Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Indie Spotlight: Cozy Mystery Author H.Y. Hanna on How She Chose Self-Publishing and Found Success



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, British cozy mystery author Hsin-Yi Hanna (pen name H.Y. Hanna) shares with us her thoughts on growing up with Asian parents who wanted her to choose a "practical career" while she dreamt of becoming a writer, and how she surmounted the pressure of family expectations, chose the route of self-publishing, found herself and found financial success to become a full-time USA Today Bestselling author. 


A prolific writer (with her cat Muesli as her assistant), Hanna’s works include the super popular The Oxford Tea Room Mysteries, The English Cottage Garden Mysteries, Bewitched by Chocolate Mysteries, Barefoot Sleuth Mysteries, and Paws by the Beach series. Her stories are a fun, delightful breath of fresh air, and her profitable sales enabled her to expand her reach to German and French readers with translated editions of her books, as well as the audiobooks market.


Now, over to Hsin-Yi . . .  

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Saliva Chicken and Ants Climbing Trees: Nicky Harman on Translating Chinese Food names


It is all-too-easy to ridicule the translations of Chinese dishes that you see in restaurants. There’s an entire blog post from BoredPanda devoted to it, in which a dish called ‘Germany Sexual Harassment’ is one of the less rude howlers.

Most of these horrors can be attributed to restaurants (mis-)using machine translation to create their menus. (Well, at least they tried! How many London restaurants translate their menus for foreign visitors?) But seriously…. Finding translations for food is a huge challenge, whether it is for a cookbook or a novel. By definition, there are rarely exact equivalents to specialist and local dishes anywhere in the world. And it matters. The doyenne of Chinese cookbooks, Fuchsia Dunlop, writes: Learning another cuisine is like learning a language. In the beginning, you know nothing about its most basic rules of grammar. You experience it as a flood of words, or dishes, without system or structure.’ She doesn’t underestimate the difficulties: ‘Think, for a moment, of the words we use to describe some of the textures most adored by Chinese gourmets: gristly, slithery, slimy, squelchy, crunchy, gloopy. For Westerners they evoke disturbing thoughts of bodily emissions, used handkerchiefs, abattoirs, squashed amphibians, wet feet in wellington boots, or the flinching shock of fingering a slug when you are picking lettuce.’ (Dunlop, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A sweet-sour memoir of eating in China, 2008:135)

I have never translated a whole book about food, but in Jia Pingwa’s novels, local Xi’an snacks abound. There are hundreds of them. In The SojournTeashop (Sinoist Books, 2022, forthcoming), translated by myself and Liu Jun, there are a dozen different types of noodles ( , mian ) alone. It clearly would not do the author or the dishes justice to translate them all simply as noodles. We had to think of ways of giving the reader an impression of each snack which managed to be vivid but did not get in the way of the story by being over-detailed. We can assume that most readers will have tasted few, if any, of these specialities – a lot of them were unfamiliar to me – but we regretfully dismissed the idea adding pictures, or links to them because this is after all, a novel not a cookbook. Here is a sample paragraph, the result of much discussion between Jun and me, from The Sojourn Teashop:

.........................

Prosper Street is the place for snacks. It is lined with stalls and eateries, selling mutton paomo, wonton, soup-filled tangbao buns, hand-pulled noodles – flat chemian and thick latiaozi –  steamed dumplings and pot-stickers, whole hulu chickens, minced beef steamed with rice meal or wheat, sweet barley wine, rabbit heads, maocai hotpot, stinky tofu, mung bean cake, sweet rice wine, and hot and numbing mala soup. This Xijing street is one long dining table, where vendors of snacks and specialities from across China jostle for space. There are always throngs of customers and businesses flourish. Over time, changes have taken place: where once the eateries made their own steamed liangpi noodles and shaobing flatbread, nowadays these are made offsite and delivered on three-wheelers. 

..............................

In getting this passage into English, we chose to mix our methods. For example, we have translated: steamed dumplings; transliterated with no added explanation: hulu chicken; transliterated with a gloss: hot and numbing mala soup; and substituted a word the reader would be familiar with: wonton (actually from the Cantonese). 

My co-translator Liu Jun makes an important point about food in her Translator’s Foreword for the novel: ‘[The Sojourn Teashop] … is like a mini-encyclopaedia of Chinese history, culture and society. One can catch glimpses of local snacks, learn to appreciate tea, and see how business deals are closed over dinner or mahjong.'   

