Wednesday 11 September 2019

Tsundoku #7 - September 2019

Hope your summer went well and you got your tsundoku pile down a little at least? Back to work now, and rebuilding that pile. And so issue #7 of Tsundoku – a column by me, Paul French. This is a kind of ‘back to school’ issue covering both some books that came out over the summer. So, let’s start with some new fiction...

Daniel Nieh’s thriller Beijing Payback moves between sleepy and safe Southern California and a gangster heavy contemporary Beijing of pimped up hutong pads, massive nightclubs with fire-eaters and Russian biz-niz men. Nieh’s contemporary noir fairly zings along and he doesn’t miss a literary beat. Anyone who’s spent any time in Beijing in the last 15 years will recognise the city of Beijing Payback

 The excellent London publisher Pushkin have started publishing some Asian novels. One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan is among the first. One Part Woman sold over 100,000 copies in India, where it was published first in the original Tamil and then in English translation, jump-starting conversations about caste and female empowerment. A couple are trying to conceive a child and when the annual chariot festival, a celebration of the half-male, half-female god Maadhorubaagan, comes along they see a chance. For one night, the rules of marriage are relaxed, and consensual sex between unmarried men and women is overlooked.

Pushkin’s second Asian offering is the Indonesian novel, Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan. The story of the beautiful prostitute Dewi Ayu and her four daughters beset by incest, murder, bestiality, rape, insanity, monstrosity, and the often vengeful undead. A novel that ranges from colonialism; independence; the 1965 mass murders of perhaps a million Communists, and the following three decades of Suharto's rule.

One final new Asian book from Pushkin – Machi Tawara’s Salad Anniversary. A collection of poems from one of Japan's most popular tanka poets. New love, first heartache, the ending of affairs…all these poems mix the traditional tanka form with a modern insight and wit. 
Teru Miyamoto’s Inhabitation is set in 1970s Osaka when college student Tetsuyuki moves into a shabby apartment to evade his late father's creditors. But the apartment's electricity hasn't been reconnected yet, and Tetsuyuki spends his first night in darkness. Wanting to hang up a tennis cap from his girlfriend, Yōko, he fumbles about in the dark and drives a nail into a pillar. The next day he discovers that he has pierced the body of a lizard, which is still alive. He decides to keep it alive, giving it food and water and naming it Kin.

Award-winning poet Brandon Shimoda’s The Grave on the Wall is a lyrical portrait of his paternal grandfather, Midori Shimoda. In a series of “pilgramages” the author explores aspects of his grandfather’s life - child migrant, talented photographer, suspected enemy alien and spy, desert wanderer, American citizen—mirrors the arc of Japanese America in the twentieth century.

And some non-fiction….

Nancy E Davis’s The Chinese Lady is the story of a young Chinese woman named Afong Moy arrived in America, her bound feet stepping ashore in New York City in 1834. She was both a prized guest and advertisement for a merchant firm―a promotional curiosity used to peddle exotic wares from the East. Over the next few years, she would shape Americans’ impressions of China.

 Philip Cracknell’s Battle for Hong Kong, December 1941 recreates the Battle for Hong Kong in 1941, which commenced on 8 December and lasted for three weeks until the surrender on Christmas Day 1941. The Crown colony was gallantly defended but it was a battle against overwhelming odds.


Nobuo Tsuji is a leading authority on Japanese art history and his new History of Art in Japan covers earthenware figurines from 13,000 B.C. to manga. Sculpture, armour, gardens, and architecture are all covered as well as the fine arts. 

The collection of essays Maoist Laughter look at the connections between laughter and political culture in the face of communist indoctrination. Maoist Laughter is a significant correction to conventional depictions of socialist China and shows a whole other wide of survival during the Cultural Revolution. 
Giray Fidan’s Chinese Witness is the story of Kang Youwei, a prominent Chinese philosopher and reformer, who arrived in the Ottoman capital in 1908 and was the only Chinese eye witness to the Young Turk Revolution – a revolution that both informed and came slightly before China’s own republican revolution.

Francis Wade’s previously published  Myanmar's Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence and the Making of a Muslim 'Other', is now out in a new, slightly cheaper, edition with new update information on the plight of the Rohingya. If you haven’t read it then now is the time. 

Pico Iyer has his second book of the year out now (his memoir of Japan, Autumn Light, came out in April) – This Could be Home. This time round he’s in Singapore, in the Raffles Hotel at its 200th anniversary. Iyer explores how Singapore can offer a fresh model for our world of crossing cultures and why some writers like sitting in anonymous hotels. 

  And it's back to school - so here's my September work tsundoku...