Friday, 10 November 2017

SWF WRITER FOCUS: Elaine Chiew interviews Singapore-based Filipino writer Victor Fernando Ocampo

For every writer, once in a rare while, a book comes along and really shakes you up, where (instead of that height/ceiling metaphor) I’d like to say instead, the floor drops on which you thought the legs of fiction stood.   Victor Fernando Ocampo’s The Infinite Library and Other Stories did that for me.  The ideas that power this collection are not just incredibly imaginative, they also weave a hybrid crossing through magical realism, allegory and science fiction, that ‘synchronicity’ Ocampo mentions in one of his stories.  Rendered in prose that bears a unique voice, and also dark subtle humour in surprising turns of phrases, this collection is an invitation to a labyrinth for thought.

First an introduction to Victor:

Victor Fernando R. Ocampo is a Singapore-based Filipino writer. He is the author of The Infinite Library and Other Stories (Math Paper Press, 2017) and Here be Dragons (Canvas Press, 2015), which won the Romeo Forbes Children’s Story Award in 2012.  

Monday, 6 November 2017

Singapore Writers Festival Day 3. Aram and World Conflicts/Sci-Fi and the Fate of Humanity by Elaine Chiew


Aram in the Age of Cultural and Cross-Border Conflicts, courtesy Elaine Chiew
The panel entitled Aram in the Age of Cultural and Cross-Border Conflicts, moderated by TV presenter Greta Georges, opened to a room so packed, it was standing three-deep in the back.  But the panel appeared to have gotten mired in the thicket of translation of the meaning of 'Aram'.  Using the English translation of Aram as 'the good life', the panelists H├ęctor Abad, Koh Buck Song, and Suki Kim, whose credentials range from human rights memoirist (Abad), literary editor, non-fiction writer of 30 books and poet (Koh) to undercover investigative journalism (Kim) tackled it from three countries’ perspectives – Colombia, Singapore and North Korea, respectively. 


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Singapore Writers Festival: Day 2 Highlights by Elaine Chiew

Between Brexit and the Deep Blue Sea Panel, courtesy Elaine Chiew


Okay, Brexit.  Day Two. This time from the Irish perspective, entitled Between Brexit and the Deep Blue Sea: The Irish Perspective on a Divided Europe.  The panel of Cat Brogan, Claire Keegan and Paul McVeigh, as moderated by avuncular host, Neil Murphy, raised many interesting points to consider.  Brogan and McVeigh are from Northern Ireland, whereas Keegan is from the Republic of Ireland and Brexit impacts them differently.  

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Singapore Writers Festival: Opening Night with Irish focus by Elaine Chiew

Opening Ceremony, Yeow Kai Chai. Courtesy of Elaine Chiew
With every year that it’s held, the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) gets bigger, more ambitious, and more prominent – this year featuring close to 500 writers (of all stripes – from poets to playwrights, non-fiction writers to musicians of the written word) and from around the world, with Ireland being the country of special focus.  

The theme of Aram (which means “to do good”) is the first ever Tamil theme for the festival and takes its inspiration from the widely revered literary work in Tamil – Thirukkurai; aptly, this year SWF aims to focus on ethical quandaries and moral conundrums. Lo, how “particularly pertinent in a world [of]…increasing…fragmentation and polarisation, where it gets harder for people to agree to disagree,” as guest of honour, Ms Sim Ann, the Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and Ministry of Trade and Industry says.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Eastbridge Books by John Ross

Camphor Press is a UK-based publisher specialising in English language books about East Asia, particularly Taiwan.  The company recently acquired an American company, EastBridge, and is now making its titles available to a new readership. John Ross, one of the co-founders of Camphor Press, here explains…

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Contemporary voices: State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang


In her regular column Contemporary voices Elaine Chiew explores books and authors making waves around Asia, and beyond. Here she discusses State of Emergency, by Jeremy Tiang, from Singapore.

Henry James apparently said, “It takes a lot of history to produce a little literature.”  One might find this proven true in Jeremy Tiang’s debut novel, State of Emergency, which cuts across swaths of history starting from the Batang Kali massacre in Malaya by Scots Guards in 1948, wending through key episodes of Communist suppression in Singapore, such as the Hock Lee Bus Riots (1955), Operation Coldstore (1967) and Operation Spectrum (1983), the detention of a Catholic priest and various church members in 1987, fetching up to current day Singapore (the MRT system that’s like “something out of science fiction” and Tiong Bahru likened to Hoxton, London.)

Saturday, 28 October 2017

We must protect wildlife along the Ganges, by Victor Mallet

Does the Ganges have a future? That’s the question posed by River of Life, River of Death: The Ganges and India’s Future by journalist and author, Victor Mallet. From 2012 to 2016 Victor was based in New Delhi as the Financial Times South Asia bureau chief, and he is currently in Hong Kong as the paper’s Asia news editor. 

Victor’s new book exposes an environmental crisis of international significance, with revelations about extreme levels of pollution, antibiotic resistance, droughts, and floods - the Goddess Ganga, the holy waterway that has nourished more people than any on earth for three millennia, is now so polluted with sewage and toxic waste that it has become a menace to human and animal health.

As he documents the degradation, Victor traces the holy river from source to mouth, and from ancient times to the present day. During four years of first-hand reporting, he encounters everyone from the naked holy men who worship the river, to the engineers who divert its waters for irrigation, to the scientists who study its bacteria - not forgetting Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist prime minister, who says he wants to save India's mother-river for posterity.

As one Hindu sage told Victor in Rishikesh, on the banks of the Upper Ganges: "If Ganga dies, India dies. If Ganga thrives, India thrives. The lives of 500 million people is no small thing."

And the lives of animals relying on the Ganges are no small thing, either.  In this guest post, Victor calls for a revival of the wildlife-protection decree of the Emperor Ashoka, from the third century BC.

So, over to Victor…