So, food is an integral part of a community's culture. And as with so much translating of cultural concepts, a lot of head-scratching and debate was involved. Liu Jun goes on: ‘Learning the ingredients, recipe, history and how locals eat a snack helped us find the best solution. [For instance]…a pasta called mashi (麻什), brought to China by Muslim merchants from the Middle East many centuries ago. In Turkic language, it’s called “tutmaq”. The book also describes how this pasta is made. So I used an Italian term “conchiglie”, as it’s shaped like a sea shell. But Nicky decided that rather than confusing readers with Turkic and Italian words, it’d be better to stay with the Chinese pronunciation mashi, and describe it as “cat’s ear”, its nickname in China.’ 

I should add that I would have been quite happy to use the term tutmaq if it had been widely accepted in English, in the way that ‘wonton’ is, but it isn’t yet. And conchiglie is problematic because tutmaq/mashi is not exactly the same animal, even though it is a similar shape. 

It would be a mistake to think that only translators from Chinese have these problems. Although many words for foreign food have become common currency in the UK and other English-speaking countries (think pasta, tapas and brioche) there is still plenty to tax the translator from other languages. I recently approached Josephine Murray, a translator from French, currently completing her MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia (tweets as @MsJHMurray) and was delighted to get the following response:

....................................

‘I think that readers of translated literature are increasingly accepting of words left in the original language, particularly in this globalised age when TV, film, the internet and globalisation means people are regularly exposed to foods from other countries. If an editor is concerned that leaving words untranslated could negatively impact the reading experience, a workaround is to include a glossary of those words which have been left untranslated. I think footnotes do impede the flow of reading fiction, but I think they’re fine in non-fiction. Another option is to use a one or two word translation after the source text word on first mention, and to use the original language term on subsequent mentions and rely on the reader remembering what it means. Japanese to English translator Anthony Chambers does this in the Tanizaki story ‘The Children’. On first mention of ‘oden’ he adds the English word ‘stew’ after it to suggest to the reader what kind of a dish ‘oden’ is. On subsequent mentions he leaves oden in italics. He told me this was so readers who want more information can look it up. For me this is one of the key reasons for retaining a source text word in a translation; it enables the reader to research online to find out what the food consists of, looks like and its connotations in the source culture. I translated a short story of which food was a key part for the University of East Anglia MA in Literary Translation Anthology. It’s called The Three Christmas Eve Masses, ‘Les Trois Messes Basses’, a short story from Contes du Lundi by Alphonse Daudet, published in 1873. This involved researching different types of game birds, and also finding out what a medieval roasting spit sounds like!’  [personal email]

........................................

Finally, I couldn’t possibly sign off without telling you what Saliva Chicken and Ants Climbing Trees actually are. 

According to Chinese Food Wiki, Saliva Chicken is so called because ‘a lot of prickly ash [Sichuan pepper] is added [to the braised chicken], and you will feel numb of mouth and water flows out unconsciously after eating it.’ In other words, it’s mouth-watering.

As for Ants Climbing Trees, it’s basically vermicelli served mixed with minced pork, the grains of which allegedly resemble ants climbing trees.

Bon appetit!

 

Monday, 1 August 2022

Blog Closing for August


Asian Books Blog is closed for a summer break from today, Monday August 1,  until Monday September 19. Happy summer reading!!!!

Thursday, 28 July 2022

'Possibility and Communion': An interview with Jonathan Chan


Editor's note: When I arrived at the launch of his debut collection going home a fortnight ago, the first thing that struck me about Jonathan Chan was his voice; thoughtful and even, but with a hint of the self-assuredness that characterises so much of his writing. In the days since, I've been fretting about whether you – the reader – will be able to "hear" his responses to my questions as I hear them, with the same gentle conviction. But reading the interview in full, I realise I needn't have worried: the responses speak for themselves.  

 

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Quick notice: Abbigail Nguyen Rosewood’s Constellations of Eve


Abbigail Nguyen Rosewood is a Vietnamese and American author. After having spent 20 years in the U.S, she is now a reversed immigrant living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She has written for TIME Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Salon, Cosmopolitan, Lit Hub, Electric Lit,  and others. Her first novel, If I Had Two Lives, is published by Europa Editions.  Her second novel Constellations of Eve is the inaugural title from DVAN/TTUP, a publishing imprint founded by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, and Pulitzer winner Viet Thanh Nguyen to promote Vietnamese American literature.

