Friday, 26 July 2019

Summer reading

Asian Books Blog is taking a break until Friday September 6. In the meantime, what will you read if you're visiting Thailand, Taiwan or Vietnam? Cecile Collineau, an independent book consultant based in Singapore, recommends novels you could pack wherever you're going. 

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Backlist books: The Nine Cloud Dream by Kim Man-jung

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

This post is about The Nine Cloud Dream, also known as The Cloud Dream of the Nine, a celebrated novel written in seventeenth-century Korea but set in ninth-century China. Often compared with Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, the novel follows one man on a journey to discover the meaning of life according to a mixture of Confucian, Taoist and---most importantly---Buddhist ideals. His fate is entwined with the fates of eight gifted, beautiful and otherworldly women in a kind of alternate reality. The story is thus a kind of collective dream of nine individuals.

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

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

PEN TRANSLATES' WILL FORRESTER: IN CONVERSATION WITH NICKY HARMAN

 NICKY HARMAN interviews WILL FORRESTER, International and Translation Manager at English PEN, where he runs PEN TRANSLATES, the major UK-based, grant-giving programme funding literary translations.
picture credit - Stephanie Sy-Quia






You’ve had one round of PEN Translates, how did it feel? What were the most exciting books that came out of it for you?

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Researching Old Shanghai by Matthew Legare

Matthew Legare is the author of the Reiko / Inspector Aizawa historical thrillers set in pre-World War II Japan, and published by Black Mist Books. His latest novel is set in 1930s Shanghai. In this companion piece to his previous post on researching historical Japan, Matthew writes about books he'd recommend to other authors researching Old Shanghai.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Tsundoku #6 - July/August 2019

Welcome to issue #6 of Tsundoku – a column by me, Paul French, aiming to make that pile of ‘must read’ books by your bed a little more teetering. This is the bumper summer issue covering both July and August (Asian Books Blog shuts down for the summer like a Parisian boulangerie, and heads for the beach). So, with the holidays a’coming - let’s start with some new fiction...

Friday, 5 July 2019

500 words from Anna Wang

Anna Wang was born in China in 1966, and was living in Beijing in 1989, during the Tiananmen Square protests. She has published nine books in Chinese. She now lives in the USA, where she has just brought out her first book in English, Inconvenient Memories. This is a personal account of the Tiananmen Square protests and of China before and after those events.  But is it memoir, or autobiographical fiction?  Anna here addresses that question.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

O Thiam Chin Talks to Elaine Chiew about Vampires, Teenage Girls and His Sixth Book of Short Fiction, Signs of Life.

Photo courtesy of the Author and Alan Siew
O Thiam Chin is the author of five collections of short fiction: Free Falling Man, Never Been Better, Under the Sun, The Rest of Your Life and Everything That Comes With It, and Love, Or Something like Love. He was a recipient of the National Arts Council's Young Artist Award in 2012, and has been shortlisted for the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize. His debut novel, Now That It's Over, won the inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2015, as well as the Best Fiction title at the 2017 Singapore Books Awards. His second novel, Fox Fire Girl, was also shortlisted for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016.








About Signs of Life (from the book jacket) (Math Paper Press, 2019):

A mysterious terrorising force hounding a group of schoolgirls at a campfire. A couple trying to conceive in a post-apocalyptic world. Two gay men, the last of their kind, getting acquainted in a laboratory for the purpose of scientific observation. A Christ-like figure raising the dead in the heartlands. Strange and suspenseful, these stories offer a whole other world of voices, plot and imagery that opens up new terrain in what is possible and imaginable. With wit, sensitivity and dexterity, O's characters slip from their ever-present reality into the surreal and unknown and find in the process their hungers, desires and pains coming fully awake, thrumming with exultant life.



Monday, 1 July 2019

Indie Spotlight - White Monkey

This month on Indie Spotlight, Carlos Hughes tells us about how his work teaching English as a foreign language led him to write about his experiences. Over to Carlos...

There are very few things that I am any good at where I would put a label on myself but I think a label that I could put on myself that wouldn't break the Trade Descriptions Act would be one of a writer. Even as a kid who couldn't stand school and would eventually leave/be thrown out with no qualifications at 16 - I always loved creative writing classes during English lessons. The only problem was I tended to go a bit mad when it came to creative writing and would end up writing 15 or so pages of a story within an hour only for the teacher to go 'Hughes, what have I told you before about this? Two pages MAXIMUM!'

So it wasn't like anyone in school was that bothered about my abilities or hidden genius but it was somewhat therapeutic and enjoyable for me.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Backlist books: Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

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

This post is about Rashomon and Other Stories, a collection of English translations of six of the “finest and most representative” short stories by Japanese author Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, who wrote over 100 short stories before he committed suicide in 1927 at the age of thirty-five.

Two of the stories in the collection, “Rashomon” and “In a Grove”, were combined in the award-winning 1950 Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon. The term ‘Rashomon effect’, named after the film, is used when eyewitnesses do not agree on the specifics of an event. It suggests that the truth is subjective or unknowable because people are unwilling or unable to describe it accurately.

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

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Nicky Harman interviews Jeremy Tiang, Singaporean writer, translator and playwright


Photo credit: Edward Hill

Nicky: When you were growing up, what were the first Chinese-language stories you came across, and what drew you to them?

Jeremy: Growing up in a former British colony can be a destabilizing experience. Singapore's official languages are English, Chinese (meaning Mandarin), Malay and Tamil, and there were always several languages swirling around me ― some of which I felt I was being encouraged to know (the English in the Enid Blyton books my parents bought us, the Mandarin they sent me to a neighbour to learn) as well as others I had less access to (the Cantonese they sometimes used with each other, the Tamil my dad occasionally spoke on the phone).  I encountered Chinese stories in all kinds of ways, on TV and in my school textbooks, but often freighted with cultural baggage: there was a weight of obligation on us, as English-educated people, to hang on to our Chinese heritage. It wasn't until I got some distance from Singapore, by moving to the UK for university, that I was able to enjoy Chinese-language literature on its own terms. While I came to appreciate the grounding I had received in Singapore, particularly in secondary school, I don't think I read a Chinese novel for pleasure till I was in my twenties. Once I was able to do that, I quickly developed a taste for it. And being a writer of English and a lover of Chinese fiction, it was a logical progression to literary translation ― the best way I could think of to get right inside these books.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Focus on NIAS Press: Yuan Shikai. By Patrick Fuliang Shan

The Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), an integrated part of the University of Copenhagen, is an academically independent Nordic research and resource centre, focusing on modern Asia from a predominantly social sciences perspective.

NIAS Press is a globally focused publisher with the rigorous academic standards expected of a university press, but with the speed and decisiveness of a commercial publisher. Its lists cover all areas of Asian Studies, but it specialises in publishing innovative research on modern east and southeast Asian society.

This week, we're exploring NIAS Press in a series of three posts. In this third and final post, one of the Press' authors, Patrick Fuliang Shan, talks about his new book, on the first regular president of China, Yuan Shikai: A Reappraisal.

Dr. Patrick Fuliang Shan is a professor in the department of history at Grand Valley State University in the United States, where he teaches Chinese history, east Asian history, and world history. His earlier book, Taming China’s Wilderness: Immigration, Settlement, and the Shaping of the Heilongjiang Frontier, 1900-1931 probes the history of China’s northeastern frontier during a crucial period of historical transformation. He has published widely in journals and anthologies. He is a past president of the Chinese Historians in the United States.

Yuan Shikai: A Reappraisal is the first book in more than half a century to study Yuan Shikai, his life, and his political career. It sheds new light on the controversial history of this talented administrator, valiant general, and committed moderniser - and a man who, ever since his death, has been denounced as a national thief who usurped the fruits of the 1911 Revolution which overthrew the last empire in China. The book rectifies the traditional negative view by utilizing numerous new primary sources and by citing abundant recent publications. It explains that Yuan built the first modern army and implemented a series of reforms to modernize China. More crucially, he played a key role in directing the 1911 Revolution into a less bloody national conflict. However, his fatal mistake was his imperial endeavor in establishing a new dynasty in 1916, which led to a nation-wide civil war and his own death. Overall, Yuan Shikai: A Reappraisal offers a comprehensive analysis of Yuan’s life and his complex role in the shaping of modern Chinese history.

So, over to Dr. Patrick Fuliang Shan...

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Focus on NIAS Press: Haunted Houses and Ghostly Encounters. By Chris Shepherd

The Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), an integrated part of the University of Copenhagen, is an academically independent Nordic research and resource centre, focusing on modern Asia from a predominantly social sciences perspective.

NIAS Press is a globally focused publisher with the rigorous academic standards expected of a university press, but with the speed and decisiveness of a commercial publisher. Its lists cover all areas of Asian Studies, but it specialises in publishing innovative research on modern east and southeast Asian society.

This week, we're exploring NIAS Press in a series of three posts. In this second post one of the Press' authors, Chris Shepherd, talks about his new book, Haunted Houses and Ghostly Encounters: Animism and Ethnography in East Timor, 1860–1975.

Chris is a semi-independent researcher affiliated with the School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University. He researches development, colonialism, indigenous politics and the history of science, with a special interest  in East Timor.

Haunted Houses and Ghostly Encounters: Animism and Ethnography in East Timor, 1860–1975, offers a history of Western ethnography of animism in East Timor during the Portuguese period.  It offers an original synthesis of the country’s history, culture and anthropology. The book consists of ten chapters, each one a narrative of the work and experience of a particular ethnographer. Covering a selection of seminal 19th- and 20th-century ethnographies, Chris explores the relationship between spiritual beliefs, colonial administration, ethnographic interests and fieldwork experience. Bringing colonial and professional ethnography into one frame of reference, he shows that ethnographers not only bore witness to processes of transformative animism, they also exemplified them.

So, over to Chris…

Monday, 17 June 2019

Focus on NIAS Press: A day in the life of a publishing assistant. By Adela Brianso Junquera

The Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), an integrated part of the University of Copenhagen, is an academically independent Nordic research and resource centre, focusing on modern Asia from a predominantly social sciences perspective.

NIAS Press is a globally focused publisher with the rigorous academic standards expected of a university press, but with the speed and decisiveness of a commercial publisher. Its lists cover all areas of Asian Studies, but it specialises in publishing innovative research on modern east and southeast Asian society.

