Thursday, 15 February 2018

Backlist books: King Rat by James Clavell

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

This post is about King Rat, a semi-autobiographical novel set in Singapore’s Changi prison camp during the final days of World War II. In the novel, a young Brit (a character who represents the author) is befriended by an enterprising American who has amassed a surprising amount of power via surreptitious trading within the Japanese-held POW camp.

This debut novel, treating a variety of themes more or less closely related to wartime ethics, was an immediate bestseller when published in 1962. King Rat and other successful novels in Clavell’s Asian Saga (including, famously, Shogun) have been adapted into television miniseries.

See below to find out what you need to know to decide whether you should read King Rat, or what you should know about it even if you never do!

Friday, 9 February 2018

500 words from Fiona Mitchell

500 words from is an occasional series in which novelists talk about their newly-published novels.

Fiona Mitchell is British writer and journalist who spent three years in Singapore before returning to the UK.

The Maid's Room is her first novel.  It explores the lives of female migrant domestic workers in Singapore, and of the luckier expat women who employ them.

So, over to Fiona…

Student bookshelf by Aurelia Paul: dreams in The Sarashina Diary

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

Here she discusses The Sarashina Diary, a memoir written by Lady Sarashina, the daughter of Sugawara no Takasue, a lady-in-waiting of Heian-period Japan - the Heian period was from 794 to 1185.

Lady Sarashina kept a diary to mark her bold 11th-century journey from the east of Japan to the capital. She continued writing for 40 more years. Her work stands out for its descriptions of her travels and pilgrimages, and is unique in the literature of the period, as well as one of the first in the genre of travel writing.

In many ways, Lady Sarashina seems modern. She married only at the late age of thirty-three and identified herself as a reader and writer more than as a wife and mother. Enthralled by romantic fiction, she wrote extensively about the disillusioning blows that reality can deal to fantasy.  She also recorded her dreams...

Friday, 2 February 2018

500 words from Harvey Thomlinson

500 words from is an occasional series in which authors talk about their newly-published books. The Strike.
Here, Harvey Thomlinson talks about his new experimental novel,

Harvey is best known as a translator of novels by rebellious Chinese writers like Murong Xuecun and Chen Xiwo. His own innovative writing has attracted attention for its adventurous writing style, particularly sentence structures. Harvey also runs Make-Do Publishing, a press which specializes in fiction from Asia.

The Strike vividly explores a crisis in the lives of Old Yu and Little Xu, two outsiders in a frozen Chinese border town hit by a traumatic strike. Caught up in the upheaval, guilt-ridden Old Yu embarks on a reckless journey to find the rebellious woman he betrayed. Meanwhile, young drifter Little Xu enters into a dangerous relationship with a stranger on the run.

So, over to Harvey…

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.