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Being upbeat about being downbeat: Nicky Harman reviews "I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokpokki"


I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokpokki
, by Baek Sehee, translated from Korean by Anton Hur. (Bloomsbury, 2022)

 

Baek Sehee is a successful young social media director at a publishing house but feels persistently anxious and self-doubting, and is also highly judgemental of others. She hides her feelings well at work and with friends, and has learnt to be adept at performing calmly and easily, as her lifestyle demands. But the effort is exhausting, keeps her from forming deep relationships, and threatens to overwhelm her. She is aware that this is not normal, and seeks help. During a series of therapy sessions, a psychiatrist diagnoses Baek Sehee with dysthymia – a sort of chronic, low-grade depression. The book consists of a record of their discussions, apparently verbatim, and includes her inner thoughts on how she wants to love and accept herself better. Each session is summed up in a chapter heading: 1. Slightly Depressed 2. Am I a Pathological Liar? 3. I’m Under Constant Surveillance 4. My Desire to Become Special Isn’t Special at All 5. That Goddamn Self-esteem… and so on.

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Quite Lit, and Rightly So: Celebrating 20 Years of QLRS

Publisher Fong Hoe Fang introduces the QLRS editors

Clearly, in-person events have returned in style to Singapore’s poetry circuit. The past fortnight alone has been a buzz of activity, with a series of readings hosted by ocean-crossing nonprofit Singapore Unbound (don’t miss the upcoming Gaudy Boy reading!), as well as a stellar evening with the stalwart series Spoke & Bird, and competitive spoken word event Outspoken at Blu Jaz Café. In this firmament, one occasion stands out for its more reflective quality – a thoughtful pause before the summer flurry – namely, the launch and reading of Quiet Loving, Ravaging Search, the 20th anniversary anthology of the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS).

Thursday, 30 June 2022

'Badass' Women in Singapore Art and Literature

Source:Wikicommons, Movie Poster


Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior (The Library of America, repr. 2022) had this one line, “Girls are like maggots in the rice.” That’s not to say that all Asian women have it bad. Nor it is denying that Asian women labour to free themselves from the trampling foot of patriarchy. 

 It’s that an infinitesimal shift is in order: looking at Asian women in contemporary arts and culture, what they’re creatively producing, what they’re making, can tell us something new hopefully about how stereotypes are being dismantled, specifically, how a ‘badass’ Asian woman is being redefined. From Michelle Yeoh’s main role in Everything Everywhere All At Once to Kirstin Chen’s Counterfeit (William Morrow 2022) we are seeing a moment (arguably, cyclical) in the Asian feminist zeitgeist, a regional lens threaded through a global landscape, where female protagonists are challenging the straitjacket of how they should behave, and how they should ‘win’, without being held up as bearers of tradition or exemplars of ‘female’ or even ‘feminist’ behavior, but in fact, showing that being ‘badass’ means carving out space to be who you are, to do what you do, on your terms while embracing all your passion and imperfections. 

 

In what ways then can we begin to conceive of the ‘badass’ Asian woman for our region? This month in a non-exhaustive focus for #SingLit, AsianBooksBlog spotlights works and voices who challenge, albeit break, the framework of how a ’badass’ woman should be defined.

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

In Praise of Readers' Reviews: The Story of the Stone on Goodreads

 Nicky Harman peruses Goodreads for reviews of a classic Chinese novel.


As a translator, I’ve always been fascinated by how readers react to their first foray into translated Chinese fiction. The Leeds Centre for Contemporary Writing runs an excellent section with readers’ reviews of contemporary novels; but what about the classics? I have a personal favourite (I’m currently half-way through my second reading), The Story of the Stone, also known as A Dream of Red Mansions, or The Red Chamber Dream, an epic family saga written and set in eighteenth-century Beijing. By way of an experiment, I decided to trawl through the Goodreads review sections.
 

Saturday, 4 June 2022

The Four Immigrants Manga by Henry Kiyama

 The Japanese immigrant experience in America is often ignored, which makes works like The Four Immigrants Manga an invaluable record, both as history and as art.

Friday, 3 June 2022

Making a Scene: Literary magazines and the editors behind them


For all its prestige, the editor's role is one that often goes unsung. 

Frequently serving as proofreader, designer, gatekeeper and publisher (all rolled into one), these individuals – like the vast majority of staff who keep our publications running – are often unpaid volunteers. Those who have spent years in the job accumulate stories of strange writerly encounters, while picking up a host of unlikely skills (e.g. HTML coding, customer support) along the way. Yet, they also gain some of the sharpest perspectives on our literary landscapes, and help shape the platforms that define movements and nurture new voices. If poems are the best words in the best order, they are the ones who place them in their best light. 

In this month's poetry column, we go behind the scenes with some of the editors at beloved publications like Wasafiri, OF ZOOS, Mekong Review and the newly-launched PR&TA(Where these individuals are part of larger editorial teams, their comments represent their personal perspectives.)

