Leave a comment

LiterASIAN, North America’s First Asian Literature Festival, Celebrates Asian Canadian Culture, History, Storytelling

On the weekend of September 21, the streets of Chinatown will play host to a literary feast. On the menu is a collection of stories exploring the Canadian experience. Yet this isn’t the stereotypical western spread — attendees will be diving into an often-untold side of Canadian culture and history: the Asian Canadian experience.

LiterASIAN, an annual festival of Pacific Rim Asian Canadian writing, is the first Asian literature festival in North America. Founded by the late Jim Wong-Chu — his 1986 poetry book, Chinatown Ghosts, was one of the first published by an Asian Canadian — the four day-long festival is packed with panel discussions, workshops, and a variety of book launches from acclaimed writers like Jen Sookfong Lee.

“LiterASIAN is a grassroots festival that celebrates Canadian diversity,” says co-founder and Festival Director Allan Cho. “For a long time, literature has presented the Canadian experience as the British experience. This means that many of us have not seen the other side of Canada. Part of the festival is to showcase unique stories, stories that find their inspiration in Chinatown, Japantown, and Little India. It intends to give a full-bodied Canadian experience.”

Read More

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

‘The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature’ Opens Doors Hitherto Closed to Us

Yunte Huang grapples with some monumental subject matter, and the results are spellbinding. A thrilling journey into the literary soul of today’s China.

Yunte Huang has his work cut out. You could say that the author, translator, and academic has set himself the impossible task. In the introduction to The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature, he describes his project as a “search of the soul of modern China”; an endeavour hampered by the fact that there is no such thing as a single modern China, but several.

Huang is well aware of this. His search begins in 1911, with the 20th century still just an infant, but with one of history’s most enduring dynasties lumbering to a close. The Great Qing, founded by Nurhaci in 1616, is sputtering towards its death throes. Child-emperor Puyi sits precariously on the Imperial throne, and republican fervour is in the air.

Is this the beginning of modern China; the Xinhai Revolution which saw Sun Yat Sen bring an end to thousands of years of imperial rule? Or did this transition to modernity occur later, when combined Nationalist, Communist and international forces drove the invading Japanese from China? Or was it later still, when Mao Ze Dong’s communist PLA achieved total control in the country?

Read More


Leave a comment

Excerpts

Eve out of her Ruins by Ananda Devi

Eve out of Her Ruins_Cover Spread

Eve

The inspector finally agreed to take me to the morgue. I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to get me in. He must have connections. That, and he feels sad for me. I don’t care how he did it, I just care that I’ll get to see Savita.

In the morgue, both the light and smell are greenish. I thought the movies would have prepared me for this. But movies have nothing to do with reality. It’s totally different here. The filth in the corners. The ceiling blooming with mold. Chemical smells coming from the    walls.

My whole body goes weak. The place is heavy with their presence. Everybody who came through here has left traces. On the walls, on the ground, on the ceiling, in the air. Like invisible lips sealed to their silence. Nobody ever leaves completely.

The inspector holds me by my arm and says, you don’t have to.

No, I’ve never had to.

I shake my arm free. I don’t want to turn back.

After what she’s gone through, I can go through everything. And then, in my head, I saw her a thousand times like this. I keep seeing her, in that envelope of death. And now I actually do see her. Unmoving and pale. Her face glazed, rigid, solid. The bruises still on her neck from the murderer’s fingers. I know her, yet she is wholly unrecognizable. Her youthfulness, I think. When death comes to someone so young, it makes her unrecognizable. And there’s a bluish, almost purplish tint to her skin. I reel from the strangeness of it all.

But I do recognize her mouth. I hold on to that. That mouth with its darkened edges is her mouth, Savita’s mouth, I’m happy to see it again in all its perfection at last, yes, I haven’t started to forget her features like I’d feared a second ago, I haven’t betrayed her, I still have that memory of her mouth in me as something so precious that, for the rest of   my life, all my senses will bring it back to me.

I explain to her that I was by the stream, and that was the reason I didn’t hear anything. I tell her that for me, it’s life that’s distorting my features and making me unrecognizable.