This week, we'll be exploring NIAS Press in a series of three posts. In this first post, Adela Brianso Junquera talks about her working day.

Adela is a publishing assistant at NIAS Press. A master’s student of global health at the University of Copenhagen, she works part-time as a student assistant. In her free time, she is the co-editor of the global health blog, Eye on Global Health. Before moving to Copenhagen, she studied social anthropology and politics in Edinburgh.

So, over to Adela...

Friday, 14 June 2019

Researching historical Japan, by Matthew Legare

Matthew Legare is the author of the Reiko / Inspector Aizawa historical thrillers set in pre-World War II Japan, and published by Black Mist Books. Read his previous post about Shadows Of Tokyo, the first title in the series, here.

In this post Matthew writes about books he'd recommend to other authors researching historical Japan.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Tsundoku #5 - June 2019


Welcome to issue #4 of Tsundoku – a column by me, Paul French, aiming to make that pile of ‘must read’ books by your bed a little more teetering. June is a big month as publishers gear up for the summer months….let’s start with new fiction...

 
Asian Books Blog regulars will have read Andrew Lam on his new novel Repentance (see his recent 500 Words… column) and the story of Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Something happened while his father was fighting the Germans in France, and no one is sure exactly what. A fascinating dive into one avenue of Japanese-American history.


Vietnamese-American author Abbigail Rosewood’s debut novel If I Had Two Lives follows a young woman from her childhood in Vietnam to her life as an immigrant in the United States - and her necessary return to her homeland. Displaced in New York, returning to Vietnam is no easy process either.


Monday, 3 June 2019

Eminent Historian Professor Wang Gungwu converses with Elaine Chiew on his autobiography, Home Is Not Here

Photo courtesy of NUS Press

From the book jacket:


Wang Gungwu is one of Asia’s most important public intellectuals. He is best-known for his explorations of Chinese history in the long view, and for his writings on the Chinese diaspora. With Home Is Not Here, the historian of grand themes turns to a single life history: his own.


In this volume, Wang talks about his multi-cultural upbringing and life under British rule. He was born in Surabaya, Java, but his parents’ orientation was always to China. Wang grew up in the plural, multi-ethnic town of Ipoh, Malaya (now Malaysia). He learned English in colonial schools and was taught the Confucian classics at home. After the end of WWII and the Japanese occupation, he left for the National Central University in Nanjing to study alongside some of the finest of his generation of Chinese undergraduates. The victory of Mao Zedong’s Communist Party interrupted his education, and he ends this volume with his return to Malaya. 

Wise and moving, this is a fascinating reflection on family, identity and belonging, and on the ability of the individual to find a place amid the historical currents that have shaped Asia and the world. 

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Indie Spotlight: Guards Gone Wild!

My guest today is Loh Teck Yong, a Singapore security guard who has self-published an interesting and original account of his experiences. Here he tells us about his road to self-publishing.



Security guards have it rough in Singapore. I know because I started working as one back in 1999. Full-time guards have to put up with a 72-hour work week and the week gets even longer for those who work 24-hour shifts. And while we are battling long hours for very low pay, we have to fend off attacks from unappreciative superiors, angry members of the public and even our own colleagues.  

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Exciting writing from Korean: in this post, Nicky Harman talks to noted translator from Korean, Sora Kim-Russell (김소라)


Sora, how did you get started in literary translation?

I started out translating short stories, but my big break was with Shin Kyung-sook’s novel, I’ll Be Right There. It was a big project, too. A long, sprawling novel by a major author whose previous translation, Please Look After Mom, had made the bestseller lists. But it wasn’t actually the first novel I’d translated.

The first was City of Ash and Red, by Pyun Hye-young, which finally got published this year. It was a long wait, but in a lot of ways I’m grateful for that. It was a tricky novel to translate, and the long path towards publication gave me plenty of time to go back, rethink my approach, and revise.

Can you tell me a bit about contemporary Korean literature? What's the most exciting trend that you can see?

I think the most exciting trend is the increase in self-avowed queer writers. That is, we’ve seen queer-themed poetry and prose in Korean literature, dating back to its very origins, but not many publicly queer-identified writers. That has been changing.

The other thing I would add is that while Korea is typically seen as having a homogeneous, conformist culture, its modern literature—at least, the parts of it that I’ve read—has always been diverse, outward-looking, and grappling with questions of identity and selfhood. For instance, it’d be easy to assume that Korean literature from the 1950s wouldn’t have much to say about race, or that there’s no way a novel published back in 1909 would feature a queer relationship, and yet there they are.

Friday, 24 May 2019

500 words from Andrew Lam

500 words from…is an occasional series in which novelists talk about their latest novels.

Andrew Lam’s second historical novel, Repentance, is in bookshops now.

Andrew, a third generation Chinese American, is the award-winning author of two earlier books, Saving Sight, an Amazon non-fiction bestseller about his career as an eye surgeon, and Two Sons of China, a novel of World War 2 that won a Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award in 2014.

Repentance is based on the history of the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. It opens in France, in October 1944, with a Japanese American war hero who’s keeping a terrible secret.  Fifty-five years later, his son, Daniel Tokunaga, is a world-famous cardiac surgeon who is perplexed when the U.S. government comes calling, wanting to know about his father’s service during World War 2. Something terrible happened while his father was fighting the Germans in France, and the Department of Defense won’t stop its investigation until it’s determined exactly who did what.