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Indie Spotlight: The Tale of the Wuxia Hybrid

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 indie authors who have found success in the creative world of independent publishing.



In indie writing and publishing, wuxia is a hot and fast-growing genre. It is a genre that traditional publishers are reluctant to enter because it is far outside of the mainstream and lacks sales records. But indie writers, who can pivot much quicker, have discovered the global demand for this very popular genre from the East, and readers are hungry for more. To distinguish his books from the rest, author J.F. Lee has taken a very creative approach on how he writes his novels. Here’s his story.


Saturday, 28 May 2022

A Return to Seoul, Again, guest post by Helena Rho


Former pediatrician Helena Rho is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominated writer - the Pushcart Prize is an American literary prize celebrating the best poetry, short fiction, essays or "literary whatnot" published by USA-based small presses over the previous year. Helena's work has appeared widely in the USA and she was awarded a writing fellowship in a scheme called TWP: To Think, To Write, To Publish, administered by the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University. She is a devoted fan of Korean dramas, Korean green tea, and the haenyeo, the famed female divers, of Jeju Island.

Helena was six years old when her family left Seoul, Korea, for America and its opportunities. Years later, her Korean-ness behind her, she had everything a model minority was supposed to want: she was married to a white American doctor and had a beautiful home, two children, and a career as an assistant professor of pediatrics. For decades she fulfilled the expectations of others. All the while Helena kept silent about the traumas - both professional and personal - that left her anxious yet determined to escape. It would take a catastrophic car crash for her to abandon her career at the age of forty, and recover her Korean identity.

American Seoul, published to coincide with Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, is Helena's powerful and moving memoir of her journey of self-discovery. It reveals the courage it took to break away from the path that was laid out for her, to assert her presence, and to discover the freedom and joy of finally being herself.

Here Helena explains how working on American Seoul helped sustain her through a Covid-quarantine in Seoul…

Thursday, 26 May 2022

Crime Noir Graphic Novels Spotlight: Elaine Chiew Chats with Felix Cheong and Arif Rafhan on their collaboration for SPRAWL

Felix Cheong, courtesy of author
 

About the Author:


Felix Cheong has written 23 books across different genres, including poetry, short stories, children’s picture books and flash fiction. His works have been widely anthologised and nominated for the prestigious Frank O’Connor Award and the Singapore Literature Prize. He has also collaborated across disciplines with musicians and artists. 


Conferred the Young Artist Award in 2000 by the National Arts Council, Felix has been invited to writers festivals all over the world, including Edinburgh, Austin and Sydney. He holds a masters in creative writing and is currently a university adjunct lecturer. SPRAWL is his first graphic novel. 


Arif Rafhan, courtesy of Arif Rafhan

About the Illustrator:


Arif Rafhan is a comic artist based in Malaysia. His work can be seen in publications both in Malaysia and Singapore, Gila-Gila magazine (Malaysia), anthologies, and webcomics. He also works with Lat (Kampung Boy) as his inker and colourist. He has also collaborated with Felix Cheong on a second graphic novel, Eve and the Lost Ghost Family.


Book cover, courtesy of Marshall Cavendish



About the Book:


A hardboiled detective.  His knuckleheaded partner. And a bar girl with a mysterious past. 

Their lives intersect in the most unlikely of places – a murder scene, where a minister who supposedly killed himself 20 years ago, is found dead again. 

 

In the tradition of noir comics like Sin City, Sprawl is gritty and laced with dark humour. Innovative and surprising in its blend of poetry and art, SPRAWL is the first in a new graphic novel series by Felix Cheong and Arif Rafhan. 


_______________________________

EC: Welcome to Asian Books Blog, Felix and Arif. Congratulations on SPRAWL (Marshall Cavendish, 2021), a hardboiled detective graphic novel involving a murder and a police conspiracy. How did the book come about and what is your collaboration process?

 

FC: This book has been more than 10 years in the making, would you believe it? It began as a verse novel. Back when I was pursuing my masters [at the University of Queensland], almost poet and his pet dog Down Under was writing a verse novel. I thought I’d give it a go, especially after watching The Monkey’s Mask, a verse novel by Dorothy Porter adapted into a film.

The trigger for the story was “Sprawl”, a song about the chaos of the city by Arcade Fire. The lyrics had its hooks on me for the longest time. I imagined a noir-ish, Sin City-like Singapore. Corruption at the highest level of society, filtering down to the cops.

 

But after 14-15 poems, the story was stuck in a rut. As with most things mouldy, I just left it alone. In 2020, I picked it up again after publishing In the Year of the Virus (Marshall Cavendish, 2020). That poetry comic book gave me the confidence to write differently. Poetry not as standalone lines on the page, but as narrative handmaiden to art. That was when I approached Arif.  

