Monday, 13 October 2014

Internationalism at Frankfurt

Frankfurt crowds this year

The Frankfurt Book Fair, which has just closed,  is the international publishing industry’s biggest trade fair.This year it featured 7,300 exhibitors from more than 100 countries, around 280,000 visitors, and over 3,400 events.

Those who were there say this year has been notable for the sense that once-insular publishers are now crossing international boundaries as a matter of course.

“Book publishers are expanding the scope of their opportunities to the maximum. They are experimenting with content and technologies.” Said Juergen Boos, Director of the Fair. He added: "The world belongs to enterprising people. For publishers, this means having the courage to cross boundaries, perhaps even to relocate mentally to other countries or industries.” 

The rapid  internationalisation of the publishing business was particularly evident at the Business Club, where  around 3,000 visitors from more than 50 countries benefited from conferences, consultations and networking services. In more than 70 sessions, approximately 150 speakers examined the issues and trends of the international publishing and media industries. 

Meanwhile, almost 100 tech-based innovators from all around the world made use of the Hot Spot exhibition areas for digital innovation. Boos said: "After an initial moment of panic the publishing industry is now demonstrating an astonishing level of mental agility, in the face of digitisation.”

As for the content providers - the writers - Frankfurt Undercover brought together more than 20 international writers who met over a period of three days to address political issues. Danish author and initiator of the project, Janne Teller, said: “There is obviously a strong interest on the part of writers to share ideas among themselves, and to assume a more active role vis-à-vis society and politics.” Juergen Boos concurred, saying that: “exchanges between politics and literature can be fruitful. Perhaps the power of words and the power of politics should meet more often?”

Especially, it could be argued, in Asia. 

Were you at Frankfurt?  If so, please do share your experiences with the Blog.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Book Launches in Ubud / Alice Clark-Platts

The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival is a great place for writers from around Asia to launch their books.  Alice Clark-Platts reports on launches at this year’s Festival, which finished last week. 

The Singapore Writers’ Group (SWG) launched Rojak, its first anthology of short stories.  Rojak is Malay for an eclectic mix, and the anthology is a reflection of the myriad nationalities of the more than 550 members of the SWG, many of whom are expat, and their experiences of life both in Singapore, and in countries far away. 

Seven of the SWG authors travelled to Ubud to launch Rojak at the beautiful and evocative Café Rouge on the third day of the Festival. Comfy sofas, delicious mojitos and a glorious Bali sunset provided the backdrop for readings from the book and a question and answer session with the authors.

The hugely supportive audience was amazed to discover there is such a thriving literary scene in Singapore.

Australian Tim Brennan’s Lucky Rice was another notable launch. The book, illustrated by glorious photographs of Bali, is a fictitious account of one of the author’s conversation with a Balinese rice farmer. It deals with the quest for enlightenment, and transposes its philosophical ideas into an accessible and joyful conversation between East and West, inviting the reader to discover how nature whispers her wisdom to all who care to listen.

Lucky Rice was the winner of the Best eBook: 2014 eLit Awards (multi-media production).  The eLit Awards are a global awards program honouring the very best of English language digital publishing, they are administered by the same US-based company that runs the popular Independent Publisher of the Year awards

It is fantastic that the organisers of the Ubud Festival encourage launches by unknown local authors, bucking the trend for literary festivals to laud only celebrity and best-selling authors.

Further information  
Rojak  click here for the link to Amazon.

Murakami doesn't get Nobel

So this year's Nobel Prize for literature went to a Frenchman, Patrick Modiano, with the organisers explaining they picked him: "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the (Nazi) occupation (of France)".

Is this Eurocentrism?  Aggrieved fans of Haruki Murakami might think so.  Here's a round-up of English-language comment on the prize-giving committee's decision, from newspapers in Japan. 

The New Yorker has also chipped in to the debate, with The Harukists, Disappointed. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Asia in Frankfurt

Crowds at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Frankfurt, the biggest books fair and rights market in the world, is now underway. Last year, in 2013, 451 Asian exhibitors attended, this year publishers and agents from all over the region are there in force, and around 10,000 of the Fair’s visitors are expected to be from Asia. 

