Friday, 26 November 2021

On Making Things Up: In conversation with Lila Matsumoto

Editor’s note: Lila Matsumoto’s new collection, Two Twin Pipes Sprout Water (a Winter 2021 Poetry Book Society Recommendation), is at once plainspoken and spellbinding – a sure antidote to the charged language of our times. We’re deeply grateful to Lila and her publisher for this short interview, which took place over email. 

Theophilus Kwek (TK): Congratulations, Lila – I thoroughly enjoyed reading Two Twin Pipes Sprout Water, and you must be pleased about all the positive attention the book has received! I wonder if you could start by telling us a bit about how this latest collection builds on your earlier work (either your first book and pamphlets, or your wider practice as an artist and musician)? 

Lila Matsumoto (LM): Thank you, Theo. TTPSW collects poems and poem sequences that were written over the last two years or so. Some of the poems were originally written for particular contexts, such as for a song for Food People  (a band I play in) or as a live performance with visual elements. It’s to the credit of my incredible publisher Prototype for helping me to produce a book that ‘houses’ these discrete pieces, and at the same time keeps the flavour of their original context through elements such as typography and illustrations.   

TK: Something that struck me from the very first section of your collection was how your poems deal with being a writer. Not only with the practice of writingbut the paraphernalia of the writing life – attending book launches, literary conferences, and the like. How would you describe your relationship with your own identity as a writer? 

LM: I would probably describe it as ambivalent! I have been thinking about the artifice of the ‘writer identity’, as well as the artifice involved in writing: making things up, embellishing, presenting life through uncanny lenses. When I was a student I worked for a few years at a book festival. Although I appreciated the context of coming together to have conversations around writing, I felt uneasy about the pageantry. Lauding writers is fine, but many of the events centred on the authors rather than on their writing. There also seemed to me an assumed alignment of the books’ texts with the authors’ personal lives. Books such as Rachel Cusk’s Outline series, Alice Thompson’s Burnt Island, and Lisa Robertson’s The Baudelaire Fractal guilefully and hilariously unpack and brew more trouble about the meeting points of writing and the writing life.

"[...] I saw her art for what it really was: not a punctilious crafting of rare materials, but a reckless haunting of obscure works, made flesh in modish lingo. It was a tricksy turn of pen, a vaporous bauble. But who am I to criticise – I, too, have a searing desire for recognition, and have committed textual crimes in the name of amour propre. I have plumbed my own life for material, dressed up its feeble outlines, and have stuffed descriptions of sensual delicacies in every chapter." 

(from 'In Order to Make Words Pleasurable') 

Saturday, 20 November 2021

Guest post from Jayanthi Sankar


Though Jayanthi Sankar is a native of India, where her books are published, she lives in Singapore.  Her fiction often explores the diversity of her adopted home. She believes in ever expanding the scope of her creative world. While developing her fictional universe, she interacts with the characters she forms and shapes to create a whole new world. For her, writing a novel is process that she truly lives and she delights in experimenting with her storytelling. 

Here she discusses her two historical novels, Tabula Rasa and Misplaced Heads, and her collection of short stories, Dangling Gandhi

So, over to Jayanthi…

SWF: Quick Round Up Part 2

 Darling, You're Fabulous: An Hour With Tan France



A most enjoyable hour long chat moderated very smoothly by Maya Menon with Queer Eye host Tan France, who has not only written a memoir but now also runs his own fashion brand Was Him, a spin off of Tan France's middle name Washim, the back story of which was sadly from his childhood days of being bullied. Tan spoke about how he came to write his memoir and some of his most important values regarding style vs fashion, and why dress empowers and enhances self-esteem, how he loves to cook and how that came from being made to watch his mother cook, and how he loves styling women more than men. He spoke plainly about the discrimination faced by celebrities of South Indian descent in Hollywood, and how wearing a Sherwani on the red carpet was a political statement. Tan was not just entertaining and approachable and so likeable, but his political conscience and pride in his own culture was infectious. To him, styling people is to allow for self-expression, to bring out a quality that already exists in the wearer. Asked if he had any advice for stylish Singaporean men in terms of how to dress themselves, he couldn't resist making a gentle poke at the tightness of their clothes, which to him looked so uncomfortable: "save sexy time for behind closed doors, I don't need to see everything on the street." And in case you didn't know, Tan's comfort food is dhal, and he loves cake so much he eats it every day! Honestly, I so agree. There is nothing so dire in life that cannot be solved with a slice of cake.