 

AR: Our collaboration was 100% virtual. We had a chat on the phone and once we got aligned creatively, we continued our discussion through text messages. Basically, I would provide visuals and modify them accordingly, based on Felix's feedback. But Felix has been gracious and letting me go wild with my imagination. So, I am very thankful.


FC: Your wild imagination is just right for the book!

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Translating literature – not such a lonely business after all

 Nicky Harman writes: Literary translation, like writing, is traditionally a one-woman or one-man job. At most, two people might work together to translate a book. Large-scale collaborative translation projects are a thing of the past, the far distant past when the Bible and the Buddhist scriptures were translated. But literary translators are resourceful folk and have begun to get together in mutual support groups. Here, I interview Natascha Bruce and Jack Hargreaves, both of whom are active in such groups and agreed to tell me more about them.

 


Natascha Bruce translates fiction from Chinese. Her work includes Lonely Face by Yeng Pway Ngon, Bloodline by Patigül, Lake Like a Mirror by Ho Sok Fong and, co-translated with Nicky Harman, A Classic Tragedy by Xu Xiaobin. Forthcoming translations include Mystery Train by Can Xue and Owlish by Dorothy Tse, for which she was awarded a 2021 PEN/Heim grant. She recently moved to Amsterdam.

 




Jack Hargreaves is a translator from East Yorkshire, now based in Leeds. His literary work has appeared on Asymptote Journal, Words Without Borders, LitHub, adda and LA Review of Books China Channel. Published and forthcoming full-length works include Winter Pasture by Li Juan and Seeing by Chai Jing, both of them co-translations with Yan Yan, published by Astra House. Jack translated Shen Dacheng’s short story ‘Novelist in the Attic’ for Comma Press’ The Book of Shanghai and was ALTA’s 2021 Emerging Translator Mentee for Literature from Singapore. He volunteers as a member of the Paper Republic management team and releases a monthly newsletter about Chinese-language literature in translation.

Friday, 6 May 2022

Moro Warrior, guest post from Thomas McKenna


Thomas McKenna is a social anthropologist based in San Francisco.  He has been conducting ethnographic research in the southern Philippines since 1985. 

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese invaded the Philippines. On May 6, 1942, U.S. Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered U.S. troops in the Philippines to the Japanese. Published to coincide with the 80th anniversary of that event, Moro Warrior combines indigenous and military history, anthropology and biography, to tell the remarkable but forgotten story of the Philippine Muslim (Moro) resistance fighters of World War II. Bridging continents and cultures, it is a story of sadness and loss, but also one filled with humor, camaraderie, romance, and adventure. It is not aimed at academics, but at general readers, in particular history and military history buffs. 

So, over to Thomas…

Thursday, 28 April 2022

Asian Cartography At Its Best: The NLB Exhibition and Literary Maps



 


Asian cartography has a very special place in my heart. Cartography is Western-centric but the maps currently on exhibition until May 2022 at the National Library of Singapore’s Mapping the World: Perspectives from Asian Cartography, will show that in fact Asian cartography has a long lineage, predating Western cartography. These maps are worth several trips: not only are some of them quite rare (and difficult to access since they form parts of collections elsewhere), they span multiple kingdoms and dynasties, geographies and eras, from the religious Korean map Cheonhado (Map of All Under Heaven), Joseon Dynasty, 19th century, on loan from MacLean Collection, Illinois (Image 1) to the Idrisi world map of 1154 (on loan from the Bibliotheque national de France), produced by Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi (1100-1165) and composed in accordance with the Islamic tradition of orienting the south at the top. (Image 2) 



Image 1


Saturday, 23 April 2022

'Tastes Like A Bot, But Is Not': New poetry by Daryl Lim Wei Jie

Guest post by Laura Jane Lee

Daryl Lim Wei Jie’s sophomore collection Anything But Human is a provocative incantation of sensations and sensuality, of detritus and the mundane. The volume hails a marked departure from the poet’s momentous first collection, A Book Of Changes, landing it more on the irreverent, tongue-in-cheek side of things, as poetry goes.

Anything But Human takes its title from Wang Xiaoni’s poem ‘A Rag’s Betrayal’ (一塊布的背叛), in which she writes, “Only humans want secrecy / now I’d like to pass myself off / as anything but human.” (trans. Eleanor Goodman). With this epigraph and title, Lim ushers the reader into an immersive vignette of objects made strange. Amongst these are snapshots which one perhaps can only describe as “delightfully unpleasant” – an oxymoronic feat within itself – evoking  incomprehensible sensations in the reader’s body with lines such as “The cough caught in my / throat flowers into a bulbous alien fruit”. Lim’s poems boldly traverse regions of distaste and pleasure, a pleasure rooted in physicality skirting but narrowly avoiding the sexual; as when he writes “They call me a daughter of disorder. See you / at the dungeon later, dry but preferably wet.” 

