Saturday, 17 December 2022

 

Asian Books Blog is closed from today, December 17, until January 30 2023 - after Chinese New Year. Happy reading!  If you celebrate Christmas, happy Christmas!  Here's to 2023 and to the Year of the  Rabbit!  See you in both the new solar year, and the new lunar one. 

The Forgotten Promise, guest post by Paula Greenlees


UK-based Paula Greenlees lived in Singapore during the late 1980s. She fell in love with Southeast Asia and tried to travel as much as possible around the region and beyond - travelling down a crocodile infested river in Australia with a baby is something she won’t forget! 

Her second novel, The Forgotten Promise, is told through the points of view of two Eurasian women, Ella and Noor. Ella, is evacuated to England, a country that is alien and hostile to her.

Malaya, 1920: Ella and Noor make a promise in the shadows of the jungle. A promise that life won't let them easily keep. Malaya, 1941: Ella is running her late father's tin mine in the Kledang hills, while Noor works as her cook. When the war that felt so far away suddenly arrives on their doorstep, Ella is torn from her family. Her daughter Grace is left in Noor's care as Japanese soldiers seize the mine. Ella is forced to make an impossible choice that takes her to England, thousands of miles from home. She is desperate to be reunited with her loved ones. But will the life she returns to be anything like the life she left behind?

Here, Paula discusses how family memories, history, and the experience of living in Singapore inspired her novels…

Monday, 12 December 2022

Chinese Movie Magazines: From Charlie Chaplin to Chairman Mao

 Chinese cinema has a long history, as well as the fandom around movies within China. Much like its Western and Japanese counterparts, the Chinese created magazines around film, stretching back to the 1920s. The book Chinese Movie Magazines: From Charlie Chaplin to Chairman Mao by Paul Fonoroff catalogs this unique and unexplored subculture.

Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Nicky Harman reviews two new translations of Lu Xun


Lu Xun 
 (1881 - 1936) is the leading figure of modern Chinese literature of the early twentieth-century. He pioneered writing in vernacular Chinese (as opposed to classical Chinese, hitherto the written language for the educated), producing short stories, literary criticism, essays and poetry, as well as translations from Russian. 

Two translations of Lu Xun's collection of short pieces called, in Chinese, 
《野草》(Ye Cao) dropped into my Inbox recently.

One is brand-new: Wild Grass and Morning Blossoms Gathered at Dusk, translated by Eileen J Cheng, edited by Theodore Huters, Harvard University Press (September 2022)

The other is recent: Weeds, translated by Matt Turner. Seaweed Salad Editions (2019)

Both of these are splendid volumes. The differences are largely that Eileen Cheng's includes many more pieces, as its title suggests. Matt Turner's is bilingual, useful for those who would like to consult the Chinese, which appears alongside the English. Both have detailed and informative introductions to the man and his work. Speaking as a translator, I am encouraged that two excellent versions of this collection should have appeared at almost the same time.

It is easy to see Lu Xun as a perpetually angry writer levelling savage criticism at the society he lived in. Geremie Barmé, in a piece that is well worth reading because it situates Lu Xun among his fellow writers, says, 'As with his fiction, Lu Xun used his essays to convey a message and to educate his readers, especially the growing youth readership.' Stories and novellas like The True Story of Ah Q come to mind; these were the ones that were on our university reading list, and are probably the most influential of his work, even today.

But the pieces in Wild Grass /Weeds are very different. Less polemical, more inward-looking and ruminative. (Sometimes they are even outright funny.) In these stories/essays, the narrators do not shout with rage. They hint, they meander, they tease, they dream. To understand the nuances, the reader has to concentrate hard (or read the introductions to both volumes, which are very useful).

One example is a powerful story translated by Cheng as Tremors on the Border of Degradation, and by Turner as Trembling Decay. This is how it begins:

[Cheng] I dreamed of myself dreaming.
I don't know where I am, but before me is a night scene inside a small, tightly sealed cottage. Yet I can also see the forest of dense greenery on the rooftop.
The lamp chimney on the wooden table, freshly wiped, lights up the room, making it exceptionally bright. In the bright light, on the dilapidated bed, beneath the unfamiliar, hairy, burly lump of flesh is a thin, frail body, trembling from hunger, pain, shock, humiliation, and pleasure.
The full figure's flaccid yet supple skin is smooth, both pale cheeks flushing lightly, like lip rouge coated on lead.