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

‘Shen Yang does not legally exist.’ Nicky Harman reflects on a memoir by a victim of China’s One-Child Policy, and its unexpected impact on readers.

More Than One Child: Memoirs of an Illegal Daughter (Balestier, 2021) is Shen Yang’s story of growing up as an ‘excess-birth’ or ‘illegal’ child. She was born as a second daughter during the years of China’s one-child-per family policy (1980s to 2015). Although the policy was strictly enforced, a traditional preference for boys meant that families determined to produce a son and heir, often tried for more than one pregnancy. Baby girls were often aborted, abandoned, or adopted overseas. However, numerous second, third, and even fourth daughters survived, and grew up to suffer the consequences of their illegal status. 

 Shen Yang does not legally exist. Her official ID is still the fake document obtained so that she could attend school, by the aunt and uncle who fostered her. 

There is very little literature documenting the experiences of ‘illegals’ like Shen Yang. As a result, those who can read English (Shen Yang’s book has not yet been published in Chinese) are surprised, and often shaken, to find themselves and their lives reflected in her book. Shen Yang told me yesterday how the audience reacted at the launch of More Than One Child at the Royal Asiatic Society in Shanghai. 



13-11-2021, Shen Yang launches her memoir at the Royal Asiatic Society in Shanghai.

She writes: ‘The audience was hooked by my speech from the beginning to the very end, and some even cried. One girl in the front cried twice, which distracted me a bit and I almost forgot my lines. She was also an excess-birth child who had been adopted away from her family. I managed to give her a huge hug after the event. It was very moving. Then later another girl approached me, and told me she was also adopted. She makes documentaries now, and she wants to make a documentary with me about excess-birth children.’

Monday, 15 November 2021

Indie Spotlight: Building a community by writing - How my memoir about divorce connected people from around the world during the pandemic



Indie Spotlight is a column by WWII historical fiction author Alexa Kang. The column regularly features hot new releases and noteworthy indie-published books, and popular authors who have found success in the new creative world of independent publishing. 

 

One of the advantages of indie publishing is the freedom to bring our work to readers without adhering to the traditional model of book production. The freedom to share our work in progress with readers can help a writer determine whether her work resonates with the audience, and helps the writer improve her skills along the way by readers’ feedback. Today, I have the pleasure of introducing to you author Ranjani Rao. During the year of pandemic, when we were all stuck at home, Ranjani wrote a memoir on her divorce experience. While writing, she began sharing her progress via a subscription letter. Occasionally, her subscribers would receive sneak peaks of excerpts of her book. Through sharing, she not only built her readership, but created an entire community for people with marital problems who were looking for someone to articulate their feelings. 


As an indie author myself, I can say for certain that knowing our work touches the lives of our readers, and that our writing gave them emotional release, is one of our biggest rewards for our hard work and efforts.  And now, over to Ranjani to tell you her amazing journey. . .  

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Mrs Pinto Drives to Happiness guest post by Reshma Ruia

 

Reshma Ruia is an award winning British Indian writer. She is the author of two novels, Something Black in the Lentil Soup and Still Lives, (out in 2022). Her novel manuscript, A Mouthful of Silence, was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Award. Her poetry collection, A Dinner Party in the Home Counties was awarded the 2019 Word Masala Award. Reshma’s work has appeared in British and international journals and anthologies and has been commissioned by the BBC. She is the co-founder of The Whole Kahani, a writers’ collective of British South Asian writers. Her writing explores the preoccupations of those who possess a multiple sense of belonging. 

Mrs Pinto Drives to Happiness is her new short story collection. The stories explore universal themes of identity, culture and home and are about characters who are grappling with the socio-economic upheavals of contemporary life - everyday people whose lives oscillate between worlds and are shaped and reshaped by an imperative to anchor to a map or a feeling. A lonely woman develops an unhealthy obsession with a celebrity writer. A young man attends the funeral of his gay lover. A feisty woman escapes a life of domestic drudgery. Characters confronting ageing, love and displacement with anger, passion and quiet defiance. Characters in search of new beginnings and old certainties.   

So, over to Reshma…

Lion City Lit

Ken Hickson reviews recent titles published in Singapore, but with wide international appeal.

Friday, 12 November 2021

SWF: Quick Round-up Part One

5th: Opening Night

Marc Nair as host. Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade & Industry Ms. Low Yen Ling spoke about the resiliency of the arts community during the pandemic, and the switched-up ability to deliver content virtually. Festival Director Pooja Nansi spoke about the choice of theme: Guilty Pleasures (the cornucopia this promises), and also the politics of pleasure and what the relationship is between guilt and pleasure. There were five amazing readings: both Firdaus Sani's ode and Asnida Daud's beautifully-sung paean to the Orang Laut, bani haykal's rapid-fire rap about the future in the Malay language, Cyril Wong on lovers (wonderfully surfacing the subversiveness within the gay pink background and the food symbols of ice-cream within a state context), Marc Nair on his cat, and last but not least, Mrigaa Sethi's affecting poems about small daily joys and its sense of place.





Sunday, 31 October 2021

The land remembers: New poetry by Laura Jane Lee and Esther Vincent Xueming

Guest review by Crispin Rodrigues

October was a stellar month for debuts with both Laura Jane Lee’s flinch & air as well as Esther Vincent’s Red Earth published. Both these collections deal with social and cultural memory: what we inherit from those who came before, and how we bear witness to the present. In this, they speak of a new generation of poets who are grappling with their literary lineages, while looking ahead to the concerns of today.

***

In one of his lectures, James Joyce noted that ‘The Irishman, finding himself in another environment, outside Ireland, very often knows how to make his worth felt’. This could not be far from the truth when reading Laura Jane Lee’s flinch & air (Out-Spoken Press, 2021), which portrays women in exile through its political and familial narratives.

The first half of the collection focuses on the lineage of women in constructing the self, a narrative too often forgotten in family trees since the experience of relocation or displacement is usually presented as a masculine adventure narrative. Here, we see the weaving of poems from the perspective of multiple women related to Lee, and their stories, and the silences around them, have shaped Lee’s experiences as the central protagonist of the collection.

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

SWF: WHAT I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO



It's that time of the year again — November — my birthday month and also the fantabulous Singapore Writers' Festival extravaganza (5th -14th November), where conversations, readings and provocations happen all around my favourite subject — books and writing.  Festival director Pooja Nansi and her amazing team have once again put together a programme to make a reader salivate — this year's festival promises to cover poetry, music, historical fiction, food, K-pop, Malay mysticism, scary ghosts, female desire, crime, what it takes to write wattpad fiction, in multiple languages, and all centered around the theme "Guilty Pleasures." 

With so many programmes to titillate the mind and stimulate the eyes and ears, here are some unmissable events I'm particularly looking forward to (in no particular order, but with an eye towards diversity):

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Translating together, part 2.

 Nicky Harman continues the story of a co-translation project: Jia Pingwa's new novel, The Sojourn Teashop

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In my September blog, I wrote about co-translating a novel by a contemporary author, Jia Pingwa, in tandem with Jun Liu, a New Zealand-based translator who knows Jia’s work well. Since my last blog, we have been revising our translation and debating some knotty stylistic problems – and talking about the process at the Gwyl Haf Borderless Book Club, held to celebrate International Translation Day this year.

 

Jia Pingwa (1952- ) stands with Mo Yan and Yu Hua as one of the biggest names in contemporary Chinese literature. A prolific producer of novels, short stories and essays, he has a huge readership on the Chinese mainland, as well as in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Jia Pingwa's fiction focuses on the lives of common people, particularly in his home province of Shaanxi, and has hitherto been largely based in the countryside (Shaanxi Opera, forthcoming, and Broken Wings, 2019) or in the lives of workers from the countryside who have moved to the big city (Happy Dreams, 2017).

Jia’s most recent novel, The Sojourn Teashop (Sinoist, 2022) is very different: it is about a dozen women in Xijing (Jia’s fictionalised version of Xi’an, his home city) and their struggles to run their businesses, battle with bureaucracy and corruption, and find personal happiness.

In our collaboration, Jun did the first draft, I did the second draft, she commented, I commented on her comments, and we are now at the stage of going over the whole translation separately, and picking up any further problems, infelicities, or (perish the thought) mistakes.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Somewhere I belong: guest post from Sarayu Srivatsa


Sarayu Srivasta trained as an architect and city planner in Madras and Tokyo. Her first novel, The Last Pretence, was short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize. It was released in the UK under the title If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here. Around the time the winner of the Booker Prize is announced, the Guardian newspaper in the UK runs an annual poll of readers, Not the Booker Prize.  If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here was included on the longlist.

Sarayu’s new novel, That Was, has just been published. That Was is a coming-of-age story set in the 1990s and early 2000s amidst the ever-changing landscapes of India and Japan. One of its protagonists, Kavya, undertakes a journey of self-discovery to uncover the traumatic truth of her troubled past. That Was draws on Sarayu’s experiences of studying architecture in Japan, and of appreciating Zen philosophy, which focuses on finding joy and beauty in simplicity. It explores the idea of connections between people, places, and nature, and how Indian and Japanese cultures are intertwined.