Wanting answers of his own, Daniel upends his life to find out what his father did on a small, obscure hilltop half a world away. As his quest for the truth unravels his family’s catastrophic past, the only thing for certain is that nothing - his life, career, and family - can ever be the same again.

So, over to Andrew…

Friday, 17 May 2019

Destination Shanghai by Paul French

Paul French, the bestselling author of Midnight in Peking and City of Devils, writes Asian Books Blog's monthly Tsundoku column.  He here talks about the research behind another of his recent books, Destination Shanghai, first in a projected series.

Destination Shanghai is, I hope, the first in a series of books about various foreigners passing through, living and often dying in Asia. I started with Shanghai as it’s where I lived for many years, but am moving on with Destination Peking, Hong Kong, Singapore and then who knows where…

I realised that after thirty-something years of studying Asia I had a wealth of stories that could be gathered into these books – on my blog, in notebooks, in magazines and literary journals as well as in my head. As often, I’ve avoided telling stories of dry missionaries, self-aggrandizing businessmen or pompous diplomats. I prefer writers and artists, bohemian sojourners and my favoured writing territory of the demi-monde of Asian port city life – the showgirls, grifters, conmen and gangsters that proliferated. So, Destination Shanghai has the stories of Russian émigrés, Jewish refugees from the Nazis, conmen on the run, pimps and prostitutes falling out, Shanghai nightclub dancers who made it to Hollywood, movie stars passing through and a motley assortment of strange types who landed on the Bund over the years.

Kawika Guillermo makes a bookstop at Asian Books Blog to chat about Stamped, his anti-travel novel, online personas and why he thinks Americans can't be flaneurs.




Biography

Kawika Guillermo is the author of Stamped: an anti-travel novel (Westphalia Press, 2018). His stories can be found in The Cimarron ReviewFeminist Studies, The Hawai’i Pacific ReviewTayoSmokelong Quarterly, and others. He is an Assistant Professor in the Social Justice Institute at the University of British Columbia and is the author of Transitive Cultures: Anglophone Literature of the Transpacific (Rutgers University Press, 2018). He occasionally writes on travel, politics, and video games at Anomaly Magazine (formerly Drunken Boat) and decomP Magazine, where he serves as the Prose Editor.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Portraits of Trees of Hong Kong

Newly-published Portraits of Trees of Hong Kong and Southern China features 109 exquisite watercolor paintings of 104 resident species, created by one of the world’s top botanical artists, Hong Kong-based Sally Grace Bunker. 

500 words from Tina Jimin Walton

500 words from…is an occasional series in which novelists talk about their latest novels.

Tina Jimin Walton's debut historical novel for young adults, Last Days of the Morning Calm, is now in bookshops.

Tina is a Korean-American writer based in Singapore. She loves researching historical events, and enjoys stories that empower and encourage youth. She writes what she would have liked to read when she was young.  While she was working on Last Days of the Morning Calm she took an MFA in creative writing.

Last Days of the Morning Calm is set in Korea at the end of the nineteenth century. Fourteen-year-old Ji-nah, whose parentage is obscure, and Han, a seventeen-year-old servant, are left in the tight grip of Tutor Lim, when the head of their household, Master Yi, travels to Peking. Tutor Lim strips Ji-nah of all her privileges, and crushes Han's hopes for the future. When the two young people discover he is plotting with the Japanese to overthrow Queen Min, whose fate seems tied to Master Yi's, they determine to save her. Their plans go awry when Tutor Lim sells them off as slaves: Ji-nah to the palace and Han to the missionaries.

So, over to Tina...

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Melissa De Silva talks to Elaine Chiew about 'others', discovering her ancestry in Malacca, and making pineapple tarts.

Melissa De Silva at her writing residency at Hikayat, Penang's Georgetown, May 2019. Photo courtesy of William Tham.


Biography:


Melissa De Silva grew up in her grandmother's flat in Toa Payoh, which is why she thought the dragon playground in front of her grandmother's block was her exclusive playground. Besides her award-winning debut book, 'Others' is Not a Race, Melissa's fiction has been published in Best New Singaporean Short Stories Vol. 3, Wilderness Literary Review, Singapore Quarterly Literary Review and LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction. She has worked as a magazine journalist and a book editor. She is currently Singapore’s Education Ambassador for American nonprofit Write the World (writetheworld.com). Melissa leads a wide variety of workshops on writing memoirs, writing for healing and catharsis, childhood and family memories, food and travel writing, cultural identity and women's identity and empowerment. 

EC: Welcome to AsianBooksBlog, Melissa. Fantastic to have you with us to discuss your trenchant book which won the Singapore Literature Prize 2018, ‘Others’ Is Not A Race (Math Paper Press, 2017).

First, let’s start with your background. What led you to writing, and specifically, to the writing of this book?

Friday, 3 May 2019

Khaled Lutfi awarded 2019 IPA Prix Voltaire

Imprisoned Egyptian publisher Khaled Lutfi has been selected for International Publishers Association’s (IPA) 2019 Prix Voltaire which supports defenders of freedom to publish.
Kristenn Einarsson, Chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee said: “The international publishing community stands with Khaled Lutfi. We must support Lutfi’s fellow publishers in Egypt so that his imprisonment does not lead to fear and self-censorship in a country of such rich literary heritage.”

