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...

In The Ten Loves of Nishino Japanese author Hiromi Kawakami (The Nakano Thrift Shop) tells the story of an enigmatic man through the voices of ten remarkable women who have loved him. Kudos to Europa books for translating this and so much other good world literature.


Ana Johns’s The Woman in the White Kimono is set in Japan in 1957 with 18-year-old Naoko Nakamura’s prearranged marriage. However, Naoko has fallen for an American sailor and is pregnant. In present day America Tori Kovač, caring for her dying father, finds a letter containing a shocking revelation and sets out for Japan.


More historical fiction in Tina Kimin Walton’s Last Days of the Morning Calm. Korea in 1895 this with plenty of court intrigue and foreign powers threatening 'hermit kingdom'. 14- year-old Ji-nah and 17-years-old Han live with Tutor Lim strips Ji-nah's privileged life and crushes Han's future. When the two young people uncover the tutor's broader conspiracy with the Japanese to overthrow Queen Min, they determine to save the queen, whose fate seems tied to their master.


Clare Kane’s Dragons in Shallow Waters is based on real events. We’re in China time - Peking, 1900 and the Boxers to be precise. A young China-born Englishwoman, Nina Ward, embarks on an affair with married diplomat Oscar Fairchild, risking her future as death and despair (courtesy of the Boxers) draws ever closer. Journalist Alistair Scott records the controversy, trying to separate the reckless pair.


Much praise is flying around for Spencer Wise’s The Emperor of Shoes. Alex Cohen, a twenty-six-year-old Jewish Bostonian, is living in contemporary southern China, where his father runs their family-owned shoe factory. Alex reluctantly assumes the helm of the company. But he comes to a grim realization – it’s a sweat shop. When Alex meets a seamstress named Ivy, his sympathies begin to shift.


Amanda Lee Koe’s Delayed Rays of a Star starts with the famous photograph that captured Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong and Leni Riefenstahl in one frame at a party in Berlin in 1928. Their lives were to take very different trajectories.


Wang Anyi’s latest novel Fu Ping follows Nainai in Shanghai who has chosen a bride for her adopted grandson. But when the bride, Fu Ping, arrives from the countryside, it soon becomes clear that the orphaned girl has ideas of her own. Her name is Fu Ping, and the more she explores the residential lanes and courtyards behind Shanghai’s busy shopping streets, the less she wants to return to the country as a dutiful wife.


Jia Pingwa’s Broken Wings we follow Chinese country girl Butterfly, who regards herself as a sophisticated young woman. So, when offered a lucrative job in the city, she jumps at the chance. But instead of being given work, she is trafficked and sold to Bright Black, a desperate man from a poor mountain village. Trapped in Bright’s cave home, Butterfly struggles to repel his lustful advances, and she plans her escape… not so easily done in this isolated and remote village where she is watched day and night.

Nick Hurst’s Falling from the Floating World follows Ray, sacked from his job in London, and relocated to Japan and with a new local girlfriend Tomoe. But his world is turned upside down when Tomoe s father is found dead.

And some new non-fiction too for the holidays….

Well done to Taiwan’s small indie press Camphor Books for reissuing Pearl Buck’s The Exile: Portrait of An American Mother. It is a memoir of Buck’s own mother, memoir of her mother, Caroline (Carrie) Stulting Sydenstricker, who set off to China as the bride of a zealous Presbyterian missionary in 1880 and lived the rest of her life in China’s interior. Buck wrote a draft of The Exile immediately after her mother’s death in 1921, though the book was not published until January, 1936.

Former Shanghai NPR correspondent gave locals free rides around town in return for conversation. His new book The Shanghai Free Taxi tells the story of modern Shanghai – it’s citizens hopes, fears and dreams.

John J Harney’s The Empire of Infields: focuses on three baseball teams Japanese colonial era Taiwan and the post 1945 ROC - focusing on three teams: the Nenggao team of 1924–25, the Kano team of 1931, and the Hongye schoolboy team of 1968. The book (which does not require any particular knowledge of this ridiculous bat and ball game) explores not only the development of Taiwanese baseball but also the influence of baseball on Taiwan’s cultural identity in its colonial years and beyond as a clear departure from narratives of assimilation and resistance.

Yuhang Li’s Becoming Guanyin: Artistic Devotion of Buddhist Women in Late Imperial China


John Christopher Hamm’s (the professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington) The Unworthy Scholar from Pingjiang: Republican-Era Martial Arts Fiction is the biography of Xiang Kairan, who wrote under the pen name “the Unworthy Scholar from Pingjiang,”. Xiang is known as the father of modern Chinese martial arts fiction, one of the most distinctive forms of twentieth-century Chinese culture and the inspiration for China’s globally popular martial arts cinema.


Shanghai Daisy is Daisy Kwok's autobiography. Daisy was born in 1908 in Australia, and in 1918 moved to Shanghai with her father who built and owned the Wing On Department Store on Shanghai's main thoroughfare, Nanking Road. For three decades, Daisy led the life of the rich and famous in one of the world's most dazzling cities. Then, after the communist takeover in 1949, she spent three decades being denounced as a "capitalist".


And finally…. Long Peace Street: A Walk in Modern China sees Jonathan Chatwin rolling together psycho-geography, history, contemporary politics and flâneuring along Beijing’s central Chang’an Street. From rust belt industry to luxury commerce; the very centres of China’s power elite to new housing developments.

And thank you so much for your own tsundoku shots...


Here's mine for late June...mostly polished off now of course (!)


working in LA all July and starting off with this travelling tsundoku....


Tamsine O'Riordan, editor and reader of London and Exeter sent her pile in mixing Auster and Smith with Rooney and Frida Kahlo - like one of those 'if you could invite anyone to a dinner party....' lists....


Matt Turner - sinologist, translator, poet, author, reviewer and denizen of Manhattan sent this pile topped off with one of my very own favourites i may have encouraged him to read....

Have a good summer - Tsundoku's back in September....