Friday, 2 February 2018

Why Camphor Press reissued The Teahouse of the August Moon / John Ross

When publishers reissue older titles, Asian Books Blog asks them why.

Here, John Ross explains why Camphor Press reissued The Teahouse of the August Moon, by Verne Sneider.

At the end of the Second World War the United States found itself in the position of an accidental imperial power administering numerous foreign territories. The first major novel to examine this challenge was John Hersey's A Bell for Adano (1944). A U.S. Army officer is placed in charge of a town during the American occupation of Sicily. He brings democracy and other changes to Adano, often siding with the local people against his unsympathetic commander, and - despite seemingly more important matters to attend to - helps the locals replace a beloved town bell, which was taken away by the Fascists.

Monday, 29 January 2018

On what shall the eye rests; John Spurling's The Ten Thousand Things, a novel.

To usher in the Year of the Dog 2018, to dovetail also with Asianbooksblog columnist Lucy Day Hobor’s article on Dream of the Red Chamber and to augur reviews and essays to come, my column on contemporary voices will spotlight Chinese literature with an interdisciplinary approach.  What better book to kick us off than John Spurling’s hidden gem-of-a-novel The Ten Thousand Things.  Although it came out three years ago, I thought it worth a second look as a piece of historical fiction on the life of renowned Chinese ink painter Wang Meng who lived during the Yuan Dynasty (early 13th century to 1368; also known as the Mongol Dynasty).  

Friday, 26 January 2018

Expat living / Stephanie Suga Chen

Trailing spouse is the dismissive name given to the non-working wives, and sometimes these days the house husbands, who trail along to expat postings in their partners' high-flying wakes.

Stephanie Suga Chen, a former investment banker and partner of a New York City-based private investment fund, moved to Singapore in 2012 with her husband, two children and elderly cocker spaniel. She is the author of a newly-released fictionalized memoir, Travails of a Trailing Spouse, in which she unveils the thrills, craziness, and frustrations, of being a trailing spouse.

Here Stephanie discusses her debut novel, and briefly reviews three other books about expat life in Asia.

Student bookshelf by Aurelia Paul: Patriarchs on Paper

Aurelia Paul is a senior year student at Boston University, studying comparative literature and Chinese, in her new fortnightly column Student bookshelf, she shares responses to texts she's reading in her classes.

Here she discusses Patriarchs on Paper: A Critical History of Medieval Chan Literature by Alan Cole, in particular how it  draws parallels between the malleability of Chan / Zen Buddhism in Tang Dynasty China, and in modern times.

Patriarchs on Paper: A Critical History of Medieval Chan Literature raises many thought-provoking points. In the introduction, Alan Cole introduces two fundamental concepts. Firstly, that the lineages of Chan patriarchs are not unquestionable genealogies, as many Chan sects present them to be, but rather were edited and reconstructed during the Tang period. Alan Cole's second point is that the popular Western conception of Chan / Zen Buddhism, based on an influential book published in the 30's, is totally distorted. It is this idea that I am going to explore in greater detail.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Singapore Saga / John D. Greenwood

John D. Greenwood is a Scot now transplanted to New York, who began his career teaching philosophy, including a stint at the National University of Singapore (NUS), but who has since become an historian of psychology. He recently re-visited Singapore to promote Forbidden Hill, volume 1 of a projected six-part series, Singapore Saga, which will, when complete, offer a fictionalised overview of the first hundred years of modern Singapore's existence, from its founding by Raffles in 1819, to the aftermath of World War One, in 1919. I met John at NUS to talk about his ambitious undertaking. 

Forbidden Hill covers 1819, to the mid 1830s. It features multiple plotlines rooted in historical events, and multiple characters - European, Chinese, Indian and Malay. Many of John's characters - Raffles, Farquhar - are based on real people, although others are completely made-up.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Backlist books: The Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin and Gao E

Backlist books is a column by Lucy Day Werts that focuses on enduring, important works from or about Asia.

This post is about The Story of the Stone (aka The Dream of the Red Chamber), a sprawling work about a boy born into a wealthy household only to witnesses its gradual decline as he grows into a young man.

Written in the mid-1700s, this classic Chinese novel (one of the Four Classic Chinese Novels, in fact) was circulated as an incomplete manuscript before its publication in 1792, when forty additional chapters were added to the original eighty.

See below to find out what you need to know to decide whether you should read The Story of the Stone, or what you should know about it even if you never do!

Lion City lit: Lancing Girls of a Happy World

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore. Our regular column Lion City lit explores in-depth what’s going on in the City-State, lit-wise.

Local publishing house Ethos Books has just launched Lancing Girls of a Happy World by Adeline Foo

Lancing is a Singaporean pronunciation of dancing, and the book is an account of the cabaret girls of yesteryear. In the late 1930s, the first wave of Shanghainese glamour girls arrived to join the cabarets in Singapore. Another wave came following the Communist Revolution of 1949. These Chinese migrants influenced local women to join the cabaret as professional dancers, too.