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Writing to Reconcile: A personal journey

Last fall, in Toronto, I went to see a play that was written by one of the writers in this anthology, Sindhuri Nandakumar. The play was called A Crease in my Sari and told the story of a young Sri Lankan Tamil woman, born and raised in Canada who found herself in a relationship with a Sinhalese man, whom she had met in the coffee shop. The young woman, Maheshwari, had been purposely raised by her mother in a western suburb of Toronto, away from other Tamils who generally live in the eastern suburbs. So, apart from one Tamil friend, she had no real contact with her community and heritage. Now, however, finding herself falling in love with this Sinhalese man, Chanaka, she also found herself confronted with the realities of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Chanaka, with all the naïve optimism that majority communities can afford to have, believed that love conquers all and that their ethnic difference was no barrier. This was partly his charm for her.

But the history of the country both young people had left was insistent, and it would not allow either of them to ignore it. It was the winter of 2009 and the war in Sri Lanka was in its last phase. Soon, Sri Lankan Tamils in Toronto were protesting against the Sri Lankan government, most famously carrying out a sit-down in the middle of a Toronto expressway. Maheshwari discovered that Chