Sunday 17 August 2014

Click here for an account in Harvard Magazine of how Harvard Library is helping to preserve Tibetan literature by digitizing works that survived China’s Cultural Revolution.

Monday 11 August 2014

500 Words From Harriette Rinaldi

500 Words a series of guest posts from authors, in which they talk about their newly-published books.  Here Harriette Rinaldi explains the background behind Four Faces of Truth, published by Fireship Press.

Harriette Rinaldi, an American, had a long career with the Central Intelligence Agency. During her time as a spook she undertook many challenging overseas assignments, and held several leadership positions – she founded the CIA’s Women’s Leadership Forum.

Four Faces of Truth is Harriette’s first novel. It is set in Cambodia, from the early 1960s until the present day – so including the time of the rise and dominance of the Khmer Rouge. It interweaves the stories of four narrators; like the four faces which stare out from the towers of the famous Bayon temple, at Angkor Thom, each narrator views the world from a different perspective.

Hem Narong, a former Buddhist monk, serves on the staff of General Lon Nol, the first President of the Khmer Republic. He sees how the General’s ineptitude and failings as a leader facilitate the rise of the Khmer Rouge.

Sophana, a young graduate of an elite secondary school, joins the Woman’s Communist Organization.  She is ultimately betrayed by the revolution she once supported, loses her entire family in the killing fields, and continues to be haunted by brooding shadows and visions of the horrors she has witnessed.

Eng Maly, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, specializes in diseases of the mind. Maly treats Pol Pot’s wife, Khieu Ponnary, for paranoid schizophrenia and accompanies Ponnary on dangerous treks across the country on behalf of the revolution. Maly witnesses Ponnary's malign influence on her husband.

Marcel Blanchette, a French-Canadian archaeologist restoring ancient temples, must today contend with the damage inflicted on Cambodia’s architectural heritage and natural resources by the Khmer Rouge. He decries efforts by contemporary Cambodian rulers to foster national amnesia regarding the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, which he terms patriacide - the attempted annihilation of an entire country and its people, including its collective memory.

So:  500 Words From…. Harriette Rinaldi

Why did I decide to write this novel now, almost forty years after the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia? Because too many people throughout the world are either unaware of or have forgotten about the horrible crimes of the Khmer Rouge. There are important parallels and lessons that apply to what is happening elsewhere in the world today.

I lived in Cambodia during the 1970s, met key government as well as Khmer Rouge personalities (including the sister of Pol Pot’s wife), and was able to travel to many parts of the country despite the ongoing war between government and Khmer Rouge forces. I had a unique opportunity to observe the folly of U.S. policies and the failings of Cambodian government leaders, and the beauty of Cambodia’s amazing natural resources, in contrast to the looming specter of a nightmarish regime intent on destroying everything and everyone in its path.

I used the vehicle of historical fiction to tell this story and to present it through the voices of four fictional narrators whose lives often intersect, forming a unified mosaic. Books by historians about the Khmer Rouge are largely inaccessible to lay readers, while memoirs by Khmer Rouge survivors are often devoid of any wider historical context. My goal was to enable the lay reader to understand not only the suffering of the Khmer people, but also the overarching political and cultural influences that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge. 

To write this book, I had access to unique source material, including the recently declassified correspondence between U.S. President Richard Nixon and Cambodian President Lon Nol. I also enjoyed full access to the treasure trove of information found in the Khmer Rouge secret archives in the 1990s by a Yale University team led by historian Ben Kiernan, who encouraged me to write this book.

Another topic briefly touched upon by historians and journalists is the extent to which Pol Pot was influenced by his wife, who is usually described as mentally unstable or emotionally fragile. In fact, she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. I used material from a variety of sources, including doctors who treated her in Beijing, to demonstrate just how she enabled her husband’s descent into evil while she was gradually consumed by madness. 

Friday 8 August 2014

New & Notable (Asian Publishers)

New from Ethos Press, in Singapore, Troublemaker is a collection of journalist and blogger Bertha Henson’s columns. They represent her take on the news of the day, spanning political and social happenings in Singapore from the middle of 2012. Sometimes serious, sometimes hilarious, Bertha brings a questioning eye to news commentary, zooming in on issues that provoke controversy.  

