Saturday, 4 April 2020

Osprey's Japanese Armies 1868 - 1877 - The Boshin War and Satsuma Rebellion


Osprey Publishing has become synonymous (in my mind at least) for quality research into military history of all time periods, throughout the world. It should come as no surprise that I immediately picked up Osprey's latest title Japanese Armies 1868 - 1877 by Gabriele Esposito and illustrated by Giuseppe Rave, which covers the Boshin War and Satsuma Rebellion.



Friday, 3 April 2020

Polymath Desmond Kon talks about his near-death experience, religion and philosophy & writing in The Good Day I Died

Bio:

Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé is a Singapore writer. He is the author of an epistolary novel, a quasi-memoir, two lyric essay monographs, four hybrid works, and nine poetry collections. A former journalist, he has edited more than twenty books and co-produced three audio books. Trained in book publishing at Stanford University, Desmond studied sociology and mass communication at the National University of Singapore, and later received his world religions masters from Harvard University and creative writing masters from the University of Notre Dame. Among other accolades, Desmond is the recipient of the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award, Independent Publisher Book Award, National Indie Excellence Book Award, Poetry World Cup, Singapore Literature Prize, two Beverly Hills International Book Awards, and three Living Now Book Awards. He helms Squircle Line Press as its founding editor. 

He can be found at: www.desmondkon.com



Book Synopsis:

In 2007, Desmond Kon died, and came back to life. This is better understood as a near-death experience (NDE). Fresh from studying world religions at Harvard, Desmond’s NDE shared remarkable consistency with other documented NDE accounts, such as encountering otherworldly beings, altered time-space realms, and the classic tunnel of light. Post-NDE symptoms included paranormal sightings. How did Desmond make meaning of his NDE given his academic background in world religions? He even took a class on angelology—how then did he perceive the angelic beings he encountered? Framed as a quasi-memoir, The Good Day I Died is constructed as a self-administered interview, allowing the account its moments of deep intimation. Moving beyond the current literature’s attempts at legitimizing the NDE, The Good Day I Died weaves in excerpts of Desmond’s literary oeuvre, which help shed light on the indelible impact of his NDE. This book represents Desmond’s most confessional writing yet, relating the story of his death, and his transformed life after his return.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Tsundoku #8 - April 2020


Lockdown for so many of us may (and I emphasise ‘may’) mean a chance to get to that tottering tsundoku at last. Also plenty of booksellers are still managing to find innovative ways to get books to people – online of course, but also by hand, kerbside pick-up, partnering with food delivery apps and so on. So there’s no excuse!! So here is this month’s springtime shelf-isolation (geddit!!) tsundoku column. As ever, some fiction first...

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Red Affairs, White Affairs by Felicia Nay

Felicia Nay was born in Germany and spent part of her childhood in Spain. Later, she studied in China and worked in Hong Kong. She now lives again in Germany. Red Affairs, White Affairs is her first novel.

Set in Hong Kong around the turn of the millennium, Red Affairs, White Affairs is told by Reini ‘Kim’ Kranich, a German aid worker who works for an NGO. Hope is the thing with feathers, above the South China Sea as much as anywhere, bird-watching Reini notes about the city. Hope, or the absence of it, features daily in her work with abused Filipino migrant workers, but also in the life of her Chinese friend Virginia, who desperately wants to marry. When Reini learns that Virginia’s mother is dying of cancer, she soon finds herself struggling with her friend’s faith and family values. A lukewarm Catholic herself, Reini’s worldview is further challenged when she meets Ben Chan, a Buddhist fundraiser.

So, over to Felicia to talk about Red Affairs, White Affairs...

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Reading (and writing) about someplace else: Mishi Saran

Nicky Harman interviews Mishi Saran, writer of fiction and non-fiction, and long-time resident of Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Mishi Saran, photo by Tripti Lahiri

 Q: Serendipitously, I wrote about Xuanzang (Tripitaka) as a translator of Buddhist sutras in my last blog post here, and you have written a wonderful book, Chasing the Monk’s Shadow, in which you follow in the footsteps of Xuanzang from China to India. Did you feel like you got an insight into his character when you were writing the book?
A: I was drawn to Xuanzang as a traveller who braved the miles from China to India and back. A Chinese monk with an India obsession, an Indian woman with a China craze; he and I were destined to meet. To follow his route to India, I mostly consulted two Tang dynasty accounts translated into English by Samuel Beal (1825-1889). One was Si-Yu-Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World, by Hiuen Tsiang in two volumes, and the other The Life of
 Hiuen-Tsiang, translated from the Chinese of Shaman Hwui Li. 
Poring daily over those pages for month after month on the road, seeking clues to Xuanzang’s passage 1400 years before me, I became attuned to the cadences of Xuanzang-via-Beal; how little he gave away of his inner state of mind, how stringently he observed and recorded. Xuanzang’s biographer was rather more colourful, and inevitably, hagiographic. Still, Xuanzang was my travel companion, my Chinese guide who unfolded India for me. Not infrequently, I talked to the monk in my head. It became a game for me, to extrapolate human feelings from scant clues embedded in the text. I found fear, homesickness, wonder, a certain amount of gullibility, a good deal of luck. It is an astonishing record.    

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Guest post: Kristine Ohkubo

Kristine Ohkubo is a Los Angeles based traveler, blogger, and Japanophile.  Her frequent travels in Japan enabled her to write her first book, A Blogger’s Guide to Japan, published in 2016. In 2017, she released The Sun Will Rise Again, a historical study of the Pacific War written from the perspective of the Japanese people, both those who were living in Japan and in the United States, when the war broke out. In 2019 she followed up with Asia’s Masonic Reformation, which examines the influences of Western culture and Freemasonry on the Westernization and subsequent modernization of China and Japan. Her latest book, Nickname Flower of Evil, tells the story of Abe Sada, one of the most infamous murderers Japan has ever known – a Showa era geisha who was both a victim and an aggressor, a woman struggling amidst a strict patriarchal culture and a rapidly changing social system.

Here, Kristine discusses her books, in reverse order of publication…

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

The Day The Music Died: Elaine Chiew Sits Down With Fairoz Ahmad

Fairoz Ahmad, courtesy of Ethos Books
Bio:

Fairoz Ahmad is the co-founder of the award-winning social enterprise, Chapter W. For his work with the community, he was awarded the National University of Singapore's Outstanding Young Alumni award and United Kingdom's Commonwealth Point of Light award. He also lectures in sociology and community development at Temasek Polytechnic. Fairoz graduated from the University of Oxford with a Master of Public Policy (Distinction) under the Chevening-Oxford scholarship. His book, Interpreter of Winds, was published by Ethos Books in 2019. The book is a reflection of his experiences and observations growing up Muslim in a world too busy, too distracted, to understand one another.

Book Synopsis:

Often an unnoticed caress on our faces, winds are voiceless and formless. How do we interpret them? What mysteries can we find in the whispers of winds? From a Dutch occupied Java where a witch was murdered, a dog who desires to be a Muslim, to a day in which all sense of music is lost, the mundane is aflame with the uncanny.
In these stories, Fairoz Ahmad invites you to take a closer look at ordinary objects, as they take on a life of their own and spin gossamer threads. This book is a celebration of the little charms and enchantments of our universes amidst struggles and eventual helplessness.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Tsundoku #7 - March 2020


Tsundoku #7 for March 2020, a tad late, but hopefully worth it. So let’s see how high we can get those tsundoku’s this month….and be honest weherever you are you may unfortuinately need to prepare for some self-isolation. Toilet paper and pasta saucve is one thing, but a month without books!! Unthinkable. And so, kicking off, as per usual, with some new fiction....

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Out of the Blue

In the last quarter of 2019, two books were published by Ateneo University Press’ new literary imprint, Bughaw (Blue), and I lost no time in getting my hands on them. They are, Angelo R Lacuesta’s book of selected fiction, City Stories, and The Collected Stories of Jessica Zafra. It was an occasion to celebrate, to have two such wonderful books come out in quick succession this way—two books from writers I'm likely always going to want to buy.

Both Lacuesta and Zafra are keen observers of the Filipino psyche: they capture current and contemporary Filipino life in all its rich, textured, variegated complexity. Set aside the old cliché—300 years in a convent, 50 years in Hollywood—we’re talking about a country and culture unlike any in Southeast Asia, always set off parenthetically as “different” for its flawed US-style democracy, its proud, resilient, imperfect people who have, all too willingly, inclined themselves along authoritarian political posturing due to the abject failures of the governments between Marcos Martial Law and today’s Duterte-an ipso facto dictatorship. We Pinoys speak English (not as well as we did), work hard, are friendly and happy-go-lucky, in spite of everything. We want our K-pop TV series, our bootleg Hollywood DVDs, our fake designer goods from China and our junky American fast-food, all the while paying barely audible lip-service to being a strong, independent society, one in which family and tragically, family dynasties, reign supreme. There aren’t two better writers than these here right now for acquainting oneself with the country today.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Ryuko Volume 2 by Eldo Yoshimizu: Pulp Crime & International Intrigue


Ryuko is back to finish the story that began in Volume 1, which fittingly, ends with a bang. The themes of pulp crime storytelling are ever-present, along with a healthy dose of international intrigue, helping to elevate the book from being mere yakuza “bad girl” fiction. While not an overly complicated plot, Eldo Yoshimizu’s unique and hypnotic art is enough to keep you transfixed from page to page.


Monday, 2 March 2020

Indie Spotlight: Qing Dynasty inspires Time Travel Duology

This month on Indie Spotlight, Bijou Li tells us about the inspirations behind her time travel novels which she has self-published on Amazon. Over to Bijou...