Another prominent theme of Lim’s poems is the thrill of lush decay, speaking of compostable orchids and orangutans, richly marbled and melting sleep, and silverfish unmaking knowledge out of circulation. These are poems which run rife with the postapocalyptic stench of late capitalism, in both the domesticity of the compliant toilet and the dying oranges in the fridge; to the Costco-like supermarket of ‘Junkspace Rhapsodies’. Not only does Lim conflate the mundane and the grotesque (which are often not so different). In the poem ‘Cloisters’, he invokes the toasts bearing images of Christ and the Virgin Mary fetching exorbitant prices on eBay, and in doing so juxtaposes food, spirituality, and capitalism, arguably the primary non-human mainstays of contemporary society. While these brilliant and humdrum idiosyncrasies running throughout the book easily set Lim apart from most of his contemporaries, it is also against the backdrop of such deftly woven paradoxes that his inventive reinterpretations of Bai Juyi pale in comparison. The lacunose translations seem to lack the same urgent yet languid flippancy of Lim’s original poems, and would perhaps find a better home in a separate volume of similarly reinterpretive poems.

These shortfalls are few and far between, largely outshone and more than redeemed by the experience that comes with reading the rest of the collection. The reader is served enthralling sensations of putrefaction alongside slices of the quotidian, societal observations of the variety seen on SINGAPORE ON PUBLIC NOTICE (@publicnoticesg), as in ‘Narrative (II)’, in which the persona asks permission to pee on insects before doing so, and closely observes the plastic packaging growing out of bushes. One wonders if Lim is the very prophet he writes of in ‘The Prophet’s Day Out’ (for Wong Phui Nam) and ‘The Prophet’s Last Warning’; the reader can’t help but notice that the collection, written pre-pandemic, speaks of occurrences such as “Parliament is closed today, but so are / the KTV lounges” and “The air-conditioning doubles as disinfectant… The air-conditioning doubles as reinfectant”. 

For all the simultaneous sharpness and listlessness of his poems, Lim’s Anything But Human features lines of strange, shaking tenderness, all nestled amongst the debris. For visceral human emotions to feature amongst things which are “Anything But Human”, is for them to be heightened and distilled to a singular shade of essentiality and desperation. Equally interesting is the handful of lines strewn carelessly across the poems, which provide a provocative political commentary, issuing from the mouth of what seems to be a half-hearted commentator. Anything But Human is not without surprises – it is at turns most ostensibly human.

Upon this reviewer’s first reading of the collection on the MRT line, somewhere between Tan Kah Kee and Chinatown, she scribbled the following comment beside the first poem, ‘Expression of Contentment’:

"Tastes like a bot"

Perhaps the comment would now be better revised to: “Tastes like a bot, but is not.”


***

Laura Jane Lee is a poet from Hong Kong, currently based in Singapore. Under her former name, she founded KongPoWriMo, Subtle Asian Poetry Collective, and is the winner of the Sir Roger Newdigate Prize.

Her work has been awarded in various international competitions including the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition, Out-Spoken Poetry Prize and the Poetry London Mentorship Scheme, among others. She has been published and featured in journals and newspapers such as The Straits Times, Tatler Asia, HKFP, HK01, QLRS, ORB, and Mekong Review; and will be reading at the 52nd Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Previous pamphlets include chengyu: chinoiserie (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020) published under her former name, and flinch & air (Out-Spoken Press, 2021).

Read a review of Laura Jane Lee's 'flinch & air' here

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Can a machine translate a novel? Nicky Harman wonders.

 Rather to my surprise, I found myself at a discussion of this very question at the Literary Translation Centre, in last week's London Book Fair 2022.


This is not my first brush with computer-aided-translation (CAT) tools. Back in the day (2000-2010, so quite a few days back!) I used to teach a CAT tools module on the Translation and Technology (Scientific, Technical and Medical) MSc, at Imperial College London.

First, let’s define some terms: CAT tools do many different things. Translation Memory (TM) apps create a database of segments (sentences or phrases) from the work of previous human translators and offer them up when the human translator comes across identical or similar phrases in a subsequent translation. TM apps are regularly used by companies producing instructions manuals and their translators. Imagine, for example, someone translating an instruction manual for a washing machine where most of the text for different models is repeated, but the spec differs. Note the human agency.