José Borghino, IPA Secretary General added: “IPA calls on President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to grant Khaled Lutfi a presidential pardon.”

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Tsundoku #4 – May 2019

Welcome to issue 3 of Tsundoku – a column by me, Paul French, aiming to make that pile of ‘must read’ books by your bed a little more teetering. I was stuck behind the Great Firewall of China last month which made life difficult so this month’s issue has a few more recommendations to make up….let’s start with new fiction...

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Indie Spotlight: Researching the Raj - Ann Bennett

In this post I talk about my fascination for India, and my research into the British Raj for my novel 'The Foundling's Daughter.'

Me on a trip to Udaipur in 1990
I’ve been fascinated by India from an early age. My father was posted to the North West Frontier – now the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan - in the 1930s, and used to tell many stories from his time there, as well as speaking fluent Urdu. This kindled my interest in the region.

On trips to India in my twenties I was struck by how British influence still pervaded, largely in the buildings and architecture, but in other ways too – in the bureaucracy encountered in booking a rail ticket, in the love for the English language, and in some traditions - the love of cricket, and tiffin in the afternoons. In some of the towns I visited – Agra and Jaipur for example – there were many forlorn, abandoned bungalows where British officials would once have lived, now derelict and crumbling, their gardens overgrown, together with churchyards full of graves of the British who had met an early death far from home. This got me wondering about the lives of those people – what must it have been like to make a home in such a different culture, so far from your roots, often in lonely and difficult conditions?

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Presenting Allison Markin Powell, literary translator from Japanese



This month, Nicky Harman interviews Allison Markin Powell. Allison is a literary translator and editor and publishing consultant who translates fiction, nonfiction, biography, essays, and manga from Japanese.

Can you tell me a bit about contemporary Japanese literature? What's the most exciting trend that you can see?

One of the most exciting things about contemporary Japanese literature, as far as I’m concerned, is the current tide of women writers of various ages.  From my unofficial research, the data appear to show that female writers have won at least half of the most prestigious literary prizes in recent years, and in what may be a more revealing facet, they are selling just as many books as male writers—and in all genres, be it mystery or fantasy or horror, or plain old literary fiction.  But what concerns me is that this relative parity within the Japanese publishing landscape is not being reflected in English translation.  When I look at the titles and number of books published in English, the imbalanced proportion (26%) is similar to what exists among fiction that is originally written in English.  Whereas I’m excited that there are new as well as overlooked Japanese women writers who are finding a readership abroad—such as Sayaka Murata, Yukiko Motoya, Taeko Kono, and Yuko Tsushima, to name just a few—it’s disappointing to see what appears to be a Western distortion being imposed on such a robust harvest of literature.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Viewpoint: Mona Dash

Viewpoint invites authors to write about anything they want, as long as it's of interest to readers of Asian Books Blog.

Here, Mona Dash talks about leaving her native India, to save her child's life. Her son was born with a rare, genetically inheritable disease, SCID (severe combined immuno-deficiency). After his diagnosis, she set out for London so he could be given specialist treatment. She has written about her experiences in the memoir, A Roll of the Dice: a story of loss, love and genetics. This publishes next Monday, April 22.

Mona still lives in London, where she combines motherhood, and work in the technology sector with writing fiction and poetry. Her work includes the novel Untamed Heart, and two collections of poetry, Dawn-drops and A certain way.  In 2016, Mona was awarded a poet of excellence award in the upper chamber of the British parliament, the House of Lords.  Her work has been widely praised and anthologized. In 2018, she won a competition established to encourage and promote British Asian writers, the Asian writer short story competition, for her short story Formations.

A Roll of the Dice describes the ups-and-downs, the shocks and support, the false starts and real hopes of a mother with a sick child. Mona humanizes the complexities of genetic medicine, and writes her story of genetic roulette without self-pity. Her memoir contains valuable information for couples facing infertility and complicated pregnancies, for parents of premature babies and of children with SCID.

So, over to Mona…

Monday, 15 April 2019

Writing with Heart, Humour, and Honesty: An Interview with M SHANmughalingam

Award-winning author Dato’ Dr M SHANmughalingam—or Dato' Shan, as he is affably known—had his first solo collection of short stories launched by no less than HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah, the Sultan of Perak and Deputy King of Malaysia, just last October. His book cover carries HRH's endorsement and the book a Royal Foreword, for good reason: Shan is a national treasure of storytelling. The vibrant volume, evocatively titled Marriage and Mutton Curry, hit number two on the MPH bestseller list in Malaysia.

When I started reading Marriage and Mutton Curry, what struck me most was how warm it was, even as it delves into stories of the Jaffna Tamil community with incisive truth. Always honest, but always just as kind, Shan deftly navigates topics as broad as the Japanese occupation, red tape and diplomacy, colonial legacies and cultural intricacies of his Malay(si)a. He weaves references to Dickens’s Oliver Twist and Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner into the context of Malayan schoolboys and bureaucrats with equal parts unflinching irony, pointed humour, and joy. To quote Gillian Dooley’s review in Asiatic (Vol. 2, Dec 2018): “There is no sentimentality here at all: compassion, yes, but clear-eyed candour”.

