Asia+n writing in English

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Jollin Tan

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Jollin Tan PixWith my first book, I wrote to share things with people. I felt that I couldn’t be the only one who felt things too intensely and thought about certain things the way I did, and I wanted to share that – to sort of reach out, in a way, and say hey, look, you’re not alone, someone else feels this too. And I suppose to me writing is always a sort of bravery – when I write I always feel braver coming out of the situation, because putting something down in words always feels like confronting it. Mostly now it’s because I have things that need to be said, not because I think the world needs to hear them but because after I say them I feel more at peace? If that makes sense. This is all sounding very hippie-chick hahaha but I really do think that some things will haunt you until you write them/render them in some sort of form important to you, and then there are other things that will stay with you after, but everything is quieter after I write. So a very nice sum-up, I suppose, would be that I write for peace. Continue reading

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Three poems by Yeow Kai Chai

Post Paradelle-Yeow Kai Chai

Yeow Kai ChaiYeow Kai Chai has two poetry collections, Secret Manta (2001), which was adapted from an entry shortlisted for the 1995 Singapore Literature Prize, and Pretend I’m Not Here (2006). A co-editor of Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS), he reviews music for The Straits Times.

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Of Silkpunk and other experiments: Kitaab interview with Ken Liu

by Felicia Low-Jimenez, Interviews Editor, Kitaab

Ken Liu

(Photo credit: Lisa Tang Liu)

I initially learned of Ken Liu back in 2012 when he became the first fiction author to win the Nebula, Hugo, and the World Fantasy Award for his poignant short story The Paper Menagerie. It was an amazing achievement for an author who had once thought to give up writing altogether. Now, a prolific science fiction and fantasy writer, Liu has published more than a hundred short stories and novellas, and has translated numerous works by Chinese authors to critical acclaim. The Grace of Kings is his first full-length work of fiction and is the start of a trilogy that looks to be an addictive epic fantasy series.

You coined the term “silkpunk” to describe your first full-length novel, The Grace of Kings. Why did you choose that particular term?

The Grace of Kings is a re-imagining of the Chu-Han Contention in a secondary world epic fantasy setting. It’s the story of two friends who seem like polar opposites—a commoner who prefers drinking to fighting, and a nobleman obsessed with honor and revenge—joining together to rebel against tyranny, only to find themselves divided in a deadly rivalry over how to make the world a more just place.

Early on, I decided that I didn’t want to write a “magic China” story. The history of Orientalism and the colonial gaze is such that I felt it was impossible to keep the setting in historical China without invoking the miasma of stereotypes and misconceptions that would impede the readers’ enjoyment of the work. Thus, I decided to shift the setting to a set of islands that do not resemble continental China in any way, and to populate them with new peoples, new cultures, and a new setting woven from technology and magic.

Influenced by W. Brian Arthur, I tend to conceptualize technology as a language in which artefacts are expressions constructed from combinations of sub-assemblies and basic components that are analogous to idioms and words.

Terms like “steampunk”, “biopunk”, “dieselpunk”, “clockworkpunk” etc. are usually used to describe the technology language used in a particular subgenre. For my novel, I wanted to create a new aesthetic based on a specific technology language. I chose to create a world in which the nouns of the technology language are materials of historic importance to East Asia (silk, paper, bamboo, ox sinew) and seafaring cultures of the Pacific (shell, feather, coconut, coral); the verbs of the language are wind, water, and muscle, and the grammar is based on imitation of biomechanics and the inventions of legendary engineers like Lu Ban and Zhuge Liang. Thus, my silk-and-bamboo airships regulate their buoyancy with gasbags that contract and expand like the swim bladders of fish, and are propelled by giant feathered oars that evoke the birds from which they’re modeled. There are also giant battle kites that carry warriors into the air for duels, and underwater boats that move like scaled whales.

At the same time, the technology is also combined with magical items such as jealous and bickering gods, books that can read minds, smoke-based illusions, and giant water beasts that bring storms as well as carry sailors safely to shores. The resulting mix is an aesthetic that feels inspired by East Asia but isn’t “magical China” — I felt the term “silkpunk” was most descriptive of it.

Finally, I want to note that the “-punk” suffix is taken seriously. This is a novel about rebellion and change and questioning the world, not about a return to the status quo ante. Continue reading

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India: Gujarat Police stop publication of book by man falsely accused of terror attack on a temple

Mufti Abdul Qayyum, an accused in the 2002 Akshardham temple attack case who was acquitted by the Supreme Court last year, won’t be able to tell his story.

Mr Qayyum had planned to release a book on the 11 years he spent behind the bars for a crime he never committed, at a seminar in Ahmedabad on Thursday. But a diktat from the police has put brakes on it. Continue reading

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India: Chiki Sarkar moves out of Penguin Random House India

Chiki-SarkarPenguin Random House India announced yesterday that Chiki Sarkar, Publisher, will be leaving the company to pursue new opportunities.

According to an official statement by India’s top publishing house, following Chiki’s departure on 23rd April, Penguin Random House’s editorial function will be managed by Meru Gokhale, editor-in-chief, literary, Milee Ashwarya, editor-in-chief for commercial and business and Udayan Mitra, Associate Publisher, who will report to Gaurav Shrinagesh, CEO of Penguin Random House India.

Chiki has worked with Penguin Random House India (and its separate companies) since 2006. Her first role was as the Editor-in-Chief of the then newly-founded Random House India.  She then left to become Publisher of Penguin Books India in 2011 and has held the same role at Penguin Random House India since 2014, when the two companies merged.  Chiki has been responsible for acquiring and shaping the writing of some of South Asia’s finest authors, who have gone on to win recognition and prizes both locally and internationally.

“We are sorry to say goodbye to Chiki but respect her decision that it is time to try something new,” said Gaurav Shrinagesh. “Through her work at both the separate and then our combined company, she has helped mould Penguin Random House into the leading international publisher in the country.  She has an ability to spot fine writing and strong ideas and turn them into bestsellers and we wish her the very best for all future endeavours.”

He added: “I am confident that our reputation for discovering the region’s best new writing talent as well as building the careers of our established authors will continue to grow under Meru, Milee and Udayan, three of the most creative, innovative and respected publishers. Their experience and passion will ensure Penguin Random House continues to publish the finest literature, ideas and entertainment, helping our authors reach as many readers as possible.”

“I have had eight extraordinary years in Penguin Random House – eight years in which I have grown and acquired more ambition and confidence than I ever imagined. I want to thank everyone in the company and will always be a friend and support to them,’’ Chiki Sarkar said.


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Asia Uncensored: India’s new readers–why an entire nation is only buying commercial fiction?

Editor’s note: This is the first of Asia Uncensored blog debates that we are kicking off our Blogs section with, curated by our blogs editor Rheea Mukherjee.

The influx of commercial fiction in India is an undeniable fact. Is it good? Is it bad? Two writers–Soumyadipta ‘Shom’ Biswas and Tanuj Solanki– share their perspectives on this volatile topic. We would love to hear your thoughts on this subject too!


All a person needs is the first good book

by Tanuj Solanki

Tanuj Solanki

Tanuj Solanki

I live and work in Bombay, and so, for me, traveling to my hometown Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh entails reaching Delhi first and then taking a bus or a train. For the Bombay to Delhi journey, I find the Rajdhani trains to be the best option, because of the overnight comfort and the promise of being able to squeeze in four hours of solid reading into the seventeen hour journey. In November 2014, I had, for personal reasons, to take three trips to visit my family there.

Continue reading

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Günter Grass, Nobel-winning German novelist, dies aged 87

Nobel prize-winning German writer Grass attends a news conference to promote his latest book in MadridAuthor of The Tin Drum and figure of enduring controversy: The Guardian

The writer Günter Grass, who broke the silences of the past for a generation of Germans, has died in hospital in Lübeck at the age of 87.

Grass was admitted to hospital with an infection only a few days ago, and his secretary, Hilke Ohsoling, said his death had come as a surprise. Continue reading


Exotic Poor India

Craft and literary talent mean nothing without global insight, argues Kitaab’s Blogs Editor Rheea Mukherjee in this essay, her response to Jennifer Sinor’s  One Hundred Days in India.

Rheea MukherjeeThe second paragraph of Jennifer Sinor’s short lyrical essay, “One Hundred Days in India,” reads:

“As we exited the airport, we watched the slums of Mumbai unroll for miles in all directions. Each home, constructed from cardboard, tarps, and corrugated metal, held the other homes up, so they leaned like brothers in the sun.”

This inevitable brush with slum-romanticizing could be forgiven if the essay evolved into more textured passages.  I can appreciate a perception of poverty as one layer, but then I expect other layers to fold and produce literary origami.  What does good place writing do?  I say It should say something about the larger world, collide cultures, shake them apart, ring out archaic notions, and soak the reader with an original perspective. ”One Hundred Days in India,” published in Brevity magazine, poetically describes memories in intimate scenes. Continue reading

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Why are so many people snobby about Fantasy Fiction?

Ishiguro-582x437Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Booker prize in 1989 for his novel The Remains of the Day, is one of the literary world’s most respected novelists. It raised eyebrows in 2005 when he published Never Let Me Go, a dystopian science fiction novel about children who discover that they are clones destined to be harvested for their organs, though the book is now regarded as one of his best works. But when the literary world learned that his new book, The Buried Giant, is an Arthurian fantasy about the quest to kill a dragon, it didn’t just raise eyebrows—it made heads explode. Ishiguro was puzzled by the response. Continue reading

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Japan: Writer’s widow establishes literature award

“The culture of reading printed matter is in crisis, so I want to help produce more writers who deserve to be called artisans — just like young Fujimoto did,” said Tokiko Fujimoto, the 80-year-old widow of Naoki Prize-winning writer Giichi Fujimoto.

Tokiko has established a literature award named after her husband, who died about 2½ years ago. Entries for the award will be accepted from May. Continue reading


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