Many events on offer have an Asian twist.  Here’s a selection:

Chinese Market with CNPIEC: this explains how Western publishers can explore the Chinese market through exhibiting at the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF), and offers updates on the development of digital publishing in China. BIBF is Asia's largest book fair, CNPIEC is the company that runs it.

Digital Publishing in South East Asia: South East Asia has a dynamic, young, literate population, and here digital is perhaps the future of publishing, more so even than in the west.  This event, run by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture, explores how publishing in Asia can benefit from the new tools. 

Markus Nummi: Am Anfang ein Garten: The Finnish author Markus Nummi discusses his novel Am Anfang ein Garten. This is about love, loss and friendship, set in a missionary station in the Chinese part of Turkestan with the desert, mountains, and Asian gods in the background, and in the foreground a love story that begins in the year 1903 and continues until the year 1941. The event is sponsored by Finland Cool. Finland is the Fair’s guest of honour country this year.

Entering Asian Markets Successfully. Hosted by the Taipei International Book Fair, this panel will assemble experts from Korea, Thailand and Taiwan. They’ll present the best ways Western publishers can enter the Asian book markets, with a special focus on the Chinese language markets.

Dewi Lestari on new trends in her writing. Dewi Lestari is one of Indonesia’s foremost young authors, known for stylistic and formal innovation. In this session she will give her opinions on the future of writing in Indonesia in the digital age. Sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Culture, Indonesia.

Plenty yet to be done Against Child Labour and for Children’s Rights. Publisher and photographer Lois Lammerhuber and multi-award winning photographer Hartmut Schwarzbach in conversation about child labour and children’s rights.  Schwarzbach has devoted his career to sophisticated photo reportage on humanitarian and ecological issues. Since 2000 he has focused his attention on children’s rights in Asia and Africa.

Next year, in 2015, Indonesia will present its rich and diverse culture as the guest of honour in Frankfurt. This should make a big impact on the awareness of Asia as a hotspot in the publishing world.  In preparation for this cultural exchange, Indonesian chef William Wongso will demonstrate the art of cooking beef rendang, and also traditional Indonesian appetizers and desserts. The demonstration is called Mysteries of the Flavours of Indonesia - Part 1. Perhaps Part 2 will be next year?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Looking Back at Ubud / Alice Clark-Platts

The Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival 2014 has just finished. Alice Clark Platts reports. 

This has been five days of glorious sunshine, inspiring writers and authors, book launches, and food events, all rounded off in the spirit of this year's theme of knowledge and wisdom – Saraswati – by a huge Hindu ceremony celebrated at the Ubud temple just as the Festival got underway.

For me, the stand-out attractions were the poetry nights. Whether it be the regular Poet’s Club at the infamous Bar Luna or the hugely popular Poetry Slam Competition at the Betelnut Bar, poetry, with its appeal to a broad and rowdy audience, has become Ubud's rock and roll.

Into the Wilds, was the first event I attended. At a packed Bar Luna, the wine flowed as percussion was played behind the fast and furious words of the poets. Most impressive was Abraham Nouk, a former refugee, now living in Australia. Until three years ago, Abe was illiterate, unable to read or write. Now poetry falls out of him with the dexterity of a master wordsmith. Notable too, was Kosal Khiev, an American in exile after serving time in a US prison, now living in his native Phnom Penh. Having survived solitary confinement for over a year, Khiev spits words like nails, his anger at injustice propelling his audience into an aural maze.

These were all poets with powerful and complex stories to tell. At the subsequent Q&A, I asked why they were attracted to poetry as opposed to other narrative forms. They told me that it was the absence of rules that appealed; the ability to say anything at all, unconfined by a linear and constrictive structure. If they couldn’t speak through poetry, they said, they wouldn’t know how to live.

