Friday, 25 September 2020

Translation goes in both directions

Nicky Harman writes: It seems obvious that there is literary translation from English into Chinese, as well as from Chinese into English, but very little has been written in English about what travels in that direction, and what impact it has on Chinese readers. It is a subject that fascinates me. So I was delighted when I got the chance to interview Wang Bang.


Wang Bang has translated Peter Hughes’s Behoven poems (Oystercatcher Press, 2009) for Professor He Ping, a well-known critic, author and professor at the College of Arts at Nanjing Normal University. Readers can explore them on this bilingual page here. I asked her to tell me more about this project.

N: How did you come across Peter Hughes and Oystercatcher Press, and what do you like about his poetry? 

W: The first time I bumped into ‘oystercatchers’, they were not those waders with red beaks, dressed in black cloaks, they were well printed pamphlets with abstract, geometric, mostly hand-painted covers, the kind of visual vocabulary that recalled me to Abstract Expressionism. I soon learnt that they were poetry pamphlets produced by the poet Peter Hughes, who also used his own paintings for the covers. I was immediately intrigued and was hoping to write an article about Peter. I asked David Rushmer, my husband, who is also a poet and had been published by Oystercatcher Press, to introduce me to Peter. A week later, we were in Norfolk, walking against the brisk wind, the oystercatchers rising swiftly from the waves, whilst Peter narrated his early life stories to me from his house on the coast; his surreal adventures working as a translator for the Italian Army and how he endeavored to make sense of the instructions on Russian landmines. I then wrote a story titled ‘The Poet Who lives next to the Lighthouse’; it was surprisingly well received and hit over 600 likes overnight. I thought it could be a great opportunity to introduce Peter’s work to Chinese readers, so I started work translating a small section of his poems. His work is not easy to digest at all but I found them fascinating, it’s like playing with a Rubik’s cube, I have to solve one word (normally a verb) first, before I can rotate to the next layer, and the magic is dark, sensory, musical, dreamy, imaginative and philosophical. 

 

N: How did Professor He Ping get involved?

W: I thought it would be great if I could persuade someone to publish a pamphlet of Peter’s work, a duplication of Oystercatcher Press in both Chinese and English. And an independent publisher in China had agreed to publish the pamphlet. I sent off the work, which is a small part of ‘Behoven’, kindly chosen by Peter and waited, but nothing was certain with the unsettled publishing rules in China. Bored of waiting I sent the manuscript to Professor He Ping, and amazingly he published it right away on a literary journal ‘A Flower to You’ run by his MA students. 

 

N: Which is your favourite poem in the selection published here? 

W: Sonata 1 in F minor, op.2, no. 1, Sonata in A major, op. 10.no.2 and the bears in Sonata in A major, op. 10.no.2.

N: Could you say something about the challenges of translating them?

W: The hidden cultural references, the metaphors, they really did my head in. For instance, the phrase

 “even if it is called a patio”. What is special about a patio? Is it because it’s a posh word from Spanish? Or, because of its overly ornamental design by the English? 

Some sentences seemed to be more straightforward, but can still require a lot of cultural understanding.

“when strangers 

         with sledge-hammers 

       & shorts passed

    the whole piano 

through a bangle”

I had to peep through a keyhole of time to understand that he is talking about “Piano Smashing Contests” in England in the bonkers 1950s!

N: Did you listen to Beethoven while you were translating?

W: No, I really needed to concentrate! 

N: Anything else you'd like to say about the special challenges of translating poetry?

W: Poetry often takes liberties that prose would not. Poetry by its nature is often very compact and can include a duplicity of meaning in a single word or phrase which is very difficult to reproduce in another language. I wish I were a poet, it would be easier for me to undertake such an impossible task. I would love to see more work being translated from both languages, work from my generation, and from new emerging writers.

 Here is my article about Peter and his press, with some beautiful pictures: The Poet Who lives next to the Lighthouse, in Chinese with a selection of the poems in English.


 

N: I'm fascinated by which English writers have an impact in China and in Chinese, so He Ping's project seems particularly interesting.

W: This is from Professor He Ping on why he published my translations. I think his response is great: “I am interested in what British writers, including poets, are writing recently. All literature today, regardless of nationality or mother tongue, is part of world literature. And of course, it is also out of friendship with Wang Bang and my trust in her judgment, that I promoted the works of these two poets [Richard Berengarten and Peter Hughes] on my graduate students’ WeChat public account. Modern Chinese literature has always had strong links with British English writing, so I am keen to promote contemporary British writers, poets and their writing wherever possible, in any Chinese literary media where I have some influence.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Danton Remoto Chats With Elaine Chiew About His Novel Riverrun: Proudly Gay, Proudly Filipino

 

Credit: PRH SEA

Bio:

Danton Remoto was educated at Ateneo de Manila University, Rutgers University, University of Stirling and the University of the Philippines. He has worked as a publishing director at Ateneo, head of communications at United Nations Development Programme, TV and radio host at TV5 and Radyo 5, president of Manila Times College and, most recently, as head of school and professor of English at the University of Nottingham Malaysia. He has published a baker’s dozen of books in English. His work is cited in The Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Literature, The Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics, and The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Postcolonial Literature.

 





Synopsis:

Riverrun, A Novel, deals with Danilo Cruz, a young gay man growing up in a colourful and chaotic military dictatorship in the Philippines. The form of the novel is that of a memoir, told through flash fiction, vignettes, a recipe for shark meat, feature articles, poems and vivid songs. The setting ranges from provincial barrio to cosmopolitan London. The grimness and the violence are leavened by the sly wit and wicked humour. Riot.com, the biggest independent platform for the publishing industry in the USA, has called this novel “one of the five most anticipated books by an Asian author in 2020.”

 

EC: Welcome to Asian Books Blog, Danton. Congratulations on Riverrun, a delightful and poetic read, lightly trodden but deeply impactful; and indeed, as intended, it reads like a personal, intimate memoir. Why did you decide on having this ‘memoirish’ cant?

 

DR: Thank you, Elaine. I really intended it to be written lightly, as it were, since the topic is the grimness and violence of a military dictatorship in the Philippines. The narrative form is that of a memoir, which is influenced by James Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the stories in Dubliners. Even the title of my novel comes from Ulysses by Joyce. A memoir allows for a more personal, chatty tone, and the genre itself connotes memories. Talk is one of the things banned in a military dictatorship, so I tried to capture the hidden talk, whispered conversations, snide remarks and seemingly unintended jokes cracked in a dictatorship. I also experimented with Filipino English in this novel, trying to capture the way educated Filipinos spoke in English. I had written books of poetry and essays before I wrote the first draft of Riverrun at Hawthornden Castle, an old castle haunted by ghosts, in Scotland. This influenced the way the novel is written—lyrical in some parts, chatty in others. I wrote in longhand, on yellow pad paper, and I wrote from 9 AM to 5 PM, stopping only for lunch break or to take a walk around the chilly woods that April of 1993. When I found out the voice I would use – a slightly older and more cynical person recalling his bittersweet past – the words seemed to fall into place. 


Friday, 11 September 2020

New Japanese short fiction: One Love Chigusa

Soji Shimada is one of Japan’s best selling mystery writers. His latest work One Love Chigusa has been published in English as part of the Red Circle Minis collection. The collection, which began in 2018, includes short works from contemporary Japanese authors that have not yet been published in Japanese. This novel approach adds an interesting layer to the reading experience; literary criticism on the original texts is not yet available. 

The strange title One Love Chigusa is fitting for a novella that is indeed strange throughout. This strangeness slowly builds, reaches a crescendo in the final chapter, and then in the very last scenes recedes with the revelation of certain vital information. The bizarre array of characters and events that make up the work contribute to the disconcerting yet wonderful experience of reading One Love.

The story is set in Beijing, although it is easy to forget this as spatial descriptions are often very dream-like and dystopian. Surroundings are described to us from the perspective of the main character, Xie Hoyu. Xie has had half of his brain and body replaced by machinery, and this has fundamentally altered the way he experiences the physical world. People and objects often morph into more disturbing or mechanical versions of themselves. For example, when Xie has been wandering the city, we are given his observations: “the letters of the displays and the neon signs scattered on the walls and rooftops would suddenly start to change to numerals. Some changed slowly; some fluctuated violently... Were they stock prices?” Here, the hallucination itself questions the solidity of our linguistic system, while Xie’s question about stock prices points to the all-pervasive presence of financial motivation in our society. This extract thus evokes feelings of disorientation and instability, and conveys a cynical view of civilisation.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China's Reawakening

The 1980s was a period of rapid change and economic growth for China. In 1979, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping opened special economic zones in southern China, experimenting with market capitalism. Dori Jones Yang, a reporter for BusinessWeek, saw China’s rise in the 1980s and has recorded it for her memoir When The Red Gates Opened.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Tsundoku #13 - September 2020

Autumn, cooler weather (perhaps, depending on where you are?) - back to school, back to work, back to some sort of new normal for most of us...and bookshops are open again all over. September is also a bumper month for new books - so many novels held back from spring and summer releases so let's get going....fiction first as ever which is the bulk of this month's new books...

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Hong Kong, Inside and Out: Two Guest Poets Write Home

More than a year since pro-democracy protestors took to the streets in Hong Kong, the city has faded somewhat from headlines around the world, eclipsed by the uncertainties of a global pandemic and fast-changing events elsewhere. But for Hong Kongers at home and abroad, political and cultural upheavals on the island continue to take centre stage, while the fate of their city as they know it hangs in the balance. 

What does it mean to write from, to, and about a changing city? To start a conversation between writers within and outside the city, we invited two guest poets – one based in Hong Kong, to write about a fellow Hong Kong poet living abroad; and the other based overseas, to write about a fellow poet living in Hong Kong. Together, this pair of contributions reimagines Hong Kong as a larger, enduring community that transcends the island’s boundaries. 


Saturday, 8 August 2020

Tsundoku #12 - August 2020

August's Tsundoku may not find you on a beach sadly - or if it does then it's probably the closest beach to your house. But summer reading remains essential wherever you are...here's some new Asian-focussed fiction and non-fiction for the month...some fiction first up...

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Japan's Asian Allies - A Look at the Collaborationist Regimes of World War II


Compared to Nazi Germany, the Japanese Empire during World War II receives little to no coverage in Western media. Even more obscure, are the many puppet regimes that aided the Japanese occupation throughout Asia, spanning from the far north in Manchuria to the south in Burma and the Philippines. Luckily, Osprey publishing has come to the rescue with their newest edition to the Men At Arms series titled Japan’s Asian Allies 1941 – 45.


Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Elaine Chiew Chats With Professor Malachi Edwin Vethamani, Malaysian poet and short story writer.

Photo Credit: Chris Leong


Malachi Edwin Vethamani is a Malaysian-born Indian poet, writer, critic, bibliographer and professor. He is currently Head, School of English, University of Nottingham Malaysia. He has two volumes of poems, Complicated Lives (2016) and Life Happens (2017), and a collection of short stories, Coitus Interruptus and Other Stories Happens (2017). His research on Malaysian literature in English led to the publication of A Bibliography of Malaysian Literature in English (2015) and two edited volumes of Malaysian literature which cover 60 years of Malaysian poetry, Malchin Testament: Malaysian Poems (2017) and short-stories, Ronggeng-Ronggeng: Malaysian Short Stories (2020).


 

EC: Welcome to Asian Books Blog, Malachi. Great to have you here. Your most recent publication, an anthology of short stories which you compiled and edited, Ronggeng-Ronggeng, has a Table of Contents that reads like a Who’s Who in the Malaysian short story. What was the impetus for this project, what are your hopes for the anthology, and how did you go about the selection process? 

 

MEV: I wanted to bring together a volume of short stories that is representative of Malaysian short story writing from the 1950s till the present. The two existing significant collections of short stories were compiled and edited by Lloyd Fernando in 1968 and 1981 and were republished in 2005 but are generally unavailable. Ronggeng-Ronggeng is one of the outcomes of my research on Malaysian literature in English and I wanted a volume of Malaysian short stories that showcased the works of a range of writers, the new, emerging and the established. I read all the published works that were available and then went on to select the stories and get permission from the writers to include their works for this collection. It is my hope that this collection will contribute to more scholarship on Malaysian literature in English.

 

EC: In your illuminating precis on the development of the short story as a form in Malaysia, you wrote that Malaysians writing in English have a distinct flavour, for example, in the use of Manglish or other vernacular – how important is it to retain this characteristic within the tradition of a national literature, and how has this played out nationally versus internationally, where big publishing houses may not yet recognise or appreciate local tongues and the hybridity it brings to British English as a global (though colonial) standard?

 

MEV: I believe that it is essential that Malaysian writing in English is recognisable as a distinct flavour both in the linguistic and literary dimensions. Malaysian English, in its full spectrum, ranges from the standard form to the non-standard form (Manglish). Between these two poles, there is a range of Malaysian English which contributes towards a national identity. This emerges not only in the linguistic forms but also in the literary dimension, the idiomatic expressions and local images that are used in the works. The multi-cultural mix in Malaysia further contributes to the hybridity in Malaysian English. It is a part of World Englishes, just as British English is a variety of the English language. The fact that Malaysian writers have won international literary prizes is indicative of the contribution Malaysian writers make to contemporary Literature in English worldwide. Sadly, at the national level, Malaysian writing in English remains in the margins as it is not considered part of national Malaysian literature as only literary works in Bahasa Melayu (the Malay language) is included in this literary canon.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Dark Chapter: Award Winner and Activist Winnie M Li Talks to Elaine Chiew About Her Novel Centred On Rape and A True Story



Credit: Grace Gelder



Bio: 

Winnie M Li is an author and activist, who has worked in the creative industries on three continents. A Harvard graduate, Winnie’s career as a film producer in London was disrupted, at the age of twenty-nine, by a stranger rape in Belfast. Since then she has focused on addressing the issue of sexual violence through the media, the arts, and academia. 

Aside from her award-winning novel Dark Chapter, Winnie writes across a range of media, including short fiction, theatre, journalism, and memoir. She has received grants from the Royal Society of Literature, Jerwood Arts, Arts Council England and Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Winnie is also Co- Founder and Artistic Director of the Clear Lines Festival, the UK’s first-ever festival addressing sexual assault and consent through the arts and discussion. Her PhD research at the London School of Economics explores media engagement by rape survivors as a form of activism. She holds an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland, in recognition of her writing and advocacy for women’s rights. She is based in London. You can find more information about her at her website.

Synopsis:

Vivian is a cosmopolitan Taiwanese-American tourist who often escapes her busy life in London through adventure and travel. Johnny is a 15-year-old Irish teenager, living a neglected life on the margins of society.

On a bright spring afternoon in West Belfast, their paths collide during a horrifying act of violence.

In the aftermath, each is forced to confront the chain of events that led to the attack.  Vivian must struggle to recapture the woman whom she once was, while dealing with a society that judges and pities assault victims. Johnny, meanwhile, seeks refuge in his transitory Irish clan. But when he is finally brought to reckon for his crimes, Vivian learns that justice is not always as swift or as fair as she would hope. Inspired by true events, this is a story of the dark chapters and chance encounters that can irrevocably determine the shape of our lives.


Monday, 6 July 2020

A Fire of Love and Protest: On Writing All Flowers Bloom


Kawika Guillermo’s second novel, All Flowers Bloom, is a queer speculative revision of histories and imagined futures. In this post Kawika discusses the persistent theme of love, including both self-love and love for others, and offers a view on how love (or a lack of love) is related to the race-focused protests currently happening across the United States and the world.


Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.
– James Baldwin, “In Search of a Majority: an Address,” 1960

My first novel, Stamped: an anti-travel novel, detailed the dejection that many people of color felt during the Bush years, and their attempts to self-exile in the face of the war atrocities committed in the “war on terror.” Hating their own country, the novel’s characters can’t help but hate themselves. They idealize suicide. They transport drugs. They become violent. Their stories reflect my own feelings of loss and anger during those years, when I lived and traveled abroad.

If Stamped documents my feelings of self-hate, All Flowers Bloom documents my journey learning to love myself. The novel follows two souls who reincarnate throughout human history, and whose love survives war, famine, and their own deaths. In every life, their love blooms in times of intense political change: the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the British colonization of India, the Philippine-American War, and political upheavals far, far into the future. 