About the Author

Bertha Henson worked in the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) stable of newspapers for 26 years, finally as Associate Editor of The Straits Times, Singapore’s national English-language broadsheet. In 2012, she left the organisation to start her own media consultancy,
Newsmakers, and to teach at the National University of Singapore. She started her blog, Bertha Harian (Bertha's Daily) the day after she left SPH, and launched Breakfast Network, a semiprofessional news and views website with friends and undergraduates in early 2013. The website closed at the end of the year because she and fellow editors declined to meet registration requirements then newly-imposed by Singapore’s Media Development Authority.

ISBN:     9789810914738
Price:     local currencies
Format:  Paperback / eBook

Thursday 7 August 2014

Looking Back At Byron...

The 2014 Byron Bay Writers Festival has just finished.

Byron turned on mostly perfect winter weather for the Festival, attended by thousands of readers who reveled in relaxed literature by the beach at many of the sell-out sessions.

Festival Director Edwina Johnson is thrilled her first Festival Program was so well received by the local and wider community.‘The whole event ran incredibly smoothly, our volunteers once again doing Byron proud.’

According to Johnson the convivial 2014 tone was set by the gregarious Festival authors from Opening Night at the Byron Bay Surf Club. ‘Delta Kay’s welcome to country was incredibly moving – you could hear a pin drop in the room and Tim Eddy’s short film summarising our Five Writers, Five Towns in Five Days regional literary tour was a triumph. People didn’t want to leave.’

Johnson says the audience for Jeanette Winterson’s Keynote Address was so large it spilled out the back of the marquee for 10 metres.  ‘Jeanette’s speech, The Stories We Tell captivated the estimated 1000 people at her session and moved many to tears. She received a rousing standing ovation and afterwards, the book signing queue stretched out and around the bookshop.’

The crowd at the Andrew Denton and Andrew Knight conversation with Geoff Lemon also spilled out of the tent. ‘Bringing the Andrews together for a session has been a long-held dream of Festival Founder Chris Hanley and it was worth the wait,’ says Johnson. ‘The tent continuously erupted in laughter as the privileged audience listened in on the conversation between these two extraordinary men.’

Collins Bookseller Gabi Calder says the quality of the program and the willingness of the audience to engage with authors and their work resulted in a roaring trade for the book store. ‘At the end of our first day Womankind Magazine was our biggest seller. Jeff in Venice by Geoff Dyer, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson and The Stellar prize-winning book The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Claire Wright were also top-drawcards.  In fact, all of Jeanette Winterson’s books sold incredibly well all weekend.’

‘Bob Brown was the biggest seller of any Festival book we’d ever had,’ says Calder.  ‘Rabia Siddique’s memoir Equal Justice sold incredibly well. Malcolm Fraser’s Dangerous Allies was also a big hit and the engagement during his book signing was wonderful to watch. The Festival vibe was just buzzing and it is great to see patrons being inspired to buy so many books.’

Johnson says nearly all of the off-site feature events sold out. ‘We were still being inundated with requests to attend the sold out Liner Notes as we opened the doors. It was the talk of the Festival on Saturday morning – a brilliant literary cabaret led by the hugely talented Michael Nolan.’

It seems the Byron Writers Festival is not only a favourite for festivalgoers but also with authors. ‘So many authors pulled me aside over the weekend to tell me Byron was their favourite festival,’ says Johnson.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Finkel found the surroundings astonishing and humbling. ‘Come for the books, stay for the weather’, Finkel says. ‘It was nice to see how thoughtful people are here. It's been great. I’m glad I came.’

One of Antony Loewenstein’s Festival highlights was seeing the keynote address. ‘Jeanette Winterson was eloquent, funny and witty. She’s a writer who makes listeners love literature. Set in the beautiful, mostly sunny, Byron, authors discussed everything from Palestine to Gaza, to disaster capitalism, engaging audiences who get angry and are passionate.’

Kathryn Heyman says her biggest highlight was swimming in the ocean with Claire Wright early one morning. ‘I found the whole Festival experience to be be utterly blissful. On my way to do Salvation through Story session with Alex Miller, Shady Cosgrove with Geordie Williamson, I found myself feeling uttering transported. I was in a state of bliss. The conversation with Geordie was really fabulous, it felt rich and meaty.’

