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.


Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Talented Ivy Ngeow dishes on her recent book Overboard: research, characters and the time it took to write her book

Courtesy of Author
Bio
Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. She is the author of three novels, Cry of the Flying Rhino (2017), Heart of Glass (2018) and Overboard (2020). A graduate of the Middlesex University Writing MA programme, Ivy won the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Prize and the 2016 International Proverse Prize. She has written non-fiction for Marie Claire, The Star, The New Straits Times, South London Society of Architects’ Newsletter and Wimbledon magazine. Her short stories have appeared in Silverfish New Writing anthologies twice, The New Writer and on the BBC World Service, Fixi Novo’s ‘Hungry in Ipoh’ anthology (2014) and 2020 anthology. 




Synopsis
Thailand. An epic storm. A shipwreck. A white man has been found. Alive.

But who is he? Suffering horrific injuries and burns, he is taken to a local hospital. He is mute. Everything is a blank. They tell him his name. That is all he knows. When his Chinese wife arrives, he has no choice but to return to London to her family. He starts getting better with care and more surgery until one day… he’s assaulted. And he knows why. The blow brings back a dangerous memory. But he’s crippled, disfigured and penniless… and he’s living the life of the man they think he is.  What will he risk to uncover the truth?

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Guest post: Yongsoo Park

Yongsoo Park is the author of the novels Boy Genius and Las Cucarachas, as well as the essay collection The Art of Eating Bitter: A Hausfrau Dad’s Journey with Kids, about his one-man crusade to give his children an analog childhood. Born in Seoul, he grew up in NYC. Boy Genius was a Notable Title Selection for the 2002 Kiriyama Prize, and Las Cucarachas was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Award.

Rated R Boy Life is a memoir about how life in NYC wasn’t what Yongsoo envisioned it to be when his family moved there from Seoul in the summer of 1980. The streets are filled with homeless people. The subway is covered in graffiti. Older kids on his block push him around and force him to do things he doesn’t want to do. But the biggest legacy of such a move, of course, was that for the rest of their lives, he and his family were haunted by doubt and longing for what they’d left behind and what might have been.

So, over to Yongsoo...

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.