Wednesday, 23 October 2019

My Travels in Ding Yi. Nicky Harman looks at the latest translated novel from Shi Tiesheng

One of the most interesting novels to come out in translation this year is My Travels in Ding Yi (ACA Publishing, 2019) by Shi Tiesheng (1951-2010). 

Shi's writing ranges widely, from disability, to reflections on philosophy and religion, to magical surrealism, to an entertaining vignette on football and a meditation on his local park and his mother. However, he first became famous for writing his personal experiences of being disabled. One of his most famous short stories is The Temple of Earth and I  (translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping), in which he talks movingly about the frustrations he faced, and how he and his mother struggled to cope. Back in the 1980s, discrimination against the disabled was embedded into the language and society alike. Sarah Dauncey in her paper, Writing Disability into Modern Chinese Fiction, Chinese Literature Today, 6:1 (2017) says that '...canfei 残废 (invalids) was still the accepted equivalent to the English terms disability and disabled with all its retained connotations of uselessness and rubbish as reflected in particular by the fei 废 character.'

Monday, 21 October 2019

Language as an Identifying Force: Pooja Nansi on the SWF 2019

We are so excited about the opening of the Singapore Writers Festival! In less than two weeks, writers from all walks of life will grace stages at the Singapore Arts House and other venues to deliver lectures, workshops, readings, and even to perform rap!

Singapore Writers Festival has established itself as a dynamic and current autumnal literary event. Last year more than 25,000 literature enthusiasts attended the program based around the possibilities represented by 界 jiè, meaning world or universe.

This year’s theme is A Language of Our Own, and the Festival invites us to contemplate the multi-dimensional impact of language on both ourselves and on others. SWF runs from November 1st to November 10th, and you can see a programme here.

The woman who worked hard to bring this year’s festival to life is director Pooja Nansi. A poet and performer, she received a 2016 Young Artist Award, and is also Singapore’s first Youth Poet Ambassador. We caught up with Pooja to learn a little more about the processes behind Singapore Writers Festival and her hopes for what it will achieve.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Shanghai After Pearl Harbour

Indie spotlight focusses on self-published authors and self-publishing. Alexa Kang is a Boston-based, Chinese-American author. She publishes her World War II historical fiction trilogy, Shanghai Story, through her own house, Lakewood Press. Alexa has previously shared her experiences writing the first two of these books with Asian Books Blog readers. Today is the publication day of the third and final book in the series, Shanghai Yesterday.

Shanghai Yesterday follows Clark Yuan, the Western-educated son of a prominent Chinese family in Shanghai and former a KMT operative, as he joins the Chinese secret police’s underground resistance movement. The story also continues with Eden Levine, a Jewish refugee from Munich, as she and the Western press in Shanghai work to expose the atrocities committed by Germany and Japan to the world.

Alexa will here discuss a little bit about her trilogy, followed by a more detailed examination of the Jewish and immigrant experience in occupied Shanghai after 1941.

So, over to Alexa...

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Lion City Lit by Ken Hickson

This month, our regular column Lion City Lit unearths a new word – an acronym really - to collectively bring together what’s going on in Singapore. Literally. Ken Hickson reports…

You’ve heard of Ab-Fab, we’ve got AB-CAB!

Beyond Authors and Books as objects of pleasure and learning, we’ve uncovered haunts for writers – Cafes – so when you put all that into a literary melting-pot with Awards and Bookstores,  AB-CAB emerges!

Come along for a ride in the Lion City:

A is for Authors, first and foremost: Who’s in the news?

How about home-grown Simon Vincent? A multi-media journalist who’s come up with a first  - the extremely creative non-fiction work, The Naysayers Book Club, walking off with the Book of the Year at the Singapore Book Publishers Association annual industry awards. (This could of course come under B for Books and A for Awards too, but we’ll try not to repeat ourselves.)

We first met Simon when he played the role of moderator with four young women authors at an Epigram event a couple of months’ back. We’ve read the book and found it totally engaging.  Real insight into people who matter in Singapore. What’s next Simon?

Friday, 11 October 2019

Breaking News: Chapter 5 of Teika’s Tale of Genji found!

Tale of Genji, known in Japanese as Genji montagari is commonly acknowledged to be the world’s earliest novel. This 54-chapter masterpiece was written in Heian Japan around the year 1010. Its author is a woman, Murasaki Shikibu.

No one knows what happened to the original manuscript of The Tale of Genji. This loss has led many scholars across time to try and reconstruct the original version. One such scholar was Fujiwara no Teika, who lived from approximately 1160 to 1240. (The Fujiwara clan was a powerful family group with strong political and artistic influence in the Heian period.) Teika published a work that was comprised of the first 5 chapters of Tale of Genji, written by comparing multiple surviving copies in order to attain the highest possible level of accuracy. This work, called the Aobyoshibon, which translates as blue cover book, is the earliest known partial copy of The Tale of Genji.

Until a few days ago, we only had the first four chapters of Teika’s version, and the Aobyoshibon was incomplete. However, newspapers in Japan have reported that the 5th chapter has been found and authenticated! It was found in a storeroom chest in the home of 72-year-old Tokyo resident Motofuyu Okochi. Chapter 5 of the work, the Wakamurasaki chapter, contains a crucial moment in the novel when the protagonist, Genji, first encounters his future wife Murasaki. (You may have noticed that the author and the heroine have the same name. We actually do not know the real name of lady Murasaki Shikibu, and it is thought that she chose this sobriquet based on the character of her creation. Murasaki in Japanese means violet.)

Scholars who have examined the newly-found chapter say that it does not differ substantially from later copies, however there are some grammatical inconsistencies. Nevertheless, the discovery of this document marks the addition of a globally significant literary artefact to the existing corpus of Heian period texts. At the time of writing, it is unclear what will happen to the manuscript, whether it will remain under private guardianship or be transferred to a public space.

If you are interested in The Tale of Genji scholarship, this post looks at gender representation in chapters 9 and 24 of the novel.

Friday, 4 October 2019

East Asian Winners of the Nobel Prize

The excitement is building as the Nobel Prize announcement day draws near.  2019 is a unique year for the Nobel Committee, as they will be giving out this year’s and last year’s prizes. People in the literary world are buzzing about who the literature laureates will be, although the literature prize is usually one whose winner is hard to predict. If one of the two authors is Asian, they will be the 9th Asian winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the 6th East Asian winner.

Awards are about recognition of achievement, recognition that shouldn’t be limited only to the window of time surrounding the ceremony. With this in mind, let’s look back at the 5 East Asian Nobel literature laureates and their works.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Tsundoku #8

We are into Autumn and you seriously need to deal with your towering tsundoku pile (even the New Yorker says so!). Get that pile down so that you can go out to a bookshop and rebuild it again. And so issue #8 of Tsundoku – a column by me, Paul French,  starting with some new fiction...