[Turner] I dreamt I was dreaming. I didn't know where I was, before my eyes, late night, the confining interior of a small hut ó and I could also make out a dense forest of stonecrop on the hut's roof.
On the rough-hewn table the lampshade had just been wiped clean, and the room was bright. In the glare, on the broken couch, under an unknown yet familiar hairy, fierce chunk of meat ó a thin body trembling from hunger pangs, shock, humiliation, and ecstasy. Yet the skin was relaxed, radiant and smooth; the pale cheeks reddened like liquid rouge over lead.

As Cheng describes it in her Introduction, '[The] woman sells her body to buy food for her young daughter. Jolted awake, the I-in-the-dream enters a second dreamscape, a continuation of the earlier dream, but after many years have elapsed. The now grown daughter, ashamed of her mother's sordid past, heaps scorn and abuse on the old woman. Amid the jeers of her daughter and her family, the old woman walks out of the shed at night, deep into the boundless wilderness.' This story is hauntingly beautiful but requires attentive reading to understand that the first paragraph is describing a prostitute and her client. Those words never appear anywhere in it.

This is also the moment, since I have quoted the two versions side-by-side, to say that the translators have done a very fine job. You will see significant differences in the paragraphs quoted above, from the use of the present tense and the past tense, to the specific term 'stonecrop' and the more general 'greenery'. I think it proves the point that I regularly make to students, that there is no such thing as a single definitive translation from Chinese. There are always several excellent and perfectly correct ones.

To return to the interpretation of the stories in Wild Grass/Weeds, one that I found most enjoyable is called After Death. This is the musings of a man who is definitely dead but is still able to think, and be annoyed with an importunate bookseller and a ticklish ant. I loved it and highly recommend it but I confess I still have no idea if it has any deeper meaning.

As you will have gathered, I am not a Lu Xun scholar -- my knowledge of his work has been largely limited to his appearance on our university syllabus. But I am going to take this opportunity to mention the piece which does not appear in these volumes, but which drew me to Lu Xun decades ago, when Ah Q simply depressed me. It is the speech entitled 'What Happens after Nora Walks Out, A talk given to Literature and Arts Society at Beijing Women's Normal College, December 26, 1923'. In it, Lu Xun introduces the students to Henrik Ibsen's The Doll's House in these words, 'At the outset, Nora is living contentedly in a supposedly happy household, but eventually she is awakened: she is her husband's puppet, and her children are her puppets. So she walks out, and the play ends with the sound of the front door slamming shut.' And he comes to the bleak conclusion that 'Logically, Nora really has only two options: to fall into degradation or to return home.'

What I found most appealing about his talk, and still do, is the effortless, conversational tone, and the many issues he touches on in a mere couple of pages. I was also struck, re-reading it again this week, by his ending, which reads as ominously today as when it was written ninety-nine years ago. He writes, 'Unfortunately, it's too difficult to change China: blood will flow just by moving a table or mending a stove. And even if blood does flow, the table isn't necessarily going to be moved or the mending carried out. Unless a great whip lashes her back, China will never consider budging. I think such a whipping is bound to come. Whether for good or bad is another question, but it is bound to come. When it will come and how it will come, however, I cannot exactly tell.'

 


Thursday, 24 November 2022

Khairat Kita: Interview with Fauzy Ismail and Zakaria Zainal

collection of interviews, photographs, essays and personal reflections, Khairat Kita is a project documenting the last few remaining Malay/Muslim Mutual Benefit Organisations (MMBOs) providing aid and charity to their deceased members' families. Known as badan khairat kematian, they are volunteer, community-led initiatives based on a centuries-old tradition of mutual aid. 


Khairat kematian organisations are social anchors in the community and custodians of intangible cultural heritage in Singapore’s Malay/Muslim community. 


With around 20 such organisations left, declining membership and ageing committee members, the future looks uncertain for these MMBOs.

Courtesy of Ethos Books


About the Authors:

FAUZY ISMAIL researches Singapore’s architecture and urban heritage. He completed his masters in architecture at the National University of Singapore, investigating heritage and thirdspaces in architecture, and dealt with gazetted buildings as a government conservation architect. He was an artist-in- residence at The Substation from 2018 to 2019, and was also a fashion designer in Paris.

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

The Fringe and the Fabulous: (Personal) Highlights from the Singapore Writers Festival

Poet Ng Yi Sheng (front row) snaps a photo as Claudia Rankine and Nate Marshall share a lighthearted moment during their dialogue at the National Gallery


For the first time this November, the Singapore Writers Festival served up a three-weekend extravaganza of readings, workshops, launches and discussions that seemed even longer for being the first (almost) fully in-person edition since 2019. 

