by Dan Bloom

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Taiwan sits on a piece of colourful and multi-splendoured island real estate, south of Japan and east of Hong Kong and China. As an independent, sovereign nation since 1945, it has produced its share of Asian literature since the beginning of the Japanese Colonial Period (1895-1945) to the present. In this brief essay, I want to introduce two Taiwanese writers; one a novelist with an international reputation, Wu Ming-yi, who writes in Chinese, and the other a short story writer based in Taipei, Jane Wu, who writes in English and has recently published a collection of nine stories about the martial law period of Taiwan history (1949 to 1987).

Nature writer and university professor Wu Ming-yi  (吳明益) wrote a popular novel titled The Man with the Compound Eyes in 2011, with translations in English and French following in 2013 and 2014. Largely ignored at first for the novel that was published in Chinese, Wu’s eco-fantasy later  attracted attention overseas in translated editions, thanks for the eagle eye and savvy marketing skills of Taipei-based literary agent Gray Tan, who took Wu under his wing and introduced the novel to agents and publishers in Europe and America.

The first Africans came to Japan in 1546 in a Portuguese ship as slaves and shipmates.  But that did not impact Japanese lore as much as the black samurai who came to Japan in 1579 in the service an Italian Jesuit missionary from  the Indies, India in the case of this missionary. (The term Indies was inclusive of the South East Asian areas influenced by Indian culture.)

His story has captured much media attention this year with Chadwick Boseman of Black Panther (2018) fame cast as the black samurai for an MGM movie and with Netflix planning an animation on him.

When the young man arrived in Kyoto in 1579, he was not a samurai. He rose to be one after a powerful Japanese  feudal lord, Oda Nobunaga, in the Sengoku period (1467 to 1600) took a fancy to him. He became a famous samurai known as Yasuke . After the death of his master, he became a ronin, a samurai without a master.

 

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Veteran actor, playwright and multi-lingual scholar, director Girish Karnad(1938-2019) died on 10 th June, 2019. He was eighty-one. He passed away peacefully at his home due to old age. He is survived by his widow, Saraswathy Ganapathy, his son Raghu Amay and his daughter Shalmali Radha.

He was cremated quietly by his family.  No fanfare or rituals were allowed as per his last wishes. 

Prime Minister Modi tweeted that this great Jnanpith Award winner will be remembered for “his versatile acting across all mediums,” and his work “will continue to be popular in the years to come”. Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi wrote that India “has lost a beloved son, whose memory will live on in the vast treasure trove of creative work he leaves behind”.

By Ratnottama Sengupta

So much of sci-fi uses science as a starting point and then uses fiction to fill up the gaps in our present knowledge. We use what we know today to imagine a different tomorrow –- a better tomorrow — for the world. Still, sooner rather than later, sci-fi that looks out-dated as science fiction becomes a scientific fact. Don’t we all know that Sage Valmiki wrote in Ramayana of the Pushpak Vimana ( mythical flying chariots in Hindu lore) and the giant bird Jatayu that clashed in mid-space aeons before the Wright Brothers wrote their names into aviation history or before the Central Science Laboratory in UK estimated that worldwide, the cost of bird-strikes to airlines had soared to US$ 1.2 billion annually!

But why does this possibility of fiction becoming a fact excite me? Admittedly because of my association with Me and I, which my father, well-known author and scriptwriter Nabendu Ghosh, had written for his two grandsons, and was translated by my son Devottam Sengupta for his grandpa’s birth centenary. Published by Hachette India, the novel breaks the barriers of space and time. Let me quote from the synopsis to give readers a glimpse of this. “They all had the same question for Mukul: ‘Why didn’t you recognise us? And why did you look so dark?’ Mukul was perplexed. The day had started as any other Sunday morning would, with him going out to meet his aunt, his friends and his mentor Noni Kaku of the Telescope. But when everyone, including his own parents insisted that he was lying about his whereabouts, Mukul had to look around for this imposter. And he found Lukum, who had travelled light years to meet his intergalactic ‘twin.’ Little did Mukul know that he had set out on the longest Sunday of his life…”

 

Reviewed by  Haimanti Dutta Ray

 

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Title: Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route

Text: Goutam Ghose, Michael Haggaig

Photographs: Goutam Ghose

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Date of publication: 2019

Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route is  joint collaboration by award-winning Indian filmmaker Gautam Ghose and British writer and producer, Michael Haggiag. Ghose in his introduction has named this  venture ‘a film-book’ because it is based on his five-part documentary, a cinematic marvel, also named Beyond The Himalayas.

Made in 1996, his documentary had been screened extensively on Doordarshan (India), Discovery and BBC in the late 1990s. The book, Beyond the Himalayas, commemorates the silver jubilee of the journey he undertook to make the documentary in 1994. Ghose writes in his introduction:“The so-called ‘present’ is a fraction of fractions between  the past and the future and hence the present moments are stored in our memory as recent or remote past. …. This book narrates one such vivid memory , a once-in-a-lifetime kind of adventure.”