When I met my wife, I was writing All Flowers Bloom. Three years later, when she gave birth to our son, I was still writing it. All Flowers Bloom represents my transition from an angry, dejected ex-patriate, into a father, a husband, a son-in-law, a lover of love itself. And yet, the book’s roots remain deeply political, and angry.

I began this reflection with Baldwin’s often-cited quote, “love is a growing up,” because Baldwin himself saw love as a distinctly political act. He saw the bus boycotts and youth marches of the late 1950s as love speaking, love coming from the downtrodden who still had hope that their white oppressors could change. Protest was a way of tearing down walls, a way of saying “we are bound together forever. We are part of each other.”

Sunday, 5 July 2020

The Bitter Peace by Philip S. Jowett - Conflict in China 1928-1937


Chinese history has long been ignored in the West, but a few spotlights do shine out from time to time on certain events, even if only to provide superficial understanding. These usually point to the Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, and, recently, the Sino-Japanese War. However, there is a small window of time in Chinese history that contained multiple smaller wars, which has almost been completely ignored by Western scholars. This brief era is what The Bitter Peace – Conflict in China 1928-37 by Philip S. Jowett illuminates.


Friday, 3 July 2020

Tsundoku #11 - July 2020

If you're out of lockdown lucky you - you can go to the park and read. If you're still in lockdown then you can stay in and read. It's all reading...and so this July here's some choices. Admittedly publishers are still defering lots of titles to later in the year in the hope of more bookshops getting back in business and the return of browsers, but still...

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Debasmita Dasgupta: It’s Time to Tell the Truth to our Children

Debasmita Dasgupta is a Singapore-based, Kirkus Best Prize nominated illustrator and graphic novelist. She enjoys illustrating fiction, non-fiction, and poetic works for children and young adults. Debasmita is also passionate about art-for-change, and has created an online movement called My Father Illustrations to promote child rights for girls and better father-daughter relationships.

Debasmita’s debut independent graphic novel, Nadya, came out this year. Nadya deals with the subject of divorce from the point of view of a 13-year old adolescent girl living in the mountains. It has just been nominated for the Neev Book Award for distinguished children’s literature.

Despite the fact that divorce becoming quite a common phenomenon in many families in Asia / India, often it is still considered to be a taboo subject. Debasita hopes that her graphic novel will encourage open conversation about difficult family topics. Below, she reflects on the process of writing Nadya and her personal encounters with families going through divorce.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Nicky Harman on The Book of Shanghai: some exciting writing talent and excellent translators

As a follow-up to Rosie Milne's post on THE BOOK OF SHANGHAI, I have been thinking about what makes a good introduction to contemporary Chinese literature, and what can persuade new readers to dip a toe in unknown waters. Logically, short stories should be a good way in, because length-wise, they don’t require too much commitment. But I am someone who loves to immerse myself in a full-length novel, so I approached The Book of Shanghai with, let’s say, an open mind.

Historically, Shanghai has had a powerful grip on the western imagination. Of course, it was always much more than the exotic den of iniquity it was portrayed as. As Jin Li, one of the editors, writes in his excellent introduction, ‘The influences of a recently industrialized West mingled, interacted and cross-pollinated with the traditions of a culture that had developed over many centuries. As a contact point between East and West, with its unique location, Shanghai paved the way, acting as a testing site where various ideological and cultural ideas were welcomed, accommodated and re-imagined.’

But that was then, and now is now. In The Book of Shanghai, the picture emerges of a thoroughly modern city. These stories scarcely even hint at Shanghai’s exotic or insalubrious past. Instead, they describe the human condition as it is today. Not that all the stories are realistic. Some are quite fantastical and have beguilingly strange protagonists. But all of them are rooted in the present... or the future.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Shreya Sen-Handley Talks the Strange and Unexpected in her Short Stories with Elaine Chiew

Credit Stephen Handley
Bio: Former television journalist and producer Shreya Sen-Handley is the author of two books with HarperCollins, the recently published short story collection Strange and the award-winning Memoirs of My Body. She is also a columnist for the international media, writing for the National Geographic, CNN and The Guardian amongst others, a creative writing teacher, illustrator, and a librettist for the Welsh National Opera. She is currently writing her third book for HarperCollins, The Accidental Tourist, a travelogue, alongside her monthly column for top Indian newspapers, the Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle. The opera she has co-written, ‘Migrations’, will tour the UK in 2021. 


EC: Welcome to Asian Books Blog, Shreya. Congratulations on your short story collection, Strange (HarperCollins India, 2019). How long was it in the making, and tell us what your short story collection is about. 

SSH: Thank you Elaine. “What’s your next book?” asked my editors at HarperCollins the minute my first book ‘Memoirs of My Body’ was published in 2017. I said I was considering writing more short stories. I had written a handful in the 3 years my first book, Memoirs of My Body, had been brewing and each had gone on to be published, broadcast or shortlisted in competitions in Australia, UK and India, and thought readers might want a few more. I certainly enjoyed writing them and was eager to write more. My editors loved the idea, and noticed something I hadn’t really consciously wrought- an unexpected turn to most of my stories, and so this collection of ‘profoundly unsettling and unusual’ short stories was conceived. There were in the end, appropriately, 13 stories in all, and they covered a variety of genres – romance, comedy, science fiction, dystopia, horror, supernatural, crime, etc. There was no attempt to write on the same subject every time, or restrict myself to a genre. Instead the idea was to focus on the unexpected in every aspect of our everyday lives, and uncover, as a result, the strangeness that lies beneath the seemingly ordinary. 
Courtesy HarpeCollins India

Bookworm

Countries across the globe are currently enforcing various types of social restrictions to help reduce the infection rate of Covid-19. Under these bizarre circumstances, it is easy to feel distant and isolated from friends and family. Perhaps more than ever before, this is a time when it is important to celebrate community.