Kavya can never truly call one place home. Here Sarayu talks about the notion of belonging, and discusses how the knowledge that both Japan and India suffer under looming memories of war and terror has influenced her writing.

So, over to Sarayu… 

Friday, 15 October 2021

Indie Spotlight: Historical Fiction - When you say ‘authentic’ . . .

Indie Spotlight is a column by WWII historical fiction author Alexa Kang. The column regularly features hot new releases and noteworthy indie-published books, and popular authors who have found success in the new creative world of independent publishing. 


As a historical fiction author, I know that readers has a high expectation of historical accuracy in our books. When we write our characters, we strive to make them as authentic as possible to the era when our stories take place. But the more I read and research history, the more I find that people in the past often behave quite differently from what we expect based on our understanding of social norms and customs of their time. Today, I invited author Melissa Addey to join us and discuss what authenticity means when we talk about historical fiction. Melissa is the author of Forbidden City, a Chinese historical fiction series about the experiences of four girls who were drafted to become concubines of the Emperor in 18th century China. 


Now, over to Melissa . . .  


Monday, 11 October 2021

The Missing Buddhas, guest post by Tony Miller


Tony Miller has just published The Missing Buddhas through Earnshaw Books (Hong Kong). Tony arrived in Hong Kong in 1972, with a degree in Modern Arabic, intending to stay three years and learn Chinese, he quickly changed his mind about leaving and spent the next 35 years serving in local government. Along the way, he developed a keen interest in Chinese painting, porcelain, jade and the conversations across borders that have influenced art and style through the ages. He is a former President of Hong Kong’s Oriental Ceramic Society and a member of the Min Chiu Society. He has published a variety of papers on previously unresearched aspects of Chinese antiquities. Since 1979, he and his wife Nga-Ching have wandered all over China, happily exploring its historic sites and natural wonders.

In the early 1900s, as chaos reigned in China, a group of life-size terracotta Buddhist monks suddenly surfaced on the antiques market and caused a sensation in the West. Sculpted vividly from life, these luohans (defenders of the Buddhist law) were completely unlike anything previously seen in Chinese art. Museums and collectors around the world competed for them, but who made them and when? And where had they been hidden before they suddenly emerged into the light?

The Missing Buddhas tells the story of these statues and unravels the question of their origins. For the past century, scholars, curators and connoisseurs have all seemed mesmerized by the German dealer, Friedrich Perzynski’s account of his search for them in inaccessible caves southwest of Beijing, where monks had allegedly hidden them from barbarian invaders. Perzynski documented his search in Jagd auf Gotter (Hunt for the Gods ). Tony takes a scalpel to Perzynski's ideas about the statues' provenance, explores a window on a fascinating period in Chinese history, and introduces an extraordinary cast of characters as he leads the reader clue by clue to the real origins of these beautiful enigmas.

So, over to Tony...

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Making Sense of Memory: In conversation with Parwana Fayyaz

Editor’s note: Parwana Fayyaz’s highly-anticipated debut was released earlier this year, titled ‘Forty Names’ after a gorgeous poem (first published in PN Review) that won the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in 2019. In this conversation with the Asian Books Blog, she unravels the many strands of tradition and translation woven into the fabric of this collection. This short interview took place over email, and has been lightly edited for clarity. 


Congratulations, once again, on the publication of Forty NamesI read all the poems in one sitting yesterday, and the most distinctive thing about these poems, to me, is the striking narrative voice that threads through them. At times, this voice seems to belong both to the child in the poems, listening to some of these stories for the first time, and to you today, re-telling them many years on. How did these poems take shape, and how long did that process take? 

Saturday, 2 October 2021

5 Horror Manga Recommendations That Aren't Junji Ito

It's spooky season again, so that means horror, specifically, horror manga. Japanese comics have a long history of horror stories, but the mangaka Junji Ito has become synonymous with the genre. He's an indisputable master at the craft, no doubt, I even spotlighted 10 recommendations of his work, but there are many other horror manga to choose from. Here's a list of 5 to choose from, that aren't from Junji Ito.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Singapore At Home: Life Across Lines — A Review by Elaine Chiew




Singapore At Home: Life Across Lines (Kitaab, 2021), edited by Pallavi Narayan and Iman Fahim Hameed (cover artwork by Pallavi Narayan), blends fiction and biographical accounts in an anthology that explores the idea of home from a variety of perspectives: from home-grown Singaporeans to more uniquely, the current diasporic Indian community in Singapore (arguably, a different metaphysical state from Indian migrant labour a century ago). An exemplar of current Indian diasporic consciousness in this anthology is Aparna Das Sadhukhan’s wonderfully touching story, ‘The Gardeners of Lim Tai See’, in which a new bride from India draws unexpected comfort from her elderly Chinese neighbour with the green thumb, more so than from her Singaporean-Indian husband.  