I became interested in the dramatic historical event, Nine Sons Competing for the Throne (九子夺嫡) when my sister recommended the online novel Scarlet Heart (步步惊心) to me back in 2010. I also watched the TV drama series right after I finished reading the book. Aside from the history, what the story fascinated me the most was the main character’s “prescience” of the fate of each person she interacts with while living in the 18th century.

I liked the story so much that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for months afterward, and I told my sister I would like to write a book about how the fourteenth prince traveled back in time to change the fates of him and his brothers. She didn’t take me seriously, and neither did I. But years later, I watched another TV series Palace (宫锁心玉)and my ambition sparked again. I sat down and wrote a few chapters, got stuck, and put it aside until 2018, a year after I self-published my first book on Amazon. By then, I had read a lot more popular time-travel books both in Chinese and English, and come up with a plot way more intriguing than I initially had in mind.

The plot of the story is based on the conjecture that Emperor Yongzheng, the fourth son of Kangxi, seized the throne from the intended heir, which was the fourteenth prince. The most popular theory is that Yongzheng added a stroke to the emperor’s will, thus changing the phrase “the fourteenth prince shall succeed the throne” into “the fourth prince shall succeed the throne.” It is perhaps just a rumor, but it certainly provides fodder for the imagination of fiction writers like me.

The most enjoyable part of writing the story to me is learning about the ancient culture of China. The discovery of the origin of card games, different ways of gluing rice paper on the lattice windows, how ice was stored throughout the year in the Forbidden City, etc. all broadened my mind. During my research on the Qing Dynasty, I also came across many fascinating characters that I couldn’t help but include them in the story, and it was a reason for the plot getting more complicated and the story getting longer. I found myself spending a lot more time browsing the internet than writing, which was the main reason it took me so long to finish the books.

I was born in China, and I went to college in the U.S. My dream of becoming a writer started when I majored in English. I’m grateful for the self-publishing opportunities made possible by Amazon. Knowing my books are being read daily by people from all over the world is a rewarding experience. I’ve also gotten to know many other aspiring writers who are passionate about writing and sharing their stories with Asian themes.

Please see Bijou's Amazon author page at this link


Wednesday, 26 February 2020

In Homage to the first Buddhist translators, and Martha Cheung

Nicky Harman onBuddhism a wonderful exhibition in London’s British Library displaying Buddhist art and literature from all over East Asia.

 All pictures are my own from the exhibition, 
unless otherwise captioned
As a translator, I have what you could call a professional interest in Buddhist texts translated into Chinese. This may sound odd, because I can’t understand their meaning, let alone critique them as translations. But I am always moved when I see the crystal-clear calligraphy of the sutras, first written down in Chinese fifteen hundred years ago or more, and yet completely familiar today. So I visited the exhibition hoping to find out more about some of my favourite translators. 

Monday, 24 February 2020

Despite Global Health Warnings, Travellers’ Tales – and Events - Must Continue To be Told and Experienced

Lion City Lit By Ken Hickson



Travel is on our mind and in our readings. And while we don’t usually include poets, plays or painters, where there’s a stretched Singapore angle and a very good literary (or publishing) reason, why not.

When Singapore, like dozens of other countries, is being plagued by the nasty coronavirus, which is stopping some people from holding events -  including theatre and book launches -  we must not just revert to shutting ourselves away to read books, but enjoy a play or a reading when we can.

So Singapore theatre goers can still experience a very localised version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (by Wild Rice);  The Lifespan of a Fact – based on an actual event in New York – presented by Singapore Repertory Theatre; then there’s Florian Zeller’s The Son, performed by Pangdemonium. If that’s not enough to go on or go to, there’s National Theatre’s War Horse, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, or even more remotely connected is J.B. Priestley’s 1945 drama, An Inspector Calls, being staged by Wild Rice.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Japanese Destroyer Captain - A Memoir of The Pacific War


Japanese Destroyer Captain is the postwar memoir of Tameichi Hara, a Japanese Navy officer who earned the nickname the “Miracle Captain.” He is one of the only Japanese captains to have survived the entire Pacific War from its beginning in 1941 to its end in 1945. Of the 175 destroyers the Imperial Navy possessed during World War II, 129 were sunk.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Tsundoku #11 (The All Fiction Special)


2020 is shaping up as a record year for books by Asian and Asian diaspora writers in the world of fiction as well as a bumper crop of non-fiction on the region. So without further ado let’s find some additions to your 2020 tsundoku pile…This January/February I'm focussing on the fiction…

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Indie Spotlight - Goddesses of Japan

In Indie Spotlight this month, Kazuko Nishimura tells us about her Goddesses of the World series. Historical fiction from Japan with a mythical theme. Over to Kazuko...





The Goddesses of Japan, is Book One of the Goddesses of World Series.. It is set in Japan and covers the narratives of its Creation to the modernisation in the Nineteenth Century, when the country comes out from the self-imposed seclusion. It is sold on Amazon.