My hand touches her cheek. I lean in, but the inspector holds me back. No, he says.

He takes me to a small café where the flies are more plentiful than the diners. I want for him to tell me something, for him to ask for something in exchange for the service he’s rendered. He doesn’t ask for anything. But he asks me questions. By the dirty window, I see the world going by. Yes, there’s a world, over there, out there, that doesn’t know Savita and where lives haven’t stopped along with hers. I tell him everything, without really knowing why. How old I was when I began, where I went. I describe these places he knows so well. His questions take me further and further. My actions are getting crazier, I can tell. That’s what he thinks: this girl is crazy.

He looks at me as if he can’t believe me: And you’re still alive? he says.

What was the use of it all? he asks, again. His big hands on the table are trembling and fiddling with a paper napkin to the point that there aren’t anything but shreds left. I wouldn’t like to be a criminal he’d arrested. There isn’t any skin that would resist those hands.

I finally answer his question:

To slip through the cracks. To… To what?

To go on.

The next question had to be, go on to where, but he doesn’t ask it. His eyes are tired and my thoughts are completely blank. I was thinking about buying myself a life. But I don’t know which one.

He asks me if I have any health problems. I know what he’s talking about, but I pretend not to understand. I show him the blue bruise on my cheek, which has turned yellow: these sorts of problems, yes, every day, I   say.

He isn’t looking at me anymore, I think he’s trying to imagine what they did to me, what they made me do, what they’ll make me do again, in the mirror behind the bar I see us and I know I look young, too young, a bit of string, a little burned thing, and I know he’d like to keep me from slipping further down, but he doesn’t know anything at all.

Suddenly, he gets angry:

What if I shoved you in prison for a bit of time, you’d have to stop, that’d make you get better, wouldn’t it?

I get up to leave. The conversation’s over. There’s nothing else to say.

It’s hard to keep believing, he says quietly. But you have to defend yourself. I want you to stay alive.

He takes me back to Troumaron. In the car I don’t say anything. But I remember something he said: Savita wasn’t raped. I think he said that to reassure me. But then why was she killed? There was no anger there, no sexual violence. For the fun of it? Or to shut her up?

We pull up in front of the buildings. The sky is low. Here, there’s always something watching. Some spirit that’s vibrating, living, malignant.

He comes and opens the door of the jeep for me. I’m not used to that. Before I step down, he slips something into my bag.

Only use it to protect yourself, understand? he says very quietly.

I look down. I don’t know why he did that. I didn’t give him anything.

He holds me by the shoulders as I step down, and rubs them a bit.

He’s talking in English. Be good, he says. I shrug. It’s too late to be good.

It’s only once he’s gone that I realize that we were right in the middle of all the buildings. Every window’s facing us. Everybody saw me come back to Troumaron in a police car, everybody saw the inspector whispering in my ear. I colluded with the enemy. As usual, I’d done what I shouldn’t have. I can almost hear through these windows what everybody must be thinking furiously: this time, she went too far.

The ground starts to give way beneath my feet and cave in just as I walk into my apartment building.

But, after all, there was never any ground under my feet.

***

Excerpted from ‘Eve out of her Ruins’ by Ananda Devi published by Speaking Tiger

***

With brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country’s endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend, the only one who loves Eve without self-interest, and who ha plans to leave but will not go alone; Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, inspired by Rimbaud, in love with Eve; Clélio, belligerent rebel, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France.

Eve out of her Ruins is a heartbreaking look at the dark corners of the island nation of Mauritius that tourists never see, and a poignant exploration of the construction of personhood at the margins of society. Awarded the prestigious Prix des cinq continents upon publication as the best book written in French outside France, Eve out of her Ruins  is a harrowing account of the violent reality of life in her native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.

About the Author:

AnandaAnanda Devi is a Mauritian writer of Telugu and Creole descent. She has published eleven novels as well as short stories and poetry, and was featured at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York in 2015. She has won multiple literary awards, including the Prix du Rayonnement de la langue et de la literature françaises (2014), the Prix Mokanda (2012), the Prix Louis-Guilloux (2010), and the Prix RFO du livre (2006). Devi was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2010.

