unfamiliarity with our world gives us an interesting perspective on human relationships.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Review: Labyrinth of the Past by Zhang Yiwei



While I was in Shanghai, I stumbled across a series oftranslated Chinese fiction, headlined as Stories by Contemporary Writers from Shanghai and published jointly by Better Link Press (New York) and Shanghai Press and Publishing Development Company.  The editor of the series is Wang Jiren. His Foreword stated that the series comprises writers who are immigrants to Shanghai, but most were born in the city from a period encompassing the late 1940s to the 1980s, and includes well-known writers such as Wang Anyi, Xiao Bai and Sun Ganlu, but also features young emerging writers such as Zhang Yiwei, whose short story collection, Labyrinth of the Past (2015) is reviewed here.

From age 5 to 22, Zhang Yiwei grew up in Tianlin, a neighbourhood in Xuhui District, southwest Shanghai. The seven bittersweet nostalgic stories in this collection describe a childhood in Tianlin and the bordering town of Xiaozha that were undergoing rapid transformation and industrialisation in the '80s, from farmlands to organised apartment complexes for factory workers. This changing landscape evokes the lives of Chinese workers, tinged sometimes with desolation, anonymity, and a deep sense of loss. Zhang Yiwei’s collection is particularly noteworthy for its observation of details both past and current, and for its angle of approach – these are stories about young women of the ‘80s and ‘90s growing up raised by single mothers. The broken family connections echo the breaking up of landscape, all in the name of progress, but the stories seem to whisper: at what cost?

Friday, 14 September 2018

Student bookshelf: Review and analysis of A Pearl in the Forest


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.

Today, Aurelia will be discussing a Mongolian film that came out in 2008, Enkhtaivan Agvaantseren’s A Pearl in the Forest.

The Buryat People and Historical Background

This work comments on the persecution of Buryat refugees in Mongolia in the 1930s. The Buryats are the dominant ethnic minority group that lives in Siberia. They speak their own language, also called Buryat. This language is similar to Mongolian and uses the Cyrillic script. Buryats, like Mongols, traditionally live nomadically in gers. However, because of close contact with Russia, some Buryat settlements have become agricultural. People living in these settlements often reside in Russian-style wooden houses, which can be seen in the film. 

In 1923 the Soviet administration created the Buryat-Mongol Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Union. However, Stalin was alarmed by the possibility of Soviet resistance from the Buryat community, and so ordered a campaign against them. Thousands of people died as a result of this ethnic violence, and numerous Buddhist sites of worship were destroyed.

Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission. Guest post by Dorothy Wong

Dorothy C. Wong is Professor of Art and Director of the East Asian Center at the University of Virginia. She has published Chinese Steles: Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist Use of a Symbolic Form (2004; Chinese edition 2011), Hōryūji Reconsidered (editor and contributing author, 2008), and China and Beyond in the Mediaeval Period: Cultural Crossings and Inter-regional Connections (co-editor with Gustav Heldt, and contributing author, 2014). Her most recent book is Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission: The International Buddhist Art Style in East Asia, ca. 645-770.

In the mid-seventh century, a class of Buddhist pilgrim-monks disseminated an art style in China, Japan, and Korea that was uniform in both iconography and formal properties. Traveling between the courts and religious centers of the region, these pilgrim-monks played a powerful role in this proto-cosmopolitanism, promulgating what came to be known as the International Buddhist Art Style.    

Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission: The International Buddhist Art Style in East Asia, ca. 645-770 investigates the formation and circulation of an East Asian International Buddhist Art Style by focusing on the role played by Buddhist missionaries and pilgrim-monks as agents of cultural and artistic transmissions.

So, over to Dorothy...

Back from the summer!

Asian Books Blog has now reopened after the summer break.  Here's to the next season of reading...

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…