Dato' Dr M SHANmughalingam (Picture courtesy of Epigram Books)


Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Tsundoku #3 - April 2019

Welcome to issue 3 of Tsundoku – a column by me, Paul French, aiming to make that pile of ‘must read’ books by your bed a little more teetering - fiction, non-fiction, photography and kids...and so...let’s start building your tsundoku pile for April….let’s start with new fiction...

Hideo Yokoyama’s fat detective novel Six Four was a massive sensation both in Japan and internationally a couple of years ago. Now Yokoyama is back with Precinct D (riverrun), a collection of four short stories all set in 1998 Tokyo and each one following one police officer faced with a difficult choice to make.



Introducing Ryu Murakami

Ryu Murakami is a Japanese novelist, short story writer, essayist and filmmaker. He explores human nature through dark themes of disillusion, drug use, murder and war, giving his work a surrealist, sinister air.  He is perhaps less well-known internationally than he deserves to be.  Singapore-based Piers Butel, who writes on culture and travel, here urges you to read him.

Scenes of staggering violence, a cast of misfits and outsiders, a twisted world that seems familiar but also deeply disturbing and a feeling that things probably won’t end up all right. The novels of Ryu Murakami are not always easy to read, but with drumming heartbeat-fast plots, cinematic sheen and a unique style, you won’t have time to be bored.

500 words from Sylvia Vetta

British freelance writer, author and speaker, Sylvia Vetta, is on her fourth career after teaching, running a business, and having a high-profile role in the antiques trade in England. In 1998 she began freelancing writing on art, antiques and history. She then took a diploma in creative writing, which led to the publication of her first novel Brushstrokes in Time.

Sylvia's husband, Dr Atam Vetta, is Indian, so she knows that chance encounters can change lives, and she is interested in cultural exchange. Her own experienced influenced Sculpting the Elephant, which concerns the relationship between British artist, Harry King, and Indian historian Ramma Gupta.  When Harry trips over Ramma their lives change forever, but can their love stand the strain of crossing cultures? Their story becomes entwined with the life of a maverick Victorian who mysteriously disappeared in the Himalayas while in search of the emperor who gave the world Buddhism, but was then forgotten for the next 2000 years.

So, over to Sylvia...

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Indie Spotlight: The Imperial Alchemist - AH Wang





As the new contributor to the Indie Spotlight, I'm thrilled to introduce my first guest, AH Wang who has been inspired by ancient Taiwanese history and mythology to write The Imperial Alchemist - a gripping archeological thriller with a difference, to delight fans of Indiana Jones and anyone interested in the history of this fascinating land. 

In this post she gives us some background to the book and the inspirations around it....

Friday, 29 March 2019

Circumstance out now in the UK

Rosie Milne's novel Circumstance, which published in Asia last November, is now available in the UK

Rosie is the editor of Asian Books Blog.  Her previous novels are How to Change Your Life, Holding the Baby and Olivia & Sophia - a re-telling of the life of Tom Raffles, the founder of Singapore, through the fictional diaries of his first wife, Olivia, who died young, and his second wife, Sophia, who outlived him.

Circumstance is set in the jungles of colonial Malaya in the 1920s.  It explores what happens when an adoring young bride is met on the doorstep of her  new home by her husband's former mistress.

It is 1924 and the British rule Malaya. Frank is a colonial administrator in a remote district deep in the jungle. Rose is the innocent young bride he’s just brought out from England. Nony is the native mistress he’d previously abandoned, along with their four children.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

A New Kid on the Block for Literary Nonprofits






Paper Republic is proud to announce that it is now a UK-registered charity no. 1182259. Paper Republic was set up by Eric Abrahamsen in 2008 as a blog site where we translators of Chinese literature could share our thoughts, our joys and our frustrations. Since then we have developed a variety of other activities and gained a gratifying degree of recognition: "If you need to know something about Chinese literature you start here," said one of the judges at the 2016 London Book Fair Literary Excellence Award, where we were runners-up. "Paper Republic demonstrates superb collaborative working across a number of platforms including their growing networks, their redesigned website and innovative live activities.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Viewpoint: Soniah Kamal

Viewpoint invites authors to write about anything they want, as long as it's of interest to readers of Asian Books Blog. Soniah Kamal here talks about how she conquered her fear of cooking, and why food plays such a big role in her latest novel, Unmarriageable.

Soniah is a Pakistani-American writer. She is the author of two novels, An Isolated Incident (2014) and Unmarriageable (2019). Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, in the USA, and The Guardian, in the UK. Her short stories and essays have appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies.

Unmarriageable is a retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan in 2000 and 2001. It highlights issues of colonialism, race, and Pakistani identity. Balli Jaswal Kaur, the Singaporean author of Erotic Widows for Punjabi Widows, said: "Soniah Kamal has gifted us a refreshing update of a timeless classic. Unmarriageable raises an eyebrow at a society which views marriage as the ultimate prize for women. This atmospheric novel does more than simply retell Pride and Prejudice though. Crackling with dialogue, family tensions, humour and rich details of life in contemporary Pakistan, Unmarriageable tells an entirely new story about love, luck and literature."