The Festival has always been special to me – a time of friendships minted and renewed in the snaking queue for a Jeanette Winterson panel, of ideas seeded and watered on the grass outside The Arts House – and I've written elsewhere about how my first taste of this in 2009 turned out to be one of the formative experiences of my writing life. This year, even as I joined the ranks of seasoned festivalgoers pacing ourselves through the initial excitement (all the better to muster up energy for last night's closing party), the Festival made good on what it does best: making room both on- and off-stage for new voices, daring and more than deserving to be heard. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Bridging two cultures. Nicky Harman interviews London-based, Beijing-born Alicia Liu of SingingGrass

 

NH: Can you tell me briefly where you come from and how long you've been in the UK?

Alicia Liu: I was born in Beijing and moved to the UK to study in 2003. Although I considered myself a Beijinger, my family was a mixture of northerners and southerners from China. My dad was born in Inner Mongolia and my mum was born in Shanghai and grew up in Beijing. My grandmother was originally from Guangzhou and grew up in Hong Kong in the 1920s. I have fond memories of hearing her speaking a mixture of Cantonese and Mandarin while growing up. Since moving to London as a teenager, I've managed to spend an equal amount of my life in the East and the West.

NH: What is your company SingingGrass? (where did the name come from?) and what are its main activities

AL: My company name was inspired by the book The Grass is Singing by the British author Doris Lessing. My grandfather, a renowned literary critic and translator in China, had written the preface to the book when it was first translated and introduced to China in the 1950s. One of my favourite quotes in the book is "he knew how to get on with natives; dealing with them was a sometimes amusing, sometimes annoying game in which both sides followed certain unwritten rules."

I set up Singing Grass Communications in 2013 with the aim of guiding our clients in their engagement with China through arts, culture and lifestyle. We provide in-depth market research and insight, advise on business strategy and local partnerships for content brands such as the LEGO Group and international publishers such as Hachette Children's Group to maximise their potential in China. We also support international PR for important trade fairs such as Beijing International Book Fair and Shanghai International Children's Book Fair. (https://www.singinggrass.com)

Monday, 14 November 2022

Indie Spotlight: Returning East - from life to a story


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.




As someone who had lived overseas and traveled in many different countries, I know first hand one can fall on love with places we visit to the point of wanting to become part of that world. When we are fortunate enough to have a chance to actually do that, the experience is a deep and transformative one that we wish to share with the world. In her debut novel Returning East, author Lauca took her experience of living abroad in China, used it as her inspiration, and created a historical fiction story that follows a young man's journey to the East. Today, she tells us in her own words her own journey in turning life into a story. 


Sunday, 13 November 2022

Dinner at the Cathay, a Memoir of Old Shanghai, guest post by Lara de la Harpe


Dinner at the Cathay, a Memoir of Old Shanghai,
draws together the diverse threads of the author’s family history. Shanghai-born Maureen de la Harpe was eight months old when, in 1937,  as part of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the city was attacked by Japanese forces and two thousand people lost their lives. At the age of seven, her family and close relatives were interned in a Japanese concentration camp (Lunghua) where they were held until the end of WW2. The family left China a year later.

Sunday, 6 November 2022

IF you fancy going to the Singapore Writers Festival, read this!


Singapore Writers Festival 2022 (SWF) opened on November 4, and continues until November 20th.  Here, Pooja Nansi, poet, educator and, since 2019, Festival Director, talks to Asian Books Blog 

Q: The theme for this years’ Festival is “IF”. Why was this chosen? How and why is it relevant to writing now? 

A: As the Festival celebrates its 25th edition this year, we are entering a time where the world is emerging from a pandemic, and we’re dealing with plenty of conflict, change and uncertainty globally. Things feel a little fragile at this moment. The Festival’s 25th edition also leads us to a kind of "quarter-life crisis" in that we’re reflecting on the Festival’s legacy, thinking about what could have been, and what lies in its future. We were inspired by local poet Cyril Wong’s poem If…Else. “If” is an interesting word that holds space for both regret and possibility, and allows for retrospection and ideation. Through this year’s programmes, we invite Festival-goers to join us in imagining and reimagining possibilities, with the literary arts as a starting point. The act of writing itself is a creation of possibilities. It is one of the safest ways of exploring different scenarios and taking risks. You can rewrite the past, change the present and imagine futures. We hope that the theme of “IF” reminds us all of how through literature, we create fictional worlds through our interactions with books, play with text, dream up scenarios, imagine the unfolding of narratives, indulge in fantasies, and transcend the boundaries of time, space and geography. 