From perhaps a less dramatic background, was the Singaporean poet Stephanie Dogfoot, who wowed the audience at the Poetry Slam a couple of nights later. Her poems about satellites and stars; and breaking free from proscriptive parents were a cornucopia of inspiration and beauty.

Poetry is to do with liberty and self-determination, it seems. It is the very act of telling the truth despite the confines of your background that provokes the greatest respect from the audience. The majority of these poets did this in spades. Those less successful at it were the ones who seemed to be putting on an act as opposed to transposing a reality; the lack of truth marred their work and it diminished the power of their poems. That’s not to say they didn’t still turn on an engaging performance – but the poems lost their emotional punch; they didn’t connect with the audience in the same way.

Poems, like songs, have the ability to reach in and turn on a switch in the listener. Perhaps it is their brevity which enables this; that the words are chosen with exquisite care, in order to stab and shock and amuse in the most impactful way.

Whatever the reason, these poetry events are given pride of place within the Ubud Festival’s line up. Long may they continue!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Published Today: The Book of Sins by Chen Xiwo

Forty-six, a new imprint of Hong Kong based Make Do Publishing is devoted to writing from Asia, and publishes translated fiction by ground-breaking writers such as Murong Xuecun, Anni Baobei and Li Er. 

Forty-six today releases The Book of Sins, translated by Nicky Harman. This is a controversial and provocative collection of novellas by Chinese dissident Chen Xiwo. The first of Chen’s books to be published in English, it was banned in China, and he caused an international sensation when he sued the government to force it to explain the prohibition. It subsequently won an English PEN Award for translated fiction.

About Chen Xiwo

Chen Xiwo is one of contemporary China's most acclaimed authors; his works have been nominated for numerous prizes and in 2001 he won the Chinese Literature Media Prize, with My Dissipation. His novels are characterized by defiance and black humour.

About The Book of Sins

The Book of Sins is an investigation of the darker side of the human psyche. Seven novellas explore sexual and political deviance and corruption, they confront topics like S&M, voyeurism, and incest. In I Love My Mum, a disabled man who shares a bed with his mother is arrested for murder; here Chen uses incest as a metaphor for a dysfunctional society. Likewise, in Kidney Tonic, a resident of an exclusive gated community indulges in voyeuristic fantasies about the sex lives of his neighbours. Meanwhile, in Going To Heaven, the son of a village undertaker tries to convince his friend to enter a suicide pact, surely a sly reference to political relations between the Party and the people in China?

About the court case

Chen Xiwo has been described by Asia Sentinel as: “one of China’s most outspoken voices on freedom of expression.” His refusal to self-censor his controversial work meant he’d been writing for nearly 20 years before his books could be published in China, although he found publication in Taiwan.  In June 2007, the China Customs intercepted the galley proof of The Book of Sins, which had been mailed to Chen by his Taiwanese publisher. The book was banned in China.  Chen launched a legal challenge  against the government for the prohibition and an uproar exploded in the Chinese media at the absurdity of a writer having his own book confiscated.

In a 2010 essay, The First Prohibition, Chen Xiwo wrote: “To be prohibited is normal for me. Basically, everything I have published has either been banned or else extensively revised…This is my style of writing, although lots of people don’t understand why I want to write this way. It embarrasses them. It makes people unhappy, makes them anxious. Well I prefer to be this kind of evil spirit, rather than an angel who sings all day long in praise of some ‘golden age of China.’”

Nicky Harman’s English translation of The Book of Sins will bring a courageous writer and dissident to wider international prominence.

Monday, 6 October 2014

This week in the Asian Review of Books

Asian Books Blog is not a review site.  If you want reviews, see the Asian Review of Books.  Here is a list of its newest reviews:

A Poetic Backgrounder to the Hong Kong Protests 
Willow Trees Don’t Weep by Fadia Faqir
 reviewed by Agnes Bun

If you are interested in Agnes Bun's piece on the background to the Hong Kong protests, then you may also like to read Chinese Mainlander Sheng Yun's first hand account of events in Causeway Bay, published here in the London Review of Books.