Local writer Martin Chatterton enjoyed the Evening with John Safran and Father Bob Maguire held in Lennox Head. ‘It’s great to see the Festival spreading its wings and reaching new audiences. This was the best ever program.'

The Festival also welcomes many publishing executives. Beverley Cousins from Random loves the relaxed atmosphere of the Byron Festival. ‘This is my first time in Byron and I love the way you can move easily between sessions and dip into different topics. It feels very inclusive.'

Johnson says she has so many ideas for the 2015 Festival.  ‘Even as I close the marquee flaps on this event, my mind is churning with all the exciting ideas for next year. I can’t wait to start inviting authors.’

Tuesday 22 July 2014

AP Writers Conference by Vanessa Deza Hangad

Last Thursday, over 100 participants met at the Arts House in Singapore for the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators (AP Writers) 2014 conference, four days of discussion with the theme Bridging Cultures: creative writing and literary translation. Vanessa Deza Hangad reports.

The idea of links across differences prevailed. There were representatives from Singapore and all over Asia, including India, Pakistan, mainland China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Italy and the UK were represented as well. Then there were the global citizens. The hyphenated Asians - Filipino-Australian, Asian-American, Singaporean-Canadian - who lined up for cordials and cakes along with a prominent American translator who had been living in Indonesia for over thirty years and an Australian travel writer based in Thailand. Clearly, the participants themselves were the living embodiment of bridges, people for whom nationality and identity are not always fixed points but figurative places to be traversed by the written word.

Topics discussed were similarly diverse, and encouraged a vigorous exchange of ideas.

Among Thursday’s roundtable topics were What is Literature, Gender Politics: forcing the issues, and Poetry: art and soul of it.  Regional-specific discussions included Indonesian Literature Today and Conversations on Writing Today from Pakistan.

On Friday, the roundtable discussions included Changes to the Literary Landscapes and New Publishing Opportunities, How Translation Transforms both the Text and Translator, and The Teaching of Creative Writing in English and the Influence of the Mother Tongue.

On Saturday, roundtables included Language and Politics: new dynamics, and Writing for Children.

Published authors led the workshops, which were informative and constructive. Freelance writer Damyanti Ghosh, a veteran of many conferences, said she thought AP Writers’ workshops were high-quality and worth the money, adding: “They have a concrete focus. The workshop leaders have a precise brief of what they are supposed to do.” She particularly liked Tim Tomlinson’s Links, Fragments and Continuity and Sally Breen’s Editing Your Manuscript. For myself, I found both the writing exercises from Tim Tomlinson, and also Dr Tony Burch’s Creative Writing Fiction relevant and on-point.

At least 15 book were launched, with readings interspersed through all four days.  Launches included those for Agnes S. L. Lam’s Becoming Poets: the Asian English experience, Linda Jaivin’s new novel, The Empress Lover, set in Beijing, and Kulpreet Yadav’s novel Catching the Departed.

At 2 performance events Singapore OutLoud #1 / #2, emerging writers shared the spotlight with more established ones. Contributing authors S. Mickey Lim, Sarah Salmon and I read from Rojak: stories from the Singapore Writers’ Group. The spirit of reaching out to developing writers was echoed in the Annual General Meeting held on Saturday, where representatives from Australian literary magazine Griffith Review called for submissions for the upcoming issue Twenty Under Forty In the Asian Century.

It was a packed agenda.  Rousing keynotes were given by Singaporean author Suchen Christine Lim, Filipino-Australian writer Merlinda Bobis, and Australian writer and translator Linda Jaivin. There was an evening literary walk with Singaporean writer Rosemary Lim, and a fundraiser of music and the spoken word organised by Marc Nair, poet and artistic director of Lit Up Singapore. With so much going on, some attendees felt they were in danger of missing key events!

As well as Suchen Christine Lim and Marc Nair Singaporean writers were represented by poet Joshua Ip, who moderated one of the Singapore OutLoud events, and Lydia Kwa, who launched a re-published edition by Ethos Books of her novel Pulse. Many emerging writers based in Singapore also attended. Nevertheless, there was a desire for even more local representation and participation. Dipika Mukherjee, whose novel Thunder Demons was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, felt that this was a young festival with its heart in the right place, but expressed concern that “not more Singaporeans are involved.” She wanted to see a separate panel that featured Singaporean writers.