With this in mind, Asian Books Blog has decided to launch a new series entitled Bookworm. We will be interviewing different members of the Asian-books-loving community to delve deeply into their relationships with Asian literature. We hope that hearing from our Bookworms will help strengthen the sense of shared passion amongst our readers and will also provide inspiration for taking on new literary challenges. We aim to interview a diverse group of people, spanning all different sorts of identities, and living all over the world.

Shelley Herman works on data analysis in the defence industry, and currently lives on the Eastern Coast of the US, in New Jersey. She is our very first Bookworm!

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Canadian Chinese Author Alice Poon Brings Tales of Courtesans Alive: Bookish Chat with Elaine Chiew

Courtesy of the Author
Bio:

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Alice Poon steeped herself in Chinese poetry and history, Jin Yong’s martial arts novels and English Literature in her school days. This early immersion has inspired her creative writing. 

Always fascinated with iconic but unsung women in Chinese history and legends, she cherishes a dream of bringing them to the page.

She is the author of The Green Phoenix and the bestselling and award-winning non-fiction title Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong. She now lives in Vancouver, Canada and devotes her time to writing historical Chinese fiction.

Synopsis:

From the author of The Green Phoenix comes a riveting tale of female friendship, honor, and sacrifice for love, set in 17th Century China and featuring the intertwined stories of three of the era’s most renowned courtesans – Liu Rushi, Chen Yuanyuan and Li Xiangjun. Inspired by literary works and folklore, Tales of Ming Courtesans traces the destinies of the three girls from the seamy world of human trafficking and slavery to the cultured scene of the famously decadent pleasure district of the city of Nanjing, evoking episodes in Memoirs of a Geisha.

In 1664, Jingjing is reading her mother Rushi's memoir. A wretched adolescence barely behind her, Rushi buys her way out of bondage but, being a courtesan, loses her true love to the tyranny of conventions. Social scorn never leaves her alone. The memoir inspires Jingjing to uncover the fates of Rushi's two sworn sisters, also courtesans. Yuanyuan is first trapped in brutal slavery and then forced to let go of her lover and enter an unhappy union with a brutish general. Xiangjun incurs corrupt courtiers' wrath when she warns her lover of their trap laid for him. Thrown into each other’s company, the three women forge a strong bond that becomes their lifeline. When the outbreak of war plunges them into deeper woes, they mull over a daring idea. In piecing the three sisters' stories together, Jingjing slowly unravels the secret of who she really is.

Betrayal, tenacity and hope all come together in a novel that brings to life an important era in China’s history, and particularly highlights the challenges faced by independent-minded women.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Tsundoku #10 - June 2020

A world cautiously restarting in many ways - bookshops adapting and reopening, online sales booming as people still read. We do hope so. Time to build that summer tsundoku now...this month the non-fiction seems to be outweighing the fiction in terms of new Asia-themed books, but we'll start with a couple of novels...

Friday, 5 June 2020

Golden Kamuy Volumes 1-5 - A Shonen Manga of Adventure and History


Golden Kamuy by Satoru Noda is a shonen manga series that covers a wide range of genres – adventure, war, political intrigue, comedy, and thrillers. Set shortly after the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905) it follows Saichi Sugimoto, a veteran of the conflict, and his quest for a legendary stash of gold hidden in Hokkaido, the most northern of Japan’s main islands. While fighting at the vicious Battle of Port Arthur, he earned the nickname “Immortal Sugimoto,” given his almost legendary ability to avoid death, which he keeps throughout the remainder of this series.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Building a House in a Moving World, guest post from Theophilus Kwek

Theophilus Kwek has published five volumes of poetry, two of which were shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. His pamphlet, The First Five Storms, won the New Poets’ Prize in 2016 and was also shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award in 2017. His poems, essays, and translations have appeared in The Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, The London Magazine and elsewhere; he has also written on issues of migration and citizenship for The Straits Times, South China Morning Post, and Singapore Policy Journal. He has edited several books of Singapore writing, and serves as editor of Oxford Poetry.

Moving House is a collection of border-crossing poems that make their way from episodes in Southeast Asia’s colonial history, to scenes of displacement and difference in contemporary Britain and Singapore. Drawing on the author’s personal and family histories, it lands on the bigger question of what it means to feel at home in a mobile and deeply unsettled world.

Friday, 29 May 2020

Short story writer Janet H Swinney Chats With Elaine Chiew

Credit: Janet H Swinney; Design: Kay Green

Bio:  Janet H Swinney is a former education inspector who grew up in the North East of England, got her political education in Scotland and now lives in London. She has longstanding connections with India that have deeply influenced her writing. Her work has appeared in print anthologies and online journals across the UK, India and America, and has been listed in many competitions. Her story ‘The Map of Bihar’ was nominated for the Eric Hoffer prize for prose 2012. She was a runner-up for the London Short Story Prize 2014. She has written features articles for the UK press including the Guardian and the Times

Synopsis: The Map of Bihar is a collection of stories about yearning; about aspiration thwarted and fulfilled. Faced with the constraints of culture, caste, class, poverty and the complexities of modern-day life, individuals from opposite sides of the globe strive for something better. Their ambition takes many forms. While some reach out towards a distant vision of fulfilment, the best that others can hope for is simply to survive. And while some turn out to be adept at grabbing opportunities, others are not so fortunate. Between them, they display resourcefulness, resilience, vulnerability and, sometimes, a pungent sense of humour. 

EC: Welcome to Asian Books Blog, Janet. Congratulations on The Map of Bihar, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. The short stories take place primarily in India and the northeast of England.  Why these two locations?

JHS: Thanks for inviting me, Elaine. I was born and grew up in a village in the North East of England. I couldn’t wait to get away from the place. It was a very close-knit community, where everybody knew what you were up to, and was very keen to tell you not to do it. It wasn’t until I had to go back many years later that I realised the strengths of that community, even though much had happened politically and economically in the intervening years to undermine them.   I was brought up as a Christian, but I thought the teachings were flawed. When I was a teenager, I started casting around for something else. I became interested in Indian philosophy, and I started practising yoga. I wanted to go to India to find a guru. But for a young woman with no money and no worldly wisdom, that was a complete impossibility.

Then, in 1973, I was at Leeds University ostensibly studying for a teaching qualification, but in reality doing everything to avoid it, and met the composer, Naresh Sohal. Our interests in yoga philosophy and music drew us together and that was the start of a relationship that lasted until he died in 2018, forty-five years later. Naresh gave me an extensive drubbing about the shortcomings of the British Raj, which I had to concede was justified. Over the time we were together, we visited India frequently, staying with his family in Punjab and exploring many other parts of the country.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

How Paper Republic ended up leading what is possibly the world’s biggest collaborative translation

Nicky Harman writes about translating Chinese authors' reflections on Covid19, post-lockdown.

At the risk of blowing my (or at least, our Paper Republic's) trumpet a little, I’m going to start with the back-story: Brigitte Duzan, of Chinese-shortstories.com pointed out to me that a very well-known Chinese writer, Yan Geling, had written a piece blasting the authorities for mishandling the Covid19 crisis, which Duzan herself had translated into French. Why didn’t I do the same and post it on Paper-Republic? I did both, and a single post grew into the Read Paper Republic: Epidemic mini-series of essays and poems, exploring how some impressive Chinese writers (Yan Geling, Han Dong, A Yi, Lin Bai, and Wu Ang) have been personally affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Then the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, with whom Paper Republic has partnered on many projects, had a new idea. I quote, ‘What better way to spend lockdown than having a shot at literary translation? You know you always wanted to try it, so why not have a go now?’ The deal was that anyone, anywhere in the world, could have a go at translating a blog post by Deng Anqing (庆) on how he got shut in with his parents as the surrounding cities locked down, and how it affected his relationship with them. We were offering this opportunity to first-time or emerging translators, so after they had all submitted their work, there would be online feedback sessions by members of the Paper Republic team, including myself and Eric Abrahamsen. The final revised and agreed-on translation was to be published as the grand finale to the Read Paper Republic: Epidemic series. We called the project Give-it-a-Go Translation. We put out the call, and we waited.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Nicky Harman interviews Avery Fischer Udagawa translator extraordinaire of children's and young adult fiction, and much more besides

NH: I'm delighted to be interviewing Avery Fischer Udagawa, because I have a huge admiration for translators who focus on young readers. I started by asking her about her latest translation piece in Words Without Borders, and why she wanted to translate it.


AFU: “Firstclaw” at Words Without Borders is my rendering of イチノツメと呼ばれた魔女 by Sachiko Kashiwaba, a fairy tale from her collection of linked tales, 王様に恋した魔女 (Kodansha, 2016). I encountered this story on precisely the morning of October 24, 2018, in the large Maruzen Marunouchi bookstore in Tokyo, where I had gone to spend time before a meeting with the author. Since we are all stuck at home these days needing vicarious outings, I’ll share that I savored this book over chiffon cake in Maruzen’s third floor café, glancing out as JR local trains and bullet trains pulled in and out of Tokyo Station. I even exchanged bows with a window washer who floated by in his rigging.

Hours later, Kashiwaba herself signed my book. That was a story scouting day for the ages!
“Firstclaw” struck me as a skillfully wrought, surprising tale of a reclusive witch, a resourceful princess, and a brave king. I found the ending (which I won’t spoil here) curiously joyful, and I chose to translate it out of readerly pleasure.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Inconvenient Daughter

Lauren J. Sharkey is a writer, teacher, and transracial adoptee. After her birth in South Korea, she was adopted by Irish Catholic parents and raised on Long Island. Sharkey holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Literature, and her creative nonfiction has appeared in the Asian American Feminist Collective’s digital storytelling project, First Times, as well as several anthologies including I Am Strength! and Women under Scrutiny.

Inconvenient Daughter, Lauren's debut novel, explores the questions surrounding transracial adoption, the ties that bind, and what it means to belong.

Novelist and Award-Winning Poet Reshma Ruia Chats With Elaine Chiew about her poetry collection A Dinner Party In The Home Counties

Courtesy of Author
Bio:

Reshma Ruia is an award winning writer and poet based in Manchester. She was born in India and brought up in Rome and did her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the London School of Economics. She worked as an economist with the United Nations in Rome and with the OECD in Paris.  Following her move to Manchester, she did a further Masters Degree and a PhD in Creative Writing and Critical Thought at Manchester University. She is a fiction editor at the Jaggery Literary Magazine and book reviewer at Words of Colour. She is also the co-founder of The Whole Kahani, a writers’ collective. Her first novel, ‘Something Black in the Lentil Soup’, was described in the Sunday Times as ‘a gem of straight-faced comedy.’ Her second novel manuscript, ‘A Mouthful of Silence’ was shortlisted for the SI Leeds literary award. Her writing has appeared in The Mechanics’ Institute Review, The Nottingham Review, Asia Literary Review, Confluence, Funny Pearls, Fictive Dream, The Good Journal, and various anthologies. They have also been commissioned and broadcast on BBC Radio. Her debut collection of poetry, ‘A Dinner Party in the Home Counties,’ winner is of the 2019 Word Masala Award is out now.

Synopsis:

‘A Dinner Party in the Home Counties’ explores the themes of belonging and identity against a backdrop of social mores and conventions. The poems explore the diasporic experience of leading a translated life, yearning to belong to a past that one no longer owns and a future that is murky and unclear. There is a sense of melancholic nostalgia in these poems but also a fierce kind of determination to embark on a new beginning and make the best of one’s circumstances. The poems are particularly relevant to our times when there is a growing sense of parochialism and hostility towards ‘the outsider.’ They will resonate with all those who have portable roots and are at home everywhere and nowhere. 

The poems also portray the emotive minefield of relationships, questioning the ambiguity behind maternal or filial love. Society conditions us to love our parent or child or partner but the poems challenge this by describing the tug of war between a woman’s sense of self and the roles she is expected to play.

There is an undercurrent of mortality running through some of the poems. A sense of an ending and a reflection on what the passage of time can do to one’s dreams and aspirations.


Monday, 11 May 2020

Talented Writer & Translator Tiffany Tsao Chats With Elaine Chiew About The Majesties

Book cover design by James Iacobelli
and artwork by Joseph Lee
Bio: 
Tiffany Tsao is a writer and literary translator. She is the author of The Majesties, as well as the Oddfits fantasy series (to date: The Oddfits and The More Known World). Her translations of Indonesian authors include Sergius Seeks Bacchus by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, Paper Boats by Dee Lestari, and The Birdwoman’s Palate by Laksmi Pamuntjak. 

Synopsis:
 Gwendolyn and Estella have always been as close as sisters can be. Growing up in a wealthy, eminent, and sometimes deceitful family, they’ve relied on each other for support and confidence. But now Gwendolyn is lying in a coma, the sole survivor of Estella’s poisoning of their whole clan.

As Gwendolyn struggles to regain consciousness, she desperately retraces her memories, trying to uncover the moment that led to this shocking and brutal act. Was it their aunt’s mysterious death at sea? Estella’s unhappy marriage to a dangerously brutish man? Or were the shifting loyalties and unspoken resentments at the heart of their opulent world too much to bear? Can Gwendolyn, at last, confront the carefully buried mysteries in their family’s past and the truth about who she and her sister really are?

Traveling from the luxurious world of the rich and powerful in Indonesia to the most spectacular shows at Paris Fashion Week, from the sunny coasts of California to the melting pot of Melbourne’s university scene, The Majesties is a haunting and deeply evocative novel about the dark secrets that can build a family empire—and also bring it crashing down.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Tsundoku #9 - May 2020

It's out second Tsundoku of lockdown and maybe we have a problem - fewer books than normal are being published but maybe, if you're lucky, you're getting through your tsundoku pile? So this May is a little light, but some good stuff all the same...

Monday, 4 May 2020

First Three Way Translation Interview: Elaine Chiew Chats With Kulleh Grasi and Pauline Fan about Tell Me, Kenyalang

Courtesy of Circumference Books

Synopsis:


TELL ME, KENYALANG is a collection of poems by Kulleh Grasi, a writer and musician from Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. This groundbreaking book is one of a handful of contemporary works of poetry written in Malay to be translated into English and the first in decades to include Malaysian indigenous languages. Translator Pauline Fan brings the work into a thrilling, living English. Kulleh Grasi's poems are entirely new and yet intimate. They are entwined with myth and nature and yet are fully post-modern. They are outside the context of American poetry and also deeply inside the questions and experiences American poets are grappling with today: questions of identity in relation to nation and language and sexuality. 

Grasi, both a known poet and rock star in Malaysia, writes new rivers and islands into the landscape of identity. Grasi says: "I was reading all kinds of Malay literature. None of it spoke from the experience of Borneo's indigenous people, so I started keeping journals, writing about the lives of indigenous communities that I observed with my own eyes. This was the true beginning of my poetry." 

TELL ME, KENYALANG will change the way people think of contemporary poetry throughout the world and about the role of indigenous languages in global literature and in translation. The book is a powerhouse.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Japan's Greatest Victory, Britain's Worst Defeat - A Memoir of the Battle of Singapore


It’s often said “history is written by the victors,” and this only half true. While the narrative of World War II is definitely constructed from the Allied lens, this does not mean that the vanquished were unable to tell their stories. German officers and soldiers pumped out volumes of memoirs during the postwar years, many of which were consumed voraciously by readers in America and Britain. Japanese memoirs were more sparse, at least regarding translations that made it to the West. One notable exception was Masanobu Tsuji’s memoir Japan’s Greatest Victory, Britain’s Worst Defeat.


Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Translating literary works from the Malay world, Nazry Bahrawi in conversation with Nicky Harman


Dr Nazry Bahrawi, Singapore University of Technology & Design

What aroused your interest in translation, and what was the first piece you ever translated?