Unmarriageable simmers with accounts of delicious Pakistani food, to set readers' mouths watering. Of course, cooking is a big part of Pakistani culture, but Soniah wasn't always such a fan, and her path to making a perfect aloo gosht was a rocky one.

So, over to Soniah...

Monday, 18 March 2019

Lion City Lit: The Art of Connection in “Three Writers, Numerous Countries”, a reading at LASALLE College of the Arts

Why do we go to readings? To hear an author’s words in their own voice. To discover new contexts, new stories, and new ways of reading stories we already love. Perhaps most of all, to experience that delightful alchemy when several authors who’ve never met before come together, and the chemistry is palpable. The best readings, I find, are those where the whole becomes more than the sum of their parts, and the joyous reading “Three Writers, Numerous Countries” at LASALLE College of the Arts on 13 March was one such occasion.

L-R: Seema Punwani, Dr Angie Abdou, Grace Chia
Photo: Angie Abdou
Seema Punwani kicked things off with a warm, funny reading of two chapters from her debut novel Cross Connection. We were treated to a recount of the main characters’ first meeting from female protagonist Sama’s point of view, and then from male protagonist’s Zehn’s, where in a slyly done sleight-of-hand we discover that what Sama remembers as their first meeting was in fact their second—as Zehn recalls.

Dr Angie Abdou, visiting Artist in Residence for the week at LASALLE, took the stage to share with us her creative nonfiction as well as fiction, reading from her memoir Home Ice and latest novel In Case I Go. It’s a testament to the universality of good writing that these two very different and very Canadian stories—the true story of a year in Angie’s life as an ice hockey mom, and the story of a young boy and the Ktunaxa girl next door who are haunted by the misdeeds of their ancestors—captured the attention of this room of Singaporean listeners, half a world away from Canada. Themes of family, of parenthood, of how one makes sense of the world we live in in the present when we can’t quite shake off the past, proved to resonate beyond geographical boundaries.

Grace Chia, aided gamely by LASALLE MA Creative Writing Programme Leader Dr Darryl Whetter with the dialogue, then read her searing short story “Berries and Weeds” from the collection Every Moving Thing That Lives Shall Be Food. There was a serendipitous connection with Canada in this story, about a Singaporean girl who travels to Canada to meet a long-distance penpal turned lover, only to find that she grows up on this trip in ways she hadn’t expected.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Viewpoint: Susan Blumberg-Kason

Viewpoint is a new occasional column inviting authors to write about anything they want, as long as it's of interest to readers of Asian Books Blog. Susan Blumberg-Kason kicks-off the new series, with a discussion of cultural sensitivity and the making of Hong Kong Noir.

Chicago-based Susan Blumberg-Kason is the author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong (Sourcebooks, 2014) and co-editor of Hong Kong Noir (Akashic Books, 2018). She is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Review of Books and the Asian Review of Books. Her work has also appeared in The Frisky, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and the South China Morning Post.

The Noir anthologies are an award-winning series of collections of new stories, each one set in a distinct neighbourhood or location within  a chosen city. Hong Kong makes a fantastic location, and, in Hong Kong Noir, fourteen of the city’s finest authors explore the dark heart of the Pearl of the Orient in haunting tales of depravity and despair. Contributors include Jason Y. Ng, Xu Xi, Marshall Moore, Brittani Sonnenberg, Tiffany Hawk, James Tam, Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang, Christina Liang, Feng Chi-shun, Charles Philipp Martin, Shannon Young, Shen Jian, Carmen Suen, and Ysabelle Cheung.

So, over to Susan...

Asian titles on the Man Booker International Prize longlist

The Man Booker International Prize celebrates the finest works of fiction from around the world, if they have been translated into English. It is awarded every year for a single book which is translated into English and published in the UK. This week, the 13 novels in contention for the 2019 prize were announced.  They include Can Xue's Love In The New Millennium, translated from Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, and Hwang Sok-yong's At Dusk, translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell.

China Dispatches: the best creative non-fiction available now

Paper Republic promotes Chinese literature in English translation. It highlights new writing from contemporary Chinese writers.

Along with One-Way Street Magazine(单读) and the LA Review of Books’ China Channel, Paper Republic is about to launch the second series of China Dispatches. This unique three-way collaboration focuses on translating the best non-fiction coming from China right now, and making it available online, completely free to read. Essays are first published in Chinese in One-Way Street Magazine (单读) then and presented in English by Paper Republic in collaboration with the Los Angeles Review of Books’ China Channel.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Indonesia as London Book Fair Market Focus 2019

The London Book Fair is one of the global marketplaces for publishers. This year's fair takes place next week. Each year, the fair chooses one country to be the market focus; this year, that country is Indonesia.

UK-based Monsoon Books publishes books about Asia, and has strong links with publishers in Indonesia. Phillip Tatham, publisher of Monsoon Books, here looks ahead to the Indonesian focus at LBF.

500 words from Juliet Conlin

500 words from…is an occasional series in which novelists talk about their latest novels.

Juliet Conlin’s third novel, The Lives Before Us, is published on March 28. Juliet was born in London and now lives in Berlin. Her earlier novels were The Fractured Man and The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days. 

