Wednesday 30 January 2019

Broken Wings, Jia Pingwa's novel about a trafficked woman, in translation

Nicky Harman writes: I have just finished translating Broken Wings, a novel by Jia Pingwa about human trafficking. Kidnapping is not a popular theme in literary fiction; a Goodreads list consists exclusively of man-rescues-beautiful-girl, “romantic suspense” genre novels. (Though of course, there is also a lot of quality non-fiction, in the form of memoirs by trafficked women.) So some of Jia Pingwa’s biggest fans in China were surprised when this work (called in the original Chinese, 《极花, literally, extreme- or pole-flower) came out in 2016. Butterfly is a young woman who is kidnapped and taken to a remote country village where Bright Black, the wifeless farmer who has bought her, imprisons her in his cave home. He rapes her and she gives birth to a baby son. The rape, the birth and Butterfly’s fading hopes are described in her own voice, and the effect is bleak. Jia writes in his Afterword that he was inspired to write this story by the experience of a friend whose daughter suffered a similar fate. The real-life young woman was eventually rescued but could not cope either with her sudden notoriety or the loss of her baby, whom she had had to leave behind, and actually returned to the village.

Broken Wings is a disturbing read for other reasons too: Jia Pingwa hints at Butterfly's impending mental breakdown, and presents us with an eventual rescue which may, or may not, be a dream sequence. Will Broken Wings appeal to English-language readers and if so, why? Having been alone with my translation for many months, I was keen to ask my editor, David Lammie, for his views on the book.

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Tsundoku #1 – February 2019 - New Year; New Column…

I’ve opted to call this monthly missive on forthcoming books, tsundoku, the Japanese word for all those books that pile up by your bedside just begging you to get on and read them. It seemed fitting for a column that aims squarely at encouraging you to build that pile a little higher each month…

Tsundoku will assemble a random assortment of Asia-related books – novels, non-fiction, photography, graphic art – that comes across my own desk. Being a writer on various matters Asian, as well as a regular reviewer, I often get an early peek at forthcoming books. So tsundoku is essentially me passing on a few recommendations…

So here goes…fiction first….

Monday 28 January 2019

Lion City Lit: Interview with Seema Punwani, Author of Cross Connection

Seema Punwani is a writer, single mum, and marketing professional who learns negotiation skills from her teenage son. She launched her debut novel Cross Connection at the Pune International Literary Festival in September 2018. Hailing from India, Seema was born in Spain, grew up in Mumbai and now lives and works in Singapore, pursuing her Masters in Creative Writing part-time at LASALLE College of the Arts.

Cross Connection is a modern-day romance about the eternal quest for true love—the second time over. I had the pleasure of listening to Seema read several excerpts from this very funny novel at the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) as well as the Australasian Association of Writing Programs Annual Conference 2018 in Perth, and spoke with her to find out more about what makes her tick, her favourite SWF experience, and how Singapore has shaped her writing.

Seema Punwani
To start with, we’ve read the official synopsis of Cross Connection, but I’d love to hear from you directly. In your own words—elevator pitch the novel to someone who doesn’t know anything about it. You have two sentences tops… go!
Cross Connection is about second chances, at love and in life. The same story is told from two different points of view—the female protagonist Sama and the male protagonist Zehn.

Imagine you had the chance for the novel to be placed in between the works of any two authors in a bookstore. Which two would you pick, and why?
I love this question! I would like for Cross Connection to be placed between Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain.

Both books appear to be a boy-meets-girl kind of romance, but the story runs a lot deeper. The narrative covers various social issues and it’s not your average love story. Cross Connection has its share of sweet emotions and funny dating stories, but it also deals with real-life issues like divorce and depression, and is not the fairytale romance one may imagine.

Friday 25 January 2019

500 words from Tony Reid

500 words from is an occasional series in which novelists talk about their new novels. Tony Reid has recently brought out Mataram: a novel of love, faith and power in early Java.

Tony Reid is better known as Anthony Reid, author of ten non-fiction historical works on Southeast Asia, including the much-read and translated Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, c.1450-1680.  He has taught Southeast Asian history at universities in the US (Yale, UCLA, Hawaii) and Australia (ANU), as well as Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.   He now lives in Canberra, Australia. Mataram is his first work of fiction.

Mataram follows the story of Englishman Thomas Hodges, after he seizes a chance at glory by being the first to venture ashore from his East India Company ship when it arrives in Java. Will he find success, or die forgotten with some Javanese kris or Portuguese poignard between his ribs?  The key seems to lie with his captivating female interpreter Sri, but he can only keep both her and his Englishness by inventing a mission from King James to the mysterious great ruler of the interior, in the region known as Mataram.

In Mataram, Thomas and Sri find a kingdom poised to decide its destiny.  A rich Hindu-Buddhist past of gods and spirits now confronts a sterner Islam, and pushy Europeans offering both science and God. For Hodges and Sri, survival alone will be a challenge, reconciling survival and desire with conscience in this mysterious spiritual landscape, impossible.

So, over to Tony…

Book of the Year of the Dog

Asian Books Blog runs its own literary award: the Asian Books Blog Book of the Lunar Year. We are about to confer the award for the Year of the Dog, now drawing to a close.

Asian Books Blog highlights books of particular interest in, or especially relevant to, Asia, excluding the Near West / the Middle East.  The award thus highlights such books. Authors can be of any nationality, and can be published anywhere, either conventionally, or through self-publication – an important route for new voices in Asia, especially in the many countries within the region with limited publishing industries. Self-published titles are eligible in eBook format. Traditionally published titles must be available in a physical format, either hardback, or paperback.

Books are eligible if they were published in either in the Year of the Rooster (2017) or the Year of the Dog, and if they featured in Asian Books Blog during the Year of the Dog. Anthologies are eligible, as are collections of short stories by a single author. Reissues are not eligible.