There’s Machine Translation (MT), something we scarcely touched on back then because the results were laughable even between European languages. But things have changed. Roy Youdale, of Bristol University, UK, who was one of the speakers at this talk, writes in a recent article ‘Can Artificial Intelligence Help Literary Translators?’ that ‘A game-changer …. has been the incorporation of machine translation (MT) into CAT tools.’ He goes on: ‘MT basically uses a computer to search and compare the words in a source text with very large databases (billions of words) of texts already translated into the target language. In addition to the translation of individual words, the computer searches for corresponding sequences of words or ‘strings’, a process known as ‘string matching’.’ Anyone who has used DeepL or Google Translate to get the gist of an online article written in a language they can’t read, will know that the results are often quite clear and well-worded.

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Oral History as a Practice of Care: Theatres of Memory from Singapore's industrial history

 

Block 115 Commonwealth Drive, Singapore's first flatted factory.

Editor's note: Our poetry column takes a break this month as I dip into a new, brilliantly-told industrial history of postwar Singapore, published by Pagesetters

Last weekend, I found myself in a cavernous stairwell at Block 115 Commonwealth Drive, tiptoeing to see through the high, grid-like windows as a faint mustiness settled over me. The banisters were cool to the touch, smooth with decades of use, while cigarettes flattened into corners told of the building’s more recent occupants. I followed the tinkling of a windchime onto one of the upper corridors, where a door swung open to reveal shelves of clay figurines and – hunched at a long table – a potter at work. Save for the glossy poster on the wall outside, I could well have imagined men and women arriving in neatly-pressed uniforms for an afternoon shift at Roxy Electric, Wing Heng, or another of the many tenants to have occupied Singapore’s first flatted factory since it opened in 1965.

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Wesley Leon Aroozoo Shares His Inspiration for "The Punkhawala and the Prostitute"



As the saying goes, “History is written by the victors” and with that the stories and documentations of the forgotten or lesser regarded in history are usually limited or unknown. As a Singaporean storyteller intrigued with early Singapore history, I am passionate in uncovering these forgotten stories and sharing them. One of the forgotten stories that inspired me greatly belonged to the Karayuki-sans (Japanese prostitutes) who played a part in shaping the history in 1800’s Singapore. 

 

I came across bits of information about the Karayuki-sans as I naturally gravitated towards the history section of the library. I was surprised that I had no idea that we once had Japanese prostitutes in Singapore. I began to realise that the stories in our textbooks in school only covered one side of our history, in particular, stories about British Masters and philanthropists, their worldview and success stories, but not the lesser-known ones like the Karayuki-sans, who are seemingly marginalized or maybe even shied away from. Another fascinating role from early Singapore history that captivated me was that of the Punkhawala, a servant who manually pulls a ceiling fan for their masters. The role of the Punkhawala is usually carried out by an Indian servant or even an Indian convict labourer who is serving his sentence in Singapore which was a penal colony back then. I chanced upon a very brief mention of this labour intensive role and was intrigued by what could possibly be on the servants’ mind while pulling the manual fan all day. 

The House of Little Sisters: Eva Wong Nava Writes About The Challenges of Writing YA Historical Fiction







Thank you, Elaine Chiew, for the invitation to share about the challenges and issues in regard to writing historical fiction for a teenage audience, and about my book The House of Little Sisters, launched February 22, 2022. It is categorized as a Young Adult or a YA book suitable for a readership of 12-18 year olds. but YA is an age category rather than a genre, created by publishers to market books. The genre for this novel is historical fiction. 

The blurb of The House of Little Sisters tells readers that the novel is a “supernatural exposé of a past system that still has a tight grip on contemporary Singapore and Malaysia.” The word “past” gives this novel its context.  What brought me to finally write HOUSE was a burning curiosity about the employer/ helper relationship that is so predominant in Singaporean society. During a 7-year sojourn in the city-state, I was struck by how families in Singapore relied so much on their helpers. I was particularly struck by how co-dependent several employer/ helper relationships I had observed were. I wanted to know what the historical premise for this was.

I knew there were challenges in writing a historical fiction novel. Because I am also an art historian, I understand the nature of research and how sometimes, research can throw up some curve balls. HOUSE took me nearly 5 years to research. My research includes trawling through archived photographs, locating and reading historical documents, interviewing and talking to people. 