The Lives Before Us is set in 1940’s Shanghai. It explores a little-known aspect of the Holocaust and the Jewish diaspora in one of Asia’s most legendary cities, and addresses the struggles surrounding forced emigration, displacement and identity, through the story of two Jewish women, Esther and Kitty.

Esther and Kitty flee Nazi Europe for the relative safety of Shanghai. But instead of finding the safe haven they had hoped for, they encounter desperate living conditions, an almost unbearable climate, shocking crime, and a fierce battle for limited resources. Then, when Japan enters the fray of the Second World War, and violence mounts, Kitty and Esther – along with thousands of other Jewish refugees – are forced into a Japanese-controlled ghetto.

So, over to Juliet...

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

My chance to talk for an hour about Chinese literature -- with an excellent interviewer



I had slightly mixed feelings when Georgia de Chamberet and I began our podcast for Bookblast. On the one hand, it was a great opportunity to talk both about the literary translation website I work on, Paper Republic, and the range of novels that feature on our 2018 roll call of Chinese translations into English. On the other hand, Georgia’s questions required some serious thought and I felt I was in danger of making wild generalizations (perhaps inevitable when you’re talking about a country and a literature as big as China). What follows is an excerpt from our Q+A. I hope you’ll find it thought-provoking enough to listen to the full podcast.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Tsundoku #2 – March 2019



Welcome to issue 2 of Tsundoku – a column by me, Paul French, aiming to make that pile of ‘must read’ books by your bed a little more teetering - fiction, non-fiction, photography and kids...and so...This is what has come across my desk so far that should be in the shops in March...

March looks like being a good month for non-fiction…

Julia Lovell’s long-awaited study of Maoism is out in March from Bodley Head – Maoism: A Global History. The book covers not just the legacy and remaining centrality of Maoism to China but it’s offshoots in Vietnam and Cambodia, Africa, terrorist cells in Germany and Italy, the continuing “Maoist” uprising in India, Nepal, Peru and elsewhere. Maoism as symbol of resistance, along with those that like the badges and the iconography and hopefully answering the question as to why Hitler and Stalin memorabilia is banned or hidden but Mao remains on display in homes globally?

Friday, 22 February 2019

Indie Spotlight, introducing Ann Bennett

Ann Bennett has just taken over our monthly column, Indie Spotlight, which focusses on indie authors and self-publishing.

Ann published her best-selling Bamboo trilogy, Bamboo Heart, Bamboo Island, and Bamboo Road, conventionally, through Monsoon Books. All three novels are set during and after World War Two, in Burma, Malaya and Thailand.  Bamboo Heart won the inaugural Asian Books Blog Book of The Lunar Year, for the Year of the Horse.

Ann chose to self-publish her most recent novel, The Foundling’s Daughter. It concerns a mystery with its roots in British India, during the Raj.

To kick-off as our new columnist, Ann here introduces herself, and her work.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

And the winner is...

If you voted in the poll to find the Asian Books Blog Book of the Lunar Year in the Year of the Dog, thank you. The poll was this year well supported, with several titles in strong contention. 

The results in reverse order are:

3rd place: Shanghai Story, by Alexa Kang 

2nd place: Lord of Formosa, by Joyce Bergvelt

1st place: There's No Poetry in a Typhoon, by Agnes Bun.



Friday, 15 February 2019

Voting now closed

Voting has now CLOSED in the poll to find the Asian Books Blog Book of the Lunar Year in the Year of the Dog, which has just turned to the Year of the Pig. 

Voting closes 5pm Singapore time TODAY

Asian Books Blog runs an annual poll to find the Asian Books Blog Book of the Lunar Year. We are about to close the poll to find the book of the Year of the Dog, which has just turned to the Year of the Pig. 

VOTING CLOSES AT 5PM SINGAPORE TIME TODAY.

More details here, but for quick reference, this is the shortlist...

Friday, 8 February 2019

May We Borrow Your Country guest post by Catherine Menon

The Whole Kahani (The Complete Story), is a collective of British fiction writers of South Asian origin. The group was formed in 2011 to provide a creative perspective that straddles cultures and boundaries. Its aim is to give a new voice to British Asian fiction and increase the visibility of South Asian writers in Britain. Their first anthology Love Across A Broken Map was published by Dahlia Publishing in 2016

May We Borrow Your Country is their second anthology. It is published by the Linen Press, which focuses on women’s writing. The anthology is a mix of short stories, poetry and essays. The pieces are set in the UK and India, but defy stereotypical stances on immigration, race and identity.

UK-based, prize-winning short story writer Catherine Menon is member of The Whole Kahani. Her debut anthology, Subjunctive Moods, was published last year by Dahlia Publishing.

Catherine here talks about some of the stories collected in May We Borrow Your Country.

米兔. 米兔 / rice rabbit Chinese word of the year

Following on from last week's post about the Oxford Dictionaries Hindi word of 2018, Paper Republic have nominated their Chinese word of the year for the Year of the Dog, just closed.

The Paper Republic translators collective promotes Chinese literature in English translation. It  concentrates on new writing from contemporary Chinese writers.

Paper Republic's word of the  Year of the Dog,  is (#)米兔. 米兔.

米兔. 米兔 means "rice rabbit", but it's pronounced mi-tu, so it represents the hashtag #MeToo.