My journey to literary translation began as an academic interest. As a doctoral student reading comparative literature at the University of Warwick, I was supervised by Susan Bassnett, a household name in translation theory. So, while my thesis wasn’t directly about translation, I began to explore this field of study first through conversations with her. Today, I continue to research into translation to unveil its multifaceted role at shaping what scholars call ‘world literature’. As an indication of just how complicated translation can get, I’ve published a comparative analysis of the Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia versions of Syed Hussein Alatas’ seminal book The Myth of the Lazy Native and found that the former sharpens the ethnic divide between Malays and Chinese in line with the Malaysian ruling party’s (UMNO) ideology of ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy). This affirms the proposal that translation is mired in practices of patronage and power as the translation theorist André Lefevere had pointed out in his book Translation, Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame. This was one of my earliest academic essays. It’d convinced me to dive deeper into translation research.

After my studies in 2013, I returned to Singapore. This was when my first foray into literary translation as practice began. Then, literary translation was starting to gain traction in my multilingual city-island, though there'd been attempts in the past. I was invited to deliver a public lecture about translation, and I was excited to share what I’ve learnt with others. After the lecture, I was approached by the playwright Nadiputra, a Cultural Medallion winner in Singapore, to translate a musical that he was writing from Bahasa to English. I said yes, and the result was a bilingual publication titled Muzika Lorong Buang Kok (Lorong Buang Kok: The Musical), a play about the last kampong (village) in urban Singapore. I’ve found the process to be nothing short of cathartic. Embodying first-hand some of the challenges I’ve read about made the practice of translation even more complex than I've imagined, and this made it alluring – an enigma that’s inviting me to explore its depths. Today, I’ve translated short stories and poems, surtitles for a theatrical adaptation of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, subtitles for a 1960 black-and-white Malay movie as well as judged a translation contest. Most recently, I partook in a performance-lecture about my process as a literary translator.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Sandeep Ray talks about his cinematic and deeply resonant historical novel, A Flutter in the Colony

Courtesy of Author
Bio:

Sandeep Ray was born off the Straits of Malacca and spent his childhood next to a remote rubber plantation. He has lived in Kolkata, Massachusetts, and Jakarta. His first career was in filmmaking, working for various documentary companies based in the United States, often traveling to and in Asia. His last feature-length film, The Sound of Old Rooms (2011), was screened at many international forums and won the Grand Prize at the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival. In recent years, after completing a doctoral degree in history, he has taught at the University of Wisconsin and at Rice University, researching and teaching about the late-colonial period in Southeast Asia. He currently lives in Singapore and is a Senior Lecturer at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. His next book, forthcoming from NUS Press in 2021 is titled, Celluloid Colony: How the Dutch Framed the Indonesian Archipelago.

Synopsis:

In 1956, the Senguptas travel from Calcutta to rural Malaya to start afresh. In their new hamlet of anonymity, the couple gradually forget past troubles and form new ties. But this second home is not entirely free and gentle. A complex, racially charged society, it is on the brink of independence even as communist insurgents hover on the periphery. How much should a newcomer meddle before it starts to destroy him? Shuttling in time and temper across the Indian Ocean, A Flutter in the Colony is a tender, resonant chronicle of a family struggling to remain together in the twilight of Empire in Asia.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

New book announcement: The Book of Shanghai, edited by Dai Congrong & Jin Li

The Book of Shanghai  published in the UK in partnership with the Confucius Institute, which promotes Chinese language and culture worldwide, is the latest addition to Comma’s Press' award-winning Reading the City series.

The anthology showcases 10 leading authors from China’s largest city: Wang Anyi; Teng Xiaolan; Xia Shang; Xiao Bai; Pu Yuehui; Shen Daicheng; bestselling horror writer Cai Jun; multi-award winning sci-fi writer Chen Quifan; Wang Zhanhei; and Chen Danyan.

All the stories have been sensitively translated into English by a top-notch team of translators including Helen Wang, Yu Yan Chen and Fran Nichols.

Stories range from crime thrillers, to historical dramas set over the past 50 years, from comedic interludes, to sci-fi visions of the future. Collectively, they offer an insight into the cultures, customs and social make-up of Shanghai, the city long-heralded as the cultural capital of China, and one where Eastern and Western cultures converge.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Stephanie Chan aka Stephanie Dogfoot talks about her stirring collection Roadkill for Beginners, slam poetry, and her different performing hats.

Courtesy of Author
Bio:

Stephanie Chan’s poetry has been described as “conjuring a kind of matter-of-fact magic, full of warm, everyday rhythms and rhymes – aspects of life exaggerated or distilled to their most joyous, beautiful and/or ridiculous.” A former national poetry slam champion in Singapore and the UK, Stephanie currently produces poetry and stand up comedy nights in Singapore. She has been invited to perform on stages across five continents, including the Glastonbury Festival, Ubud Writer’s and Readers’ Festival and the George Town Literary Festival and has toured Australia, Germany and North America with her poetry. 

Synopsis:

Roadkill for Beginners is Stephanie Chan’s first collection of poetry. It’s part scrapbook of love letters to places, part field guide to the people in them. It’s a messy celebration of open mics, bonfires, and poetry stages around the world, the connections that grow up around them and the adventures that happen after. It explores desire, moving, belonging, and everything in between. It’s got apocalyptic hawker centres, magical night bus rides, and hungry turkey vultures. It’s about growing up, and not. For you, it hopes to feel like the lyrical equivalent of spooning in strange buildings then flying at full speed down a steep empty road on a bike at two in the morning.