Any anthology set in Singapore does need to pay heed to issues of diversity in voices, and there is a healthy cross-section here in terms of geographic area (from shophouses in Geylang – Ken Lye’s ‘Her Father’s Business’ – to condo units in Tanjong Rhu – Payal Morankar’s ‘Aaji’s Vicissitudes’) as well as social lines in terms of race, age, class and culture (though not enough on sexual orientation). 

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Call for Submissions: Top Asian Writing

UK-based digital first indie press Leopard Print London, which focusses on diverse fiction and non-fiction, is thinking ahead.

Are you interested in contributing to an anthology Leopard Print is producing, provisionally called Top Asian Writing 2022.

Leopard Print is looking for fiction or non-fiction set in Asia, preferably in Southeast Asia.

No theme, just Asian or Southeast Asian, general fiction or non-fiction, but not horror, paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi dystopian, and no COVID, pandemic, lockdown, or vaccine-related writing. 

5000 words max, but you can submit more than one entry.

Deadline 15 December 2021.

Top Asian Writing 2022 will be published in ebook and paperback, and if your piece is selected for inclusion you will get share of royalties with other contributors.

If interested, contact the editor, Ivy Ngeow: ivy_ngeow@yahoo.com

Sunday, 19 September 2021

The Life-Art Synergy of Lily Wong in Hong Kong by Tori Eldridge


Tori Eldridge is the Honolulu-born Anthony, Lefty, and Macavity Awards-nominated author of the Lily Wong mystery thrillers: The Ninja Daughter, The Ninja’s Blade, and The Ninja Betrayed. Her shorter works appear in horror, dystopian, and other literary anthologies, including the inaugural reboot of Weird Tales magazine. Her screenplay The Gift was a Nicholl Fellowship semi-finalist, and her dark Brazilian fantasy, Dance Among the Flames, is set to release May 2022. Tori holds a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninja martial arts and has performed as an actress, singer, dancer on Broadway, television, and film.

The Ninja Betrayed, the third book in the Lily Wong series, has just been published. Things get personal for Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja Lily Wong in Hong Kong when she dives into the dangerous world of triads, romance, and corporate disaster during the height of the pro-democracy protests. As Lily and Ma discover shaky finances, questionable loans, and plans for the future involving them both, Lily’s escalating romance with Daniel Kwok puts her heart at risk. Will her ninja skills allow her to protect her mother, the family business, and the renegade teen while navigating love, corporate intrigue, and murderous triads?

Here, Tori discusses the life-art synergy of Lily Wong in Hong Kong. 

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

More than one cook improves the broth. Nicky Harman gives a shout-out for literary team translation.

There are famous historical precedents for translators working as a team. This is especially true in religious texts. One of the greatest projects of all time, the translations of the Buddhist sutras from Sanskrit into Chinese, was carried by teams of translators working in a government department. The British Library not only has a collection of sutras in Chinese, their website also has an interesting article about the translators and the translations.

In more recent times, the Bible (notably the St James’ version) and bible commentaries have been translated by committees. So what are the challenges? I found this useful comment from one of the translators of Hermeneutics in Romans: Paul's Approach to Reading the Bible by Timo Laato. ‘Translating as a team is a difficult process. I find it to be a deeply personal endeavor and every translator I know attacks projects and translation problems differently. [On] taking over [my predecessors’] work…[t]he first thing I had to do was read the original and their translation in tandem, to see what their word and style choices had been for translation. A translation is going to suffer more than continuity if a second translator decides to use a slightly different word than the one originally used. Often a translator can choose from up to five or six words all with different shades of meaning to use for almost every word on a page.’

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Quick notice. The Lettuce Diaries by Xavier Naville


About the Book
: A snobbish French executive arrives in Shanghai with his expensive shoes and ties, expecting a short career-boosting posting before returning to Paris. Instead, he ends up deep in China’s manure-soaked fields, buying and selling vegetables, all because he has convinced himself that he can single-handedly drag Chinese agriculture into the 21st Century. It didn’t work out as he planned. The Lettuce Diaries is a revealing and humorous memoir of entrepreneurship, doubling as a primer for all seeking to do business in China, and explaining things the French executive, Xavier Naville, learned the hard way — like humility and listening to people.  