In his introduction to the book, Ghose reveals how he came across old negatives and slides which featured  their journey through the meandering valleys and endless deserts of the fabled Silk Road more than two decades ago in a ‘caravan’ of jeeps. Breath-taking reproductions of these negatives and slides intersperse the narrative which is based on the script of the documentary.

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South Korean writer, Hang Kan ,who was the winner of the Man International Booker prize in 2016 for her novel The Vegetarian, has joined the ranks of literary greats who are giving their writing for the Future Library Project in Norway started by artist Katie Paterson in 2014.

Katie Paterson, an award winning Scottish artist known to play with and find inspiration in nature using her imagination to create unique artworks based on natural phenomenons like glaciers,stars and the universe itself, planted one thousand spruce trees in the Nordmarka forest, just outside Oslo in Norway. The paper from these woods will be used in 2114 to print the books of the literary greats who are participating in the project, which include literary giants like Margaret Atwood and multiple award winning novelist David Mitchell and whose ranks Hang Sen joined last month.

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The sea with its moods, vibrancy and colours has been a source of fascination for countless poets, writers, photographers and artists.

Break, Break, Break, Alfred Tennyson’s elegy, written for his friend Arthur Hallum in 1835 and immortalised over centuries, uses the violence of waves to express the grief and the sense of helplessness caused by loss. Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) brought the ocean to our doorstep and subsequently on to the silver screen. 

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The Slave Ship by Turner

Around the same time, in 1867, Matthew Arnold , a British poet, published Dover Beach, which again plumbs into the darkness and the depth of the sea, some critics say to express “ a stand against a world of broken faith”. A little earlier than Mathew Arnold artist William Turner also expressed his fascination for the sea with his paintings The Slave Ship and Dawn after the Wreck (1840).



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: The Billionaire Raj

Author: James Crabtree

Publisher: Oneworld

Year of publication: 2018

Pages: 384

Price: S$22.40

Links: https://singapore.kinokuniya.com/bw/9781786075598

About: India’s explosive rise has driven inequality to new extremes, with millions trapped in slums as billionaires spend lavishly and dodge taxes. Controversial prime minister Narendra Modi promised ‘to break the grip’ of the Bollygarchs, but many tycoons continue to thrive amidst the scandals, exerting huge influence over business and politics. But who are these titans of politics and industry shaping India through this period of breakneck change? And what kind of superpower are they creating? A vivid portrait of a deeply divided nation, The Billionaire Raj makes clear that India’s destiny – prosperous democratic giant or corrupt authoritarian regime – is something that should concern us all.


IMG_0370Title: Indigo Girl

Author: Suzanne Kamata

Publisher: GemmaMedia

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 258

Price: US$14.95/ Rs 1,326.00

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Indigo-Girl-Suzanne-Kamata/dp/193684673X

https://www.amazon.in/Indigo-Girl-Suzanne-Kamata-ebook/dp/B07RV7PG7D/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Indigo+girl+by+Suzanne+Kamata&qid=1559100922&s=gateway&sr=8-1

 About: Fifteen-year-old Aiko Cassidy, a bicultural girl with cerebral palsy, grew up in Michigan with her single mother. For as long as she could remember, it was just the two of them. When a new stepfather and a baby half sister enter her life, she finds herself on the margins. Having recently come into contact with her biological father, she is invited to spend the summer with his indigo-growing family in a small Japanese farming village. Aiko thinks she just might fit in better in Japan. If nothing else, she figures the trip will inspire her manga story, Gadget Girl.

However, Aiko’s stay in Japan is not quite the easygoing vacation that she expected. Her grandmother is openly hostile toward her, and she soon learns of painful family secrets that have been buried for years. Even so, she takes pleasure in meeting new friends. She is drawn to Taiga, the figure skater who shows her the power of persistence against self-doubt. Sora is a fellow manga enthusiast who introduces Aiko to a wide circle of like-minded artists. And then there is Kotaro, a refugee from the recent devastating earthquake in northeastern Japan.

As she gets to know her biological father and the story of his break with her mother, Aiko begins to rethink the meaning of family and her own place in the world.

Jokha Alharthi, an Omani writer, is the first Arabic author to win the Man Booker International Prize 2019 for her novel, Celestial Bodies.  She shares her award with the translator of her book, academic Marilyn Booth who teaches Arabic literature in Oxford. 

This international award was initiated in 2004 to complement the Man Booker Prize that went to a book published in English in England. It was given every two years for the author’s “continued creativity, development and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage”. It recognised the writer’s body of works rather than any one title. It was only in 2016, that the award started being given for a single title and would be shared between the author and the translator.

The story of this year’s winning title, Celestial Bodies, revolves around the life of three sisters who marry and move out into the world. The chairperson of the panel of judges, Bethany Hughes said, “Through the different tentacles of people’s lives and loves and losses we come to learn about this society – all its degrees, from the very poorest of the slave families working there to those making money through the advent of a new wealth in Oman  and Muscat. It starts in a room and ends in a world.” Bethany Hughes was joined on the judging panel by  philosopher Angie Hobbs, writer, translator and chair of English PEN Maureen Freely, novelist and satirist Elnathan John and essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra.