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‘Ponti’ is about how society turns women into monsters

(From Electric Literature. Link to the complete article given below)

Ponti, a debut novel by Singaporean-born writer Sharlene Teo, weaves dark, arresting narratives about the lives of three women: Szu, her distant and beautiful mother Amisa, and her high school friend Circe. Spanning between 1968 to 2020 in hot and humid Singapore, the novel traces the intimate and vicious ways in which the women’s lives are entangled to one another. Szu and Circe are drawn to the memory of Amisa and her short-lived career as an actress of a cult horror series, Ponti! As characters try to cope with loneliness and failure, the uncanny dimensions of Amisa’s film role as Pontianak, a bloodthirsty female ghost in white dress, seep silently into their daily lives. Winner of the Deborah Rogers Writers’ Award, Teo crafts each sentence with precision, evoking vivid imageries of how women experience their bodies and space, dream and reality, connection and disconnection.

I met Sharlene at the 2017 Sydney Writers Festival, where we spoke in the same panel and exchanged views on women, horror, and Southeast Asia. As an Indonesian writer, I was immediately captured by the universe of Ponti, which felt very close to home; similarities can be found in language, food, cultural expectations, and even in how our actions are structured by what Szu calls “a hot, horrible earth.” The Malay legend of Pontianak, known in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, could be seen as a projection of the fear towards women who refuse to conform to the societal norms. Ponti explore the rich cultures of Singapore and Southeast Asia while offering a fresh perspective on relationships between women, history, and (screened) memories.

A recipient of the Booker Prize Foundation Scholarship and David T.K. Wong Creative Writing Award, Teo is currently completing her Ph.D in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia. Prior to the U.S. release of Ponti, we conversed over email about the Orientalist connotations of Asian femininity, myth-making as ciphers of fear, and turning the pockets of weirdness and decay in cosmopolitan Singapore into its own character in her novel.

Read more at the Electric Lit link here

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Fragments from a war-torn childhood

(From Guernica. Link to the complete article given below)

I spent the first eight years of my life in a war zone. Eight years of deafening noise: the staccato scream of anti-aircrafts, the whiz of military jets, the rattle of Kalashnikovs, the successive booming of landing mortars. Eight years of blinding lights: the dark orange cloud of fire after explosion rolling over and onto itself, the thin red thread of bullets shooting out of gun barrels, burning cigarettes shining in the streets like lighthouses in nights of total blackout.

In September 1980, several days short of my first birthday, the Iran-Iraq war began. At the time my parents lived in Ahvaz, Iran, seventy miles east of the frontline. Ahvaz is an expansive, flat urban area home to more than one million people and known for the Karun River, fertile palms, and flames that leap out of burning oil wells. A few months into the war it became clear that Saddam was seeking to annex the state of Khuzestan and nothing less, and that all the Western superpowers supported him. The people of Ahvaz began to leave. Neighbors and friends crammed their most precious belongings into cars and hit the road, transforming overnight from well-off southern oil families to internal refugees.

My parents stayed. My dad had a sensitive position at the oil company. My mom was a nurse. The gravity of their tasks, combined with their desire to fight for home and the disappointing reception of refugees elsewhere in the country, compelled them to remain there through the war. The war went on, uninterrupted, for eight years. It claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and scorched vast swaths of land on both sides of the border.

I am thirty-eight now. The war that made me who I am ended thirty years ago. I don’t talk about it much, if at all, though the tentacles of my mind frequently slip into the bag of memories I’ve been hauling around. Like many people with PTSD, I am a minimizer. I recall my life at six years old and think, Sure, it’s horrific that you saw that man looking at the hole a piece of shrapnel burned through his stomach before he fell to the ground. Yes, it’s traumatizing to wait with five hundred other kids in a small concrete bunker without ventilation for hours for Iraqi jets to get the bombing done. It is indeed depressing to think of your seven-year-old self stalking around rubble to collect shrapnel pieces and bullet jackets to expand his collection with the intention of arousing the envy of other kids in the neighborhood. But, I tell myself, look at the Iraqis and the Afghanis. They have lived this way for generations. Extend your eight years of war outward so that they fill a lifetime, multiply the amount of horror several times over, and you wouldn’t even approach the experience of the average Iraqi. The average Iraqi would laugh at your “war memories.”

Read more at The Guernica link here


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Short story: “Oppenheimer’s Last Stand” by Dr Ananya Mahapatra

The sun was a ball of fire shooting white-hot needles over the limitless stretches of Jornada Del Muerto. The dead man’s desert.

It was a terrain of sand and salt with causeways that lead to a kind of nothingness only dead men know of. The salt-washed mountains surrounding it used to be volcanoes, raging and spewing streams of lava into the desert sand thousands of years ago, carving out canyons and arroyos in the ash-brown malpaise that interspersed the sandy stretches. The hills are silent now, their jagged peaks sandpapered away by dust and brine flung on their faces by the relentless winds.

All that remains is the quiet fury of the desert, pulsating in the heat like the belly of a beast. The old farmers revere and fear it. In earlier times, they journeyed to the Parajito plateau through the treacherous landscape of Jornada Del Muerto to escape the impossible heat and grow summer crops and berries. They corralled together during the journey, a retinue of nervous travellers, each murmuring a silent prayer to be able to pass through its pale gold expanses.

Today the mighty desert was subdued by another force. A force born out of insatiable amounts of energy. Its image was etched onto Robert’s mind like a daguerreotype, even though fourteen hours had passed since The Test. It had been another long excursion to Alamogordo for the team. July afternoons were bad days for experiments in the heart of the desert, but they were running out of time. The war had gone on for way too long, and matters were now passed on to unlikely soldiers like him, who toiled far away from the battlegrounds for a permanent solution.

The makeshift quarters of their base in Alamogordo were bursting with an assemblage of people, a cortege of junior scientists with knotted brows and voices trembling with anticipation, the porters with weather-beaten limbs hauling equipment, the poker-faced guards, barely twenty-something who guarded the precinct. The device rested on Ground Zero like a giant steel orb, nestling in its womb, coils of plutonium ready for implosion. It was time. A trill of anxiety buzzed in their ears; they tried to quell it with superfluous jocularity and mock sparring, but the collective thump in their hearts they couldn’t ignore. Be it Robert, Giovanni, or Leo, each one of them, handpicked from various universities for this singular purpose, was acutely aware of it. Would they succeed? Could this be The Weapon to end the war?

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The thin red line: ‘The Unsafe Asylum – Stories of Partition and Madness’ by Anirudh Kala

(From The Hindu. Link to the complete article given below)

I found Anirudh Kala’s profession to be of interest while reading his collection of short stories. Dr. Kala is a psychiatrist of repute who has worked on mental health initiatives between India and Pakistan. As such, he is well-suited to uncover the trauma and psychoses that Partition caused in us as nations and in Punjab as a society.

The unsettling but deeply humane interlinked stories in The Unsafe Asylum are arranged along two major lines: Rulda and Fattu, a Sikh and a Muslim consigned to the asylum during Partition amidst talk of exchange of inmates between the two countries, and the lives of Dr. Prakash Kohli and his family, now settled in Chandigarh, a city with no history. The stories are located almost equally in what is now Pakistan, in India, with some overlap between the countries, and in England.

Who is mad?

The collection opens in June 1947 with the murder of a Muslim psychiatrist in Lahore by a Sikh army officer. The officer, having lost his family to mob violence, had sworn to kill 10 people that night. He kills just one, the doctor. Years later, the son of the psychiatrist, now a psychiatrist himself, visits India ostensibly to watch a cricket match but actually to meet his father’s murderer. There is no rancour but there is acknowledgement, a closure.

Read more at The Hindu link here.


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Country of Focus: Korea

(From the South China Morning Post. Link to the complete article given below)

A Korean woman struggles in 19th century France in Man Asian Literary Prize winner’s latest book, The Court Dancer

The Court Dancer, the latest novel by Man Asian Literary Prize winner Shin Kyung-sook, is likely to be read in several different ways. The first, and in some ways the most commercial, is as East-West romantic period fiction in the tradition of, say, Alessandro Baricco’s Silk or any number of English-language examples.

In the late 1880s, at a time of growing international threat to the Joseon dynasty, Yi Jin, a court lady, confidante to the queen and accomplished dancer, attracts the eye of the newly arrived French legate Victor Collin de Plancy, just as the queen starts to worry that Jin’s beauty might also catch the eye of the King. Jin has, fortunately or coincidentally, been taught French by a French missionary.

Victor is smitten and, contrary to both tradition and protocol, asks for her to visit the Legation, where she has her first encounter with both Berlioz and champagne: “Jin took a sip of champagne and closed her eyes. It spread in her mouth a fragrance as sweet as the music floating in her ears.”

More substantially, Jin finds herself attracted to Victor’s library.

Victor soon asks for her hand – Jin’s own feelings are ambiguous and remain so, but has little choice in the end – and he is permitted to take her back to France. There, her beauty and fluency in French create a sensation; she impresses real-life author Guy de Maupassant when she reads his work at a gathering at the fashionable Le Bon Marché, and helps translate some of the first Korean literature into French. But she’s a fish out of water, and Victor takes her back to Korea, where she finds she no longer fits either.

Read more at the South China Morning Post link here


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Country of Focus: 9TH AFCC celebrates Singapore as country of focus

AFCC 2018 | 6-8 Sep | afcc.com.sg

9TH AFCC Celebrates Singapore as country of focus: Spotlights literary heritage through 3-day children’s festival; two award shortlists announced

SINGAPORE, 20 August 2018 – In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Singapore Book Council, the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) celebrates Singapore as the Country of Focus with a three-day programme that showcases over 100 local writers, illustrators and publishers; an exhibition on illustration pioneer Kwan Shan Mei; and a Singapore Night gala dinner and awards ceremony. The 9th AFCC will run from 6 to 8 September at the National Library, marking the theme Imagine-Asia.

Over three days, participants can attend over 130 ticketed and free programmes, featuring 150 Singapore and international speakers.

AFCC has also announced the shortlists for two awards this year, the Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award (HABA) and Scholastic Asian Book Award (SABA), which come with a top prize money of SGD10,000 each. Six books have been shortlisted for HABA, which include titles by Xie Shi Min, Ben Lai and Low Ying Ping. Recognising the best Singapore children’s book, the award received 71 submissions this year. SABA has shortlisted six works by writers from Singapore, Hong Kong, India and The Philippines. A joint initiative between SBC and Scholastic Asia, it is given to the best unpublished manuscript by a writer of Asian descent. The winners will be announced at the Singapore Night-cum-50th Anniversary dinner and awards ceremony on 8 September. Please refer to Annex V and VI for the full shortlists and panels of judges.

AFCC casts the spotlight on Singapore’s literary heritage in children’s books as the Country of Focus, whilst highlighting new means of content creation and digital platforms for storytelling. Boasting a line-up of speakers that range from established writers and illustrators – such as Adeline Foo, Colin Goh and Yen Yen Woo, David Liew, David Seow, Emily Lim, Patrick Yee, Rilla Melati and Rosemarie Somaiah – to new, emerging ones (Eunice Olsen, Eva Wong Nava, Quek Hong Shin) and Gen-Z writers like Gabby Tye and Ashley Koh, the programmes will tackle a wide range of topics. The topics include creating iconic kid lit characters; advocating for inclusivity; getting children to read Sing Lit; and learning our history through children’s books.

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Country in Focus: Korea

Translators uplift Korean literature to global heights

(From The Korea Herald. Link to the complete article given below)

Every time Goksel Turkozu browsed through a bookstore in Turkey, he felt there could be more books of Korean literature in translation in his country where the passion for everything Korean runs high.

A devotee of Korean literature and professor at Erciyes University in the city of Kayseri, Cappadocia, Turkozu has adapted several well-known Korean novels into the Turkish language since he first set foot in Seoul in 1990 as a student.

His decadeslong dedication to spread Korea’s literary imagination to his homeland won him the Korea Translation Award given by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea on Wednesday, alongside other translators. The event was established in 1993 for the purpose of encouraging quality translation of Korean literature and its overseas promotion and publication. Since 2013, the award has been expanded to cover less widely spoken languages around the world.

“The popularity of Korean cultural wave Hallyu is still high in Turkey after more than 10 years,” Turkozu told The Korea Herald on Tuesday at a press conference in Seoul, one day ahead of the award ceremony recognizing the contributions of 150 translators and related professionals.

Read more at The Korea Herald link here


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Country in Focus: Korea

Ten works of contemporary Korean literature in translation

(From The Booklist Reader. Link to the complete article given below)

Despite Maureen Corrigan’s rather nasty NPR review of Korean author Kyung-sook Shin’s 2011 Stateside debut, Please Look After Mom—her phrase “cheap consolations of kimchee-scented Kleenex fiction” caused particular affrontMom became a major bestseller. In a stroke of well-deserved vindication, Shin became the first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize and has been credited with revitalizing the Korean publishing industry when her international critical success and strong sales figures sparked a worldwide interest in Korean fiction.

In 2013, Dalkey Archive Press, in partnership with the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, began publishing the Library of Korean Literature, intended to present “modern classics of Korean literature in translation, featuring the best Korean authors from the late modern period through the present day.” The collection now has 25 novels and story collections readily available to anglophone readers.

Since Han Kang’s The Vegetarian won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, even more Korean fiction has made it west. Here are ten titles (linked to their Booklist reviews where available) to expand your reading horizons.

Black Flower, by Young-ha Kim, translated by Charles La Shure

Longlisted for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize, Black Flower is a fictionalized account of little-known, yet utterly fascinating historical events. In 1905, 1,033 Koreans left the port of Jemulpo (today’s Incheon) on the Ilford, a British merchant ship, and arrived (after two deaths, one birth) in Mexico’s Yucatán as indentured laborers to be parceled out to henequen plantations. The Koreans believed they were escaping the brutal Japanese colonization of their homeland; instead, they were sold into slave-like servitude. Within the Koreans’ experience, Kim (The Republic Is Calling You) also bears witness to local Mexican history, including the abuses of colonial Christianity, the mistreatment of the indigenous Mayans, and the Mexican Revolution, which eventually (surprisingly!) involves a small band of Korean nationals. Kim explains in his ending “Author’s Note” that the genesis of Black Flower is rooted in a second-hand airplane conversation that seemed “too mythical,” and eventually led Kim to Mérida in Mexico’s Yucatán, then Tikal and Antigua in Guatemala, to research this “forgotten historical moment.”

Read more at The Booklist Reader link here


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Wall of great Tajik writers

(From Atlas Obscura. Link to the complete article given below)

The “Wall” is the facade of the Writers’ Union building in Dushanbe, home to an association of novelists, poets, playwrights, and other writers. The large wall is carved with nine niches containing eleven life-size statues of famous Tajik writers, a tribute to Tajikistan’s Persian and Soviet history.

The 8th-century “Adam of Poets,” Rudaki, justifiably takes the centre stage. He is considered a father of classical Persian literature, though sadly only a small portion of his work has survived the test of time. Other notable writers on the wall include poet Ferdowsi (940-1020); poet, mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyam (1048-1131); writer and intellectual Sadriddin Ayni (1878-1954); and poet Mirzo Tursunzoda (1911-1977). In the garden next to the building is a large statue of Ayni and famous Soviet writer Maxim Gorky sitting around a table, absorbed in conversation.

The Writers’ Union building was designed by renowned architect E. Salikhov and constructed in the early 1980s. The structure immediately became an exemplary manifestation of Soviet Modernist architecture, a trend that incorporated local sensibilities within the Soviet architectural tradition, which emphasized social purposefulness, grandiosity (regarding size), and frugality (regarding construction materials). All these features are clearly seen in Salikhov’s creation in Dushanbe.

Read more at the Atlas Obscura link here


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Mohsin Hamid: ‘It’s important not to live one’s life gazing towards the future’

(From The Guardian. Link to the complete interview given below)

Mohsin Hamid appears to have a preternatural ability to summon up the spirits of his time. He finished writing his latest novel, Exit West, which was published early last year and shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, well before Trump and Brexit brought questions of borders and national identity to the forefront of the global narrative. The novel was in part a response to the migrant crisis that was unfolding in various corners of the world as Hamid was writing, but it also predicted with almost uncanny prescience the rise of nativist paranoia and racial intolerance, which have become such features of life in 2018.

The novelist Kamila Shamsie, a friend of Hamid, told me another story about his proleptic powers. “On September 9 or 10, 2001, I was having dinner with Mohsin in London and he told me about the book he was working on,” Shamsie said. “It was about a young Pakistani man doing very well in the corporate world in New York. Despite all his success, one day he found himself listening closely to a speech by an extremist Muslim – it wasn’t the religious content of the man’s words that caught his attention, but the political content. I saw Mohsin again on September 12, 2001. ‘Mohsin, your novel… ?’ I said. ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘I think I have to go on writing it.’ ‘Of course you do,’ I said.”

That novel, Hamid’s second book, became The Reluctant Fundamentalist and was seen by many as the definitive literary response to 9/11. Certainly it was far more successful both critically and commercially than the attempts of more established authors to address the twin towers. John Updike, Martin Amis, Don DeLillo – the great and good of Anglo-American letters queued up to respond to the attacks, but it was Hamid’s protagonist Changez, bursting with charisma and ambition, who spoke with the greatest clarity and authority about what might have driven the terrorists to act.

Read more at The Guardian link here