The Japanese Home Front 1937 - 1945 by Philipp Jowett & Adam Hook

As I’ve stated many times, there’s long been a blind spot about the Asian Theater of World War II. You can stack the books written about Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan side by side, the former would dwarf the latter. When books do appear about Japan during World War II, they are usually about the front in the Pacific, or, less often, in the Chinese and Burma theaters. A notable exception is Japan At War: An Oral History. However, Osprey Publishing has recently released The Japanese Home Front 1937 – 1945, which aims to help fill that gap.

Monday, 23 August 2021

On Being Blue: In conversation with the editors of 'Atelier of Healing'


Editor's note: Given the upheavals of the past two years, a theme that has surfaced repeatedly at discussions and readings of poetry is the power of the form to comfort and restore, especially when solutions or explanations seem out of reach. At an event organised by the Migrant Writers of Singapore last month, for instance, many poets responded directly to the themes of 'anguish' and 'loss', reliving and sharing catharsis through poetic encounters. 

For this month's poetry column, I spoke to the editors of a recently-launched online anthology on trauma and recovery, Desmond Kon and Eric Valles (who both previously featured on the blog here and here). Published by Squircle Line Press, Atelier of Healing is a free e-anthology, and may be accessed at this link

Sunday, 8 August 2021

The Flower Boat Girl, guest post from Larry Feign


Larry Feign is an award-winning writer and artist who lives walking distance from notorious pirate haunts on an island near Hong Kong. He is the author of several books about China, as well as a children’s book series under a pen name. He is married with two grown children.

His latest novel, The Flower Boat Girl, set along the South China coast, in the early nineteenth century, is based on a true story. Sold as a child to a floating brothel, 26-year-old Yang has finally bought her freedom, only to be kidnapped by a brutal pirate gang and forced to marry their leader. Dragged through stormy seas and lawless bandit havens, Yang becomes involved in the dark business of piracy. In order to survive, she carves out a role despite the resistance of powerful pirate leaders and Cheung Po Tsai, her husband's flamboyant male concubine.  As she is caught between bitter rivals fighting for mastery over the pirates, and for her heart, Yang faces a choice between two things she never dreamed might be hers: power or love.

Here Larry discusses how he went in pursuit of a pirate queen…

Friday, 6 August 2021

Serve the People! by Yan Lianke - A Novel of the Chinese Cultural Revolution

The Cultural Revolution has been a taboo subject in China, but confusing and forgotten to Westerners. The political upheavals instigated by Mao Zedong between 1966-1976 were baffling to those who observed and participated. Mao ostensibly sought to create a new, permanent revolutionary China, doing away with old ideas, old customs, and old culture, but his main aim was to purge all political rivals and enshrine himself as a godlike figure, which somewhat continues to this day. It is during this tumultuous era, that the novel Serve the People! by Yan Lianke takes place.


Thursday, 5 August 2021

Indie Spotlight: Why I Write – Multiple-Award-Winning International Mysteries and Crime Thrillers Author Tikiri Herath Uses Storytelling to Empower Women Around the World


Indie Spotlight is a column by WWII historical fiction author Alexa Kang. The column regularly features hot new releases and noteworthy indie-published books, and popular authors who have found success in the new creative world of independent publishing. 



Today we bring to you Tikiri Herath, author of the six-book, multiple-award winning Red Heeled Rebels Thriller series. In her blog post below, she tells us how she uses fiction combined with personal insights gained through her heritage and experiences traveling and living abroad, to empower and give a voice to the most vulnerable and exploited women in the world. When I learned about her goals behind her books, I’m in awe of what she has done.

Red Heeled Rebels features a cast of diverse female characters in their twenties, hailing from four continents. Red Heeled Rebelsis the story of how the characters overcome their dark pasts, form a multinational found family and transform themselves into furious, feisty fighters who hunt down those who stole their humanity, and make them pay. You can find out more about the Red Heeled Rebels thrillers here: www.RedHeeledRebels.com.

Tikiri’s new Merciless Murder Mystery series follow up on the same characters from Red Heeled Rebels in their thirties, as they travel from town to town in America, solving cold cases and standing up to local authorities, solving the puzzles before anyone else can. The Merciless Murder Mystery series is here: www.TikiriHerath.com/Mysteries

Now, over to Tikiri . . .  

Monday, 2 August 2021

Raelee Chapman chats with Audrey Chin, author of The Ash House.


 

Background: 
At the 2014 Singapore Writers Festival, I met Singaporean author Audrey Chin by the coffee cart. This super-friendly petite lady with short spiky hair was raving about the muffins. We got talking and introduced ourselves. I was covering some festival events for this blog. It was awkward and embarrassing to admit I hadn't heard of Audrey or known that her novel 'As the Heart Bones Break' was nominated for the Singapore Literature Prize. Fast forward seven years, Audrey and I are good friends and co-run a book club together that focuses on reading Asian literature. I am thrilled to invite her back to Asian Books Blog to discuss her new Asian gothic novel 'The Ash House'. 

Friday, 30 July 2021

Poems from a pandemic: Starting notes on a new (sub)genre?

 

My trusty webcam: indispensable for Zoom poetry workshops!

Earlier this year, I invited four poets and teachers – Inez Tan and Ann Ang, and Jennifer Wong and Esther Vincent Xueming – to each tell us about an Asian poem they love teaching. As is so often the case with such conversations, I was led to reflect too on some of the poems I’ve enjoyed discussing with students, in recent workshops for younger poets, migrant writers, or communities like ‘Writing the City’, curated by Jon Gresham. In particular, I’ve been thinking about poems that speak to what has surely been the biggest elephant in the (class)room for the past many months: COVID-19.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Talking About Rakugo: The Japanese Art of Storytelling, guest post from Kristine Ohkubo


Los Angeles-based indie-author Kristine Ohkubo uses her work to explore topics related to Japan and Japanese culture. While growing up in Chicago, she developed a deep love and appreciation for Japanese culture, people, and history. Her extensive travels in Japan have enabled her to gain insight into this fascinating country, which she shares through her books.

Kristine’s first book, a travel guide, was published in 2016. She has subsequently published four other books. Her new book, Talking About Rakugo: The Japanese Art of Storytelling  introduces readers to rakugo, Japan’s 400-year-old art of storytelling. It draws on biographical information, anecdotes, interviews, and rakugo scripts to explain why this traditional art form has endured for centuries. 

Talking About Rakugo: The Japanese Art of Storytelling was written in collaboration with Tokyo-based English rakugo storyteller, Kanariya Eiraku. Eiraku, who began performing in 2007, is a former member of Tatekawa-ryu, the rakugo school founded by the late great rakugo master, Tatekawa Danshi. Eiraku has translated and performed over sixty classical and contemporary rakugo stories. Since 2007, he has performed in front of enthusiastic audiences in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Laos. The founder of both the Canary English Rakugo Company and the English Rakugo Association, Eiraku teaches English rakugo in Tokyo to a wide range of students. He also offers online English rakugo classes here.

So, over to Kristine...

Sunday, 18 July 2021

On Naming Malaysian Chinese Characters guest post by Elizabeth Wong


Elizabeth Wong is Malaysian and grew up in Kuala Lumpur. She currently works as a writer, author and geologist in London. Liz is interested in stories of Malaysia and also of this large world we live in — deserts, seas, rocks. She has degrees in Geology and English from Yale University and Imperial College London. Her debut novel, We Could Not See The Stars, has just been published by John Murray. 

Han’s uneventful life in a sleepy fishing village is disturbed when a strange man arrives, asking questions about his mother. Han doesn’t trust Mr Ng, but his cousin Chong Meng is impressed with the stories of his travels and tales of a golden tower. Together they steal Han's only memento of his mother, before disappearing. On a faraway island, across the great Peninsula and across the seas, the forest of Suriyang is cursed. Wander in and you will return without your memories. Professor Toh has been researching the forest of Suriyang for years. He believes that the forest hides something that does not wish to be discovered. An ancient civilization. A mysterious golden tower. Chong Meng is tangled up in the professor’s plans to discover the truth about Suriyang. Han travels the breadth of the Peninsula to find his cousin before it is too late. How much will Han sacrifice to discover who he really is? 

Here, Liz discusses the complexities of naming Malaysian Chinese characters.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Down the rabbit hole – Nicky Harman takes a look at Bristol Translates Online Summer School


I have taught many summer schools in translation, and I have run translation workshops online. But I have never, until last week, taught an entire summer school online. It was of course, Covid which dictated it. Last year’s school was cancelled but this year, it happened, all credit to some brilliant and determined organizers.

The students certainly had faith that it was going to work. There were groups for eleven languages, and several had so many applicants that they divided into two, or even three, groups. There were twenty-four people translating from Chinese into English, so we had two groups.