Sunday, 13 March 2022

Jokowi and the New Indonesia: How the world sees an Indonesian President Guest post from Tim Hannigan


UK-based Tim Hannigan writes mainly about Asia, especially Indonesia. He is the author of three history books: Murder in the Hindu Kush; Raffles and the British Invasion of Java; and A Brief History of Indonesia. He also edited and expanded A Brief History of Bali and wrote A Geek in Indonesia. He has written travel features for newspapers and magazines in Asia, the Middle East, North America and the UK, and has contributed to various radio and television documentaries on Asian history. He has also worked on guidebooks to destinations including Bali, Nepal, Myanmar, and India, and written and edited Indonesian phrasebooks. He works on travel writing as an academic. His research has been published in various journals and edited collections, including Studies in Travel Writing, Journeys and The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 

Now, with Darmawan Prasodjo, a political insider with unparalleled access to the president and an intimate first-hand knowledge of his decision-making processes, Tim has co-written Jokowi and the New Indonesia: A Political Biography.

In 2014, Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, was elected the seventh president of the Republic of Indonesia, going on to win a second five-year term in 2019. Raised amid poverty in a riverside slum and with a background in the furniture export trade, Jokowi broke the mould for political leaders in the world's third-largest democracy. His meteoric rise came without the benefit of personal connections to the traditional elites who have dominated Indonesian politics for three-quarters of a century, making this a true rags to riches story.

This new official biography tells the story of how the boy from the riverbank made it to the presidential palace in record time. It explains how Jokowi's background and heritage have created a distinctive style of politics and informed his ambitious development goals, including massive infrastructure projects, universal healthcare and a reimagining of Indonesia's educational system. It also looks at how a man raised with a traditionally Javanese worldview negotiates the tensions, contradictions and conflicts of this vast archipelagic nation.

Here, Tim discusses Jokowi’s international image...

Sunday, 6 March 2022

Shanghai by Riichi Yokomitsu - a Japanese Novel of Interwar Shanghai

 Shanghai between the world wars is a fascination of Westerns, the Chinese themselves, but also the Japanese. The zeitgeist of 1920s Shanghai is reflected in the appropriately named Shanghai by Riichi Yokomitsu.

Friday, 4 March 2022

TEXTURES 2022: AN INTERDISCPLINARY APPROACH TO LITERATURE & ART IN THE SINGAPORE HEARTLANDS

The fifth edition of TEXTURES (4 March 4 to 3 April) returns with the theme The Great Escape, opening in six Festival Pavilion locations (Oasis Terraces—Punggol; Sumang WALK – Punggol; Ang Mo Kio Public Library; Canberra Plaza; The Arts House, Sengkang Library) and offering workshops and programmes in other community and public library spaces (Sembawang; Toa Payoh). 








Monday, 28 February 2022

Everything you always wanted to know about Chinese literature in translation, by Nicky Harman

Full disclosure: I’m devoting my blog this month to a personal project, The Paper Republic Guide To Contemporary Chinese Literature.


Translations from Chinese – from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and beyond – have proliferated in recent years. With so much choice now available, we at Paper Republic decided to put our heads together and produce a guide for enthusiastic and adventurous readers, to be published on 1st March, 2022.
 

Paper Republic, as many of you will know, was founded in Beijing in 2007, and is now a UK-registered charity (aka non-profit), with a mission of increasing the quantity, quality, and visibility of Chinese literature in English translation. Formed around a core team of volunteers, of whom I am one, it draws on the expertise of many of the leading literary translators working in the field. Its website provides free-to-read translations of the best of new Chinese stories and poetry, as well as a database of Chinese literature and its translation. 

Saturday, 26 February 2022

“Who Dare Say?” Reading voices of witness from Burma/Myanmar in a time of war

On Thursday, as aerial photographs began to circulate of long columns of cars leaving Kyiv, their precious cargo of human life appearing painfully small from the sky, two poems came to mind. The first I had seen being shared online by concerned friends and fellow writers, a collective cry of despair and moral culpability – ‘We Lived Happily During The War’, by Odessa-born poet Ilya Kaminsky. And the other, ‘Burma’s Siberia’, I had just read in picking off new shoots will not stop the spring, a new anthology of witness poems and essays from Burma/Myanmar published last month. 

'Burma’s Siberia’ is dedicated to K Za Win, one of two poets killed when the military opened fire on civilian protestors last March. Another poet Khet Thi, who had read a rousing poem at K Za Win’s funeral, was later abducted from his home, and died in police custody. This poem was written less than two weeks after K Za Win’s death, as the wider literary circle was still reeling from a series of losses. Its author, Kyi Zaw Aye, was a friend of K Za Win’s who had hosted him in his house the night before he was shot. “Never once / the world is on our side”, it begins, “We unfurl our own flag / we unfurl our own sail / always against the wind”.