Sunday, 30 October 2022

Guest post from Victory Witherkeigh, Filipinx author of The Girl


Filipinx Victory Witherkeigh is an established writer of short stories, and a debut novelist. She is currently living Las Vegas.

The Girl is a young adult novel that subverts expectations to explore the idea that a girl's true self is more important than what she's been told. Breaking through good girl, virginal heroine stereotypes and inspired by mythology and gods, the novel asks the reader to think about what is good and what is evil.

The Girl follows a nameless main character. She’s been told since a very young age that she was a mistake, a demon who shouldn’t have been born. Shunned by her parents, she’s shuffled between theirs and her grandparents’ homes until her eighteenth birthday. The Girl is baffled by her ordinary life in Los Angeles. For all intents and purposes, she’s just like everyone else. That is, until the Demon comes to claim her.

Victory refers to her Filipinx / Pacific Islander heritage throughout The Girl.  She combines pre-colonial myths of gods and demons with a modern setting, to create a coming-of-age story of a first generation-born American. To coincide with the close of Filipino American Heritage Month in the USA, she here talks about using Filipino mythology in her writing.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are known in America as AAPI, and the term Filipinx has there been adopted to refer to people of Philippine origin or descent; it is used to indicate gender-neutrality in place of Filipino or Filipina. Now we know this, over to Victory...

Friday, 14 October 2022

Curiouser and curiouser – Nicky Harman tells the marvellous story of 'Alice in Wonderland' and its Chinese translator

 


What do cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast have in common? They’re all comfort foods that Alice thinks of when she’s in Wonderland. I was very curious to find out how the first, and possibly greatest, translator of Alice into Chinese rendered them.

You may have noticed a common theme running through my blogs. I have mentioned Alice before, in connection with a student exercise inback-translation, and in my September 2022 blog, I wrote about the translation of Chinese food into English. What inspired me to write this particular post, apart from my fascination with the Alice books and their language games, was reading, How Jane Austen’s early Chinese translators were stumped by the oddities of 19th-century British cuisine’, a fascinating essay by Saihong Li and William Hope. Early-twentieth century Chinese translators had to deal with mince pies, brawn and Stilton cheese, and Li and Hope observe that, ‘The world was not as globalised as it is now and information not so accessible.’ I would add that the dictionaries the translators had access to were (as they still are), only as good as the people who compiled them, and some were quite bad. The translators of Jane Austen were definitely at sea when it came to mince pies. ‘Although early mince pies contained meat, they became sweeter and more fruit-based in the 18th century as sugar imports increased,’ Li and Hope note. However, Chinese translators (mis)-translated mince pies in different ways, including as steak, steamed buns, and meat pies. Oh dear me.

Tuesday, 11 October 2022

Audition by Ryu Murakami Review - A Japanese Horror Love Story

Since it’s Halloween season I decided to review a Japanese horror novel. Audition by the writer Ryu Murakami, is story about a man finding a perfect woman, only to discover he’s fallen for a mask.

 


Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Aphrodisiac Foods From Distant Lands: Tse Hao Guang on Jay Gao's 'Imperium'

Editor's note: Pardon the overlong hiatus in the poetry column – which can be attributed to my having been on reservist training for the latter half of September. We return this month with an incisive review of a keenly-anticipated new Carcanet collection, by the Singapore poet Tse Hao Guang (previously featured here). 

The Chinese love our imperial imagery. We feel good surrounded by gold, and dragons, and jade. The more expensive our restaurants are, the more they try to recreate the feeling of an emperor’s banquet hall or pleasure garden. This is to say that there are many different empires spanning time and space, that different peoples have different relationships to the ideas of empire, and, in fact, a total rejection of the imperial seems to be a distinctly contemporary tendency. Indeed, the word imperium has come to mean more than simply “absolute power”, and could also refer to legal authority, as well as power derived from wealth, political office, or religious influence.

Jay Gao’s debut, so-named, promises poetry that disturbs singular ways of looking at or dealing with power. Imperium’s references and touchstones range across time and space (from Angkor Wat to Odysseus to the Vietnam war), admirably managing to reckon with such an epic sweep of ideas through the lens of the lyric “I” (disguised, sometimes, as the lyric “you”), in a relatively slim volume of poems. The best of these escape the ponderousness of their ideas and flow through the touchstones and contexts, emerging as artifacts in their own right rather than commentaries.

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!