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.