Whilst the conference was taking place, Singapore was rocked by controversy because the National Library Board decided to remove and destroy some children’s books depicting alternative families. Suchen Christine Lim addressed this in her opening keynote. She was like a high priestess with her arms extended, invoking inclusion with: “May you be loved. May you be treasured. May you be visible for the children of Singapore who do not come from traditional families - the one man, one woman and their children model.” Suchen made the powerful point that the model being upheld marginalises all families that don’t fit the definition, such as single-parent and other alternative households. Her words brought light and warmth into the cavernous room of what used to be Singapore’s parliamentary debating chamber. When we all stood up with her, we were in effect building that bridge to celebrate diversity.

I spoke with Nury Vittachi, Chairman of the AP Writers, as he was looking for volunteers to read poetry, dance, and sing for Sunday’s closing ceremony. He said: “Governments are realising that the creative industries are the least polluting and least resource using industries in the world. So gatherings of creative people are signs of progress.”

Vanessa Deza Hangad was born in the Philippines and grew up in California. She is currently living in Singapore, where she is one of the contributing authors for the upcoming book Rojak: stories from the Singapore Writers' Group. Her work has been anthologised in The Very Inside (Sister Vision Press) and in maganda magazine (UC Berkeley) She is now working on her first novel and on a manuscript of poems.

Monday 21 July 2014

Inaugural print edition of the Asian Review of Books

The Asian Review of Books, previously available only online, has launched in paperback, through Chameleon Press, Hong Kong. The first print edition carries material from April-June 2014, covering fiction, non-fiction and poetry from Japan to Iraq and most places in-between. Edited by Peter Gordon,  and priced at just under US$19 (or equivalents in other markets), it is now available from, Barnes & Noble,,, and other booksellers.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Message from Jane Camens

Next week, from from 17-19 July, Singapore is hosting the 2014 conference of the Asia Pacific Writers’ & Translators’ Association (AP Writers). One hundred and fifty writers from around Asia and Australia will be attending Bridging Cultures: Creative Writing and Literary Translation in Asia Today.  

Jane Camens, acting executive director of AP Writers, has this message for readers of Asian Books Blog.

AP Writers began almost 10 years ago with a mission to bring to Asia some of the tremendous resources available to emerging writers in other parts of the world which, at that time, were not available here.

Singapore now has or brings in many of the resources that were missing a decade ago. We are honoured that the City-State is hosting our conference this year as part of its efforts to facilitate writers and help grow networks around Asia and beyond.

Click here for the Bridging Cultures program, which gives a sense of the fascinating and provocative talks and discussions running from next Thursday to Saturday.

Each day starts with a keynote talk by an established author who has gained great respect for her work. Singaporean author Suchen Christine Lim kicks off the event.  Her talk, Bridging/Misrepresenting Cultures in Writing & Translation questions the conference’s premise of bridging cultures through writing.  We then bring together the other two keynote speakers, Linda Jaivin and Merlinda Bobis, for a free-for-all discussion, What is Literature For?

Don’t miss the sessions on what women in Asia write about today and the two sessions on new publishing opportunities.

Authors are also invited to use our conferences to launch their latest books. This year in Singapore at least 15 books will be launched into local and world markets.

Meanwhile, only one of our workshops still has space, so if you haven’t already registered you might have missed out. This is such a great opportunity to work with international mentors.

This year we also gave registered participants the chance of a one-on-one consultation with one of the most successful literary agents in our region, Kelly Falconer. Next year we hope to offer this again, so have your manuscripts in shape by then!

AP Writers events are excellent opportunities to make writer friends around our region - perhaps to get yourself invited to speak or read on other platforms!

If you can’t join us this year, I hope you’ll try to join us in the years ahead. Next year we’ll be in Manila. The year after…we should know after our annual general meeting on Saturday 20th July.

If you are not yet a member of AP Writers you can join at the conference - see me or Ian Smith.

Our Singapore conference would not have been possible without the support of the National Book Development Council of Singapore and The Arts House, with support for a number of visiting writers provided  by the Australian Council for the Arts, the Cultural Fund of Australia’s Copyright Agency, the Prince Claus Fund of the Netherlands,Yale-NUS, Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Melbourne PEN and Closetful of Books.  On behalf of AP Writers, I thank all of them.