Thursday 31 October 2019

4 Edogawa Ranpo Horror Stories

Edogawa Ranpo is synonymous with Japanese horror and mystery fiction. Using a pen name based off of Edgar Allen Poe, (try saying it three times fast), Taro Hirai wrote many short stories and novels as Ranpo (sometimes Romanized as Rampo).

Monday 28 October 2019

Sun Jung, author of Bukit Brown, chats with Elaine Chiew

Sun Jung received her Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne and was a research fellow at both Victoria University and the National University of Singapore. Prior to her academic career, she worked as a writer for media production companies and cultural magazines in Los Angeles and Seoul. During this time, she also collaborated with Korean film producers on script development. Ever since her first visit in 2012 to Bukit Brown, one of the largest Chinese cemeteries outside of China, she has been fascinated by the stories of those who were buried there. After leaving her academic career behind, she devoted herself to writing this novel inspired by some of these tales. Previous published works were her book of essays, The Letter, I Sent You (1991) and her academic book Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption(2011).

Book Synopsis:

Bukit Brown follows the gripping journey of Ji-won, lonely and lost in modern day cosmopolitan Singapore, who time travels to nineteenth century British Malaya and finds her true self through experiencing the deplorable lives of migrant workers, the veiled enmity between Chinese secret societies and a lavish Peranakan lifestyle.

The novel begins with Hong-jo receiving an email from her old friend Ji-won, who ardently requests her to come to Singapore. However, upon arriving in Singapore, Hong-jo learns that Ji-won has taken her own life, three days prior. In addition, Julian, a friend of Ji-won, informs Hong-jo that she had time-travelled through a grave in Bukit Brown, the very same grave where Ji-won eventually hanged herself. Hong-jo and Julian learn that Ji-won had time travelled four times – Penang in 1862 and 1865, Singapore in 894 and 1959 – and they gradually uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. 

Friday 25 October 2019

Margaret Kartomi talks about Performing the Arts of Indonesia

Margaret Kartomi is Professor of Music at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University, in Melbourne. She is author of numerous publications on the music cultures of Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia.

She edited Performing the Arts of Indonesia: Malay Identity and Politics in the Music, Dance and Theatre of the Riau Islands, a new book exploring the artistic culture of Indonesia’s recently autonomous Riau Islands Province, Kepulauan Riau, colloquially referred to by its acronym, Kepri.  

Located in the centre of the Malay-speaking world of Southeast Asia, Kepri shares a border with Singapore and Malaysia and spans the Strait of Melaka and the South China Sea. Its 2,408 or so islands are sprinkled across its waters "like a shake of pepper" (Segantang Lada). Since the mid-19th century Kepri has widely been regarded as both the birthplace of modern Malay and its literature, and also as a centre of Islamic knowledge. Like Aceh, it acquired a reputation as "the verandah of Mecca", thanks to the large numbers of pilgrims who departed from its shores over the centuries. 

Margaret here explains how the book's contributors offer fresh new perspectives on Kepri's arts and artists.

Call for short stories on everyday life during Khmer Rouge era

The Khmer Writers Association is collaborating with the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) to organise a short story competition on the topic of life under the Khmer Rouge, with the winner receiving the Sleuk Rith Literature Award.

To preserve the historical record of Cambodians during the Pol Pot regime and promote Khmer literature, the story must be about the everyday lives of Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge.

“Contestants wishing to enter should write an original composition about the daily lives of Cambodians in Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea. However, the story should not focus on genocide,” the Khmer Writers Association said this week.

Wednesday 23 October 2019

My Travels in Ding Yi. Nicky Harman looks at the latest translated novel from Shi Tiesheng

One of the most interesting novels to come out in translation this year is My Travels in Ding Yi (ACA Publishing, 2019) by Shi Tiesheng (1951-2010). 

Shi's writing ranges widely, from disability, to reflections on philosophy and religion, to magical surrealism, to an entertaining vignette on football and a meditation on his local park and his mother. However, he first became famous for writing his personal experiences of being disabled. One of his most famous short stories is The Temple of Earth and I  (translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping), in which he talks movingly about the frustrations he faced, and how he and his mother struggled to cope. Back in the 1980s, discrimination against the disabled was embedded into the language and society alike. Sarah Dauncey in her paper, Writing Disability into Modern Chinese Fiction, Chinese Literature Today, 6:1 (2017) says that '...canfei 残废 (invalids) was still the accepted equivalent to the English terms disability and disabled with all its retained connotations of uselessness and rubbish as reflected in particular by the fei 废 character.'

Monday 21 October 2019

Language as an Identifying Force: Pooja Nansi on the SWF 2019

We are so excited about the opening of the Singapore Writers Festival! In less than two weeks, writers from all walks of life will grace stages at the Singapore Arts House and other venues to deliver lectures, workshops, readings, and even to perform rap!

Singapore Writers Festival has established itself as a dynamic and current autumnal literary event. Last year more than 25,000 literature enthusiasts attended the program based around the possibilities represented by 界 jiè, meaning world or universe.

This year’s theme is A Language of Our Own, and the Festival invites us to contemplate the multi-dimensional impact of language on both ourselves and on others. SWF runs from November 1st to November 10th, and you can see a programme here.

The woman who worked hard to bring this year’s festival to life is director Pooja Nansi. A poet and performer, she received a 2016 Young Artist Award, and is also Singapore’s first Youth Poet Ambassador. We caught up with Pooja to learn a little more about the processes behind Singapore Writers Festival and her hopes for what it will achieve.

Thursday 17 October 2019

Shanghai After Pearl Harbour

Indie spotlight focusses on self-published authors and self-publishing. Alexa Kang is a Boston-based, Chinese-American author. She publishes her World War II historical fiction trilogy, Shanghai Story, through her own house, Lakewood Press. Alexa has previously shared her experiences writing the first two of these books with Asian Books Blog readers. Today is the publication day of the third and final book in the series, Shanghai Yesterday.

Shanghai Yesterday follows Clark Yuan, the Western-educated son of a prominent Chinese family in Shanghai and former a KMT operative, as he joins the Chinese secret police’s underground resistance movement. The story also continues with Eden Levine, a Jewish refugee from Munich, as she and the Western press in Shanghai work to expose the atrocities committed by Germany and Japan to the world.

Alexa will here discuss a little bit about her trilogy, followed by a more detailed examination of the Jewish and immigrant experience in occupied Shanghai after 1941.

So, over to Alexa...

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Lion City Lit by Ken Hickson

This month, our regular column Lion City Lit unearths a new word – an acronym really - to collectively bring together what’s going on in Singapore. Literally. Ken Hickson reports…

You’ve heard of Ab-Fab, we’ve got AB-CAB!

Beyond Authors and Books as objects of pleasure and learning, we’ve uncovered haunts for writers – Cafes – so when you put all that into a literary melting-pot with Awards and Bookstores,  AB-CAB emerges!

Come along for a ride in the Lion City:

A is for Authors, first and foremost: Who’s in the news?

How about home-grown Simon Vincent? A multi-media journalist who’s come up with a first  - the extremely creative non-fiction work, The Naysayers Book Club, walking off with the Book of the Year at the Singapore Book Publishers Association annual industry awards. (This could of course come under B for Books and A for Awards too, but we’ll try not to repeat ourselves.)

We first met Simon when he played the role of moderator with four young women authors at an Epigram event a couple of months’ back. We’ve read the book and found it totally engaging.  Real insight into people who matter in Singapore. What’s next Simon?

Friday 11 October 2019

Breaking News: Chapter 5 of Teika’s Tale of Genji found!

Tale of Genji, known in Japanese as Genji montagari is commonly acknowledged to be the world’s earliest novel. This 54-chapter masterpiece was written in Heian Japan around the year 1010. Its author is a woman, Murasaki Shikibu.

No one knows what happened to the original manuscript of The Tale of Genji. This loss has led many scholars across time to try and reconstruct the original version. One such scholar was Fujiwara no Teika, who lived from approximately 1160 to 1240. (The Fujiwara clan was a powerful family group with strong political and artistic influence in the Heian period.) Teika published a work that was comprised of the first 5 chapters of Tale of Genji, written by comparing multiple surviving copies in order to attain the highest possible level of accuracy. This work, called the Aobyoshibon, which translates as blue cover book, is the earliest known partial copy of The Tale of Genji.

Until a few days ago, we only had the first four chapters of Teika’s version, and the Aobyoshibon was incomplete. However, newspapers in Japan have reported that the 5th chapter has been found and authenticated! It was found in a storeroom chest in the home of 72-year-old Tokyo resident Motofuyu Okochi. Chapter 5 of the work, the Wakamurasaki chapter, contains a crucial moment in the novel when the protagonist, Genji, first encounters his future wife Murasaki. (You may have noticed that the author and the heroine have the same name. We actually do not know the real name of lady Murasaki Shikibu, and it is thought that she chose this sobriquet based on the character of her creation. Murasaki in Japanese means violet.)

Scholars who have examined the newly-found chapter say that it does not differ substantially from later copies, however there are some grammatical inconsistencies. Nevertheless, the discovery of this document marks the addition of a globally significant literary artefact to the existing corpus of Heian period texts. At the time of writing, it is unclear what will happen to the manuscript, whether it will remain under private guardianship or be transferred to a public space.

If you are interested in The Tale of Genji scholarship, this post looks at gender representation in chapters 9 and 24 of the novel.

Friday 4 October 2019

East Asian Winners of the Nobel Prize

The excitement is building as the Nobel Prize announcement day draws near.  2019 is a unique year for the Nobel Committee, as they will be giving out this year’s and last year’s prizes. People in the literary world are buzzing about who the literature laureates will be, although the literature prize is usually one whose winner is hard to predict. If one of the two authors is Asian, they will be the 9th Asian winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the 6th East Asian winner.

Awards are about recognition of achievement, recognition that shouldn’t be limited only to the window of time surrounding the ceremony. With this in mind, let’s look back at the 5 East Asian Nobel literature laureates and their works.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Tsundoku #8

We are into Autumn and you seriously need to deal with your towering tsundoku pile (even the New Yorker says so!). Get that pile down so that you can go out to a bookshop and rebuild it again. And so issue #8 of Tsundoku – a column by me, Paul French,  starting with some new fiction...