I am a firm believer that literary translation is a skill you learn by working on it. And did we work! There was a buzz of collective creativity from beginning to end. We discussed the minutiae of language in painstaking detail, from the meaning of the individual words we were translating, to the overall style and how to recreate it, to the ethics of translation and the translator’s responsibility both to the author and to the reader.

We missed the socializing, the face-to-face meetings, during and after workshop sessions. But there was an upside to running the course online: our participants translating from Chinese came from all over the world and several different time zones, from the Americas, to the UK and various European countries, and China and Hong Kong. It is likely that not all of them would have been able to attend had the summer school been run in the traditional way, in Bristol.

One of the joys of translation workshops is that the tutor learns too. We worked, amongst other pieces, on an excerpt from Happy Dreams, where a migrant worker hangs onto his green builder’s safety helmet despite the ribald jokes about his wife cuckolding him (戴绿帽子, putting the green hat on him) in his absence, and one student pointed to the man’s grinding poverty – he had no other possessions to hang onto, something I had not thought of. And there were many other illuminating insights. As one would expect from a diverse and highly-motivated group, some of whom, with great determination, not to say heroism, were getting up at the crack of dawn or staying up until the small hours, to attend it.

Anyway, after three days of intensive hard work, the last session of the last day is traditionally a time to do something a little light-hearted. So I picked a short piece in Chinese translated from a classic English novel, made a very feeble attempt to disguise what the original book was, and asked them to translate it back into English. It was Alice in Wonderland,


and in case you have not read it recently (and there’s an exhibition on at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London which should encourage anyone to go back to the book), it is full of the most wonderfully liberating and mind-bending language. Not an easy task to translate into any language, especially the nonsense rhymes.

The Chinese version I asked them to back-translate from is itself a classic. It is the work of Zhao Yuanren (also known as Yuen Ren Chao, 1892-1982) a Chinese-American linguist, scholar, poet and composer.

As Minjie Chen writes in her Earliest Chinese Editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at Princeton, “In the preface he wrote for the first Chinese edition of Alice, Chao acknowledged the challenge of translating the book. As he rightly observed, Alice was neither new nor obscure by the time he decided to give it a try–the book had been out for more than fifty years and entertained multiple generations of children in English-speaking countries. The reason why no Chinese version existed, he figured, was the formidable challenge posed by word play and nonsense in Carroll’s writing (Chao 10). In fact, the only “Chinese version” that Chao was aware of was done, albeit verbally, by Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston (1874-1938), tutor to Puyi (溥仪), the last Emperor of China. The Scot had told the story of Alice in Chinese to the lonely teenage boy in the Forbidden City. Chao decided that his translation project with Alice, carried out in the midst of Chinese language reform movement, would be an opportune experimentation with written vernacular Chinese ….. In Chao’s trailblazing Chinese translation, we witness how Alice encompasses both general challenges and unique Carrollian tests for a foreign language and how the translator meets them head-on through a creative and imaginative employment of the Chinese language.”

So… not a task for the faint-hearted then. But back to my students. They worked on a  nonsense rhyme from the jury scene in chapter 12 of Alice in Wonderland. We played around with updating the White Rabbit, giving him a mobile phone instead of a pocket watch, but I present here, with their permission, a snippet from the end of this beguiling poem. The White Rabbit is reading….

她还没有发疯前,

你们总是讨人嫌,

碍着他同她同它,

弄得我们没奈何。
  
 
她同他们顶要好,

别给她们知道了。

你我本是知己人,

守这秘密不让跑。

In pinyin, that reads,

Tā hái méiyǒu fāfēng qián,/nǐmen zǒng shì tǎo rén xián,/àizhe tā tóng tā tóng tā,/nòng dé wǒmen mònàihé./Tā tóng tāmen dǐng yàohǎo,/bié gěi tāmen zhīdàoliao./Nǐ wǒ běn shì zhījǐ rén,/shǒu zhè mìmì bù ràng pǎo.

I did not indicate any kind of rhyming scheme to the students. I gave them no guidance at all. They just had to do their best with the Chinese verses in front of them. This is how they translated it back into English,

Back before she went insane
You were always such a pain
To him, to her, to everyone
Pray tell, what could we have done?

She and the guys get on so well,
As for the ladies, hush, don't tell!
Good friends we'll be for all our days,
If this secret between us stays.


After they had finished, I showed them the English. Carroll wrote,

My notion was that you had been
(Before she had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him, ourselves, and it.
 
Don't let him know she liked them best,
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me.'

 Lewis Carroll and Zhao Yuanren would have been proud of the Bristol Translates students. I was.