 


Leave a comment

I’m Indian. Can I Write Black Characters?

“The debate about whether writers should create worlds and characters based in cultures other than their own is an important one.”

In retrospect, it seems incredible I didn’t anticipate the questions.

My seventh novel, “Everybody’s Son” — about an affluent white couple, their adopted black son, and his search for identity and reconciliation with his past — came to me in a flash of inspiration. I wrote the story in a white heat, in about four months.

So I was unprepared for what interviewers I spoke to about the book asked me: Why, and how, had I chosen to write from the perspective of an African-American protagonist? I hadn’t expected this line of inquiry to come up because, although race and racial identity are central preoccupations of the book, I saw Anton not just as a black character, but as a singular, distinctive character born of my imagination and efforts.

I soon realized I had been naïve. While I might define myself as an American writer, I grew up in India. That means, to many, I’ll always be an Indian-American writer, with all the freight that the hyphen carries.

Read More


Leave a comment

Book Review: Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi

By Shruthi Rao

Eve out of Her Ruins_Cover Spread

Title: Eve Out of Her Ruins
Author: Ananda Devi (Translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman)
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Pages: 174
Price: Rs. 200
To buy

Eve Out of Her Ruins is a powerful, disturbing book by Ananda Devi, a Mauritian writer of Indian and Creole heritage. The original book Ève de ses décombres is in French; Eve Out of Her Ruins is a masterful English translation by Jeffrey Zuckerman.

The writing is eloquent, the imagery stark, and yet, the overall effect is dreamlike. It is a book that is difficult to put down; hands reach out from the pages, grab you by the collar and compel you to read on.

The story is set in an impoverished neighbourhood of Port Louis, a part of Mauritius that is far-removed from the Mauritius of glossy travel brochures. The book is made up of monologues by four troubled teenagers, growing up in a changing world, tossed about by the turbulence of sexuality, the rage and the desperation of their daily lives, fear of the future and the urge to escape from everything, all of these underlined by a sense of futility and inevitability. Weak adults, difficult circumstances, and bleak futures cause these teenagers to “grow up” too soon, but emotionally, they are stunted, directionless and hopeless. Continue reading


Leave a comment

8 Great Japanese Books in Translation That Aren’t by Haruki Murakami

We love Murakami, and all the cats, jazz, whiskey bars, mysterious women, and glimpses at modern Japanese life that populate his books. But there’s a world of magnificent novels out there by Japanese authors who don’t receive as much U.S. press for their work. If you’ve already devoured Murakami’s story collections (like Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman) and his acclaimed novels (including Kafka on the ShoreThe Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and IQ84), it’s time to add these contemporary Japanese books to your end-of-summer reading list. There’s something for everyone: mysteries and thrillers, teen horror, relationship dramas, and twisted, yakuza-related crime stories, all taking place in locales that may be unfamiliar to American readers. Each will get your imagination churning and your passport begging for stamps. Here’s a sample of our favorite modern books from the land of the rising sun.

Read More


Leave a comment

I want to stroll Tehran’s streets at night, like men can: writer Fereshteh Ahmadi

Under Hassan Rouhani’s less repressive regime, female authors are starting to see their books in print, and daring to dream of greater independence.

Even the gentle references to sexuality in Fereshteh Ahmadi’s short story Harry Is Always Lost meant it was hit by the censors…

But that was under hardliner president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now the story is in print thanks to a little more leeway in censorship under newly re-elected president Hassan Rouhani.

Ahmadi’s work as a writer is particularly striking because she comes from a country where conservative attitudes towards women are prevalent… Ahmadi’s success is testament to female writers thriving in Iran’s literary scene.

Ahmadi, who has been a judge in a number of Iranian literary prizes, was born in the southern city of Kerman in 1972. She studied architecture at Tehran University and worked as an architect for some years before dedicating herself to writing. Her first collection of short stories, Everybody’s Sara, was published in 2004 and she has written two novels: The Forgetful Angel and The Cheese Jungle.

“The eight years under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a real catastrophe,” she says. “A lot of books did not get permission for being printed, a lot of books had permission but they were blocked from being reprinted. In the past four years under Rouhani a lot of books managed to get permission, get printed, for many writers they finally succeeded to publish their work.”

Read More


Leave a comment

Kitaab welcomes its new editor Sucharita Dutta-Asane

Team Kitaab welcomes Sucharita Dutta-Asane as its new editor. She is the second independent editor to be helming Kitaab, a Singapore-based online publication.

Sucharita, who is an independent editor and award-winning writer based in Pune, joined Team Kitaab on Friday (15 Sep). She took over the mantle of Kitaab’s editorship after the previous editor Amina Sheikh moved on.

“Kitaab has a specific vision – to be a singular site for Asian writing,” said Sucharita, on joining Kitaab. “Given the easily accepted westward tilt of our literary sensitivities, it is heartening to have a site like Kitaab that facilitates the move closer home. This is immensely exciting and I’m grateful to Zafar Anjum for giving me this opportunity to explore and celebrate Asian writing through its various facets, iterations and manifestations.” Continue reading


Leave a comment

Translating Eli Eliahu’s Difficult Efficiency

“When you read an article or news brief, once you have read the words, they fall away and die, like carcasses on the roadside,” he has said. “But in poetry, the fourth line stands connected to the first, and all the words likewise stand connected to each other.”

“I like simple writing, straightforward and uncomplicated, and I try to write like that,” Eli Eliahu said, upon receiving Israel’s Matanel Prize in 2013. His work is characterized by this lack of pretension, and it lingers as much on the unsaid as it does on what is spoken aloud. In his poems, not is as present as what is; part of the challenge of translating his work is to catch the rhythm of the no, as it recurs in his poems, and convey it as seamlessly and easily as he is able to do in Modern Hebrew.

Eliahu grew up in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, but his roots are further east than Israel’s central coast, the narrow strip of land where he was born, went to university, and still resides. Eliahu is from an Iraqi Jewish family—his father was born in Baghdad—and the Mizrahi experience in Israel informs many of his poems. “Mizrahi” is a broad but important term in Israeli culture; literally translated as “Eastern,” it refers to Jews who immigrated to Israel mostly from Arab lands (and many Mizrahi families previously spoke Arabic as their primary language) but also includes Jews from Iran, India, Turkey, Central Asia, and other places. Israeli culture has traditionally been dominated by Ashkenazi Jews, and a sense of second-class status became fundamental to Mizrahi identity. Eliahu told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “When you are a member of an Mizrahi family and you look at the peak of Hebrew poetry and see only people from Europe—who belong to another culture, who speak a little differently, who came from a different home from you—you feel a bit like you do at the cinema, seeing only blond people with blue eyes.”

Read More


Leave a comment

The Vietnam War Then and Now

On Sept. 17 PBS begins airing Ken Burns’s new 10-part Vietnam War documentary, co-directed by Lynn Novick and written by Geoffrey C. Ward, Burns’s longtime collaborator. Although Burns’s team has produced many epic histories — on jazz, baseball, the American West — his 1990 Civil War series made him into the nation’s most laureled documentarian. Clocking in at 18 hours, “The Vietnam War” is Burns’s most anticipated work since that magisterial feat.

As before, Ward has written a weighty companion book to the series. “The Vietnam War: An Intimate History” tells once again the painful tale of America’s protracted, divisive and (most would now agree) futile involvement in the fight to keep South Vietnam unconquered by the Communist North. After filling in the historical background, the book ranges over two decades, from Dien Bien Phu in 1954, when the French left their former colony in defeat, to the 1975 fall of Saigon, when the United States left. It’s all here: the Gulf of Tonkin and the Tet offensive, the Perfume River and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, napalm and draft notices and teach-ins and My Lai, P.O.W.s and fragging and Kent State and the Christmas bombing, and much more.

Numerous historians, of course, have already written exemplary histories of the war. To distinguish this book, Burns and Novick, in their introduction, proclaim their intention to do what few have done: recount the war from not just the American viewpoint but from that of the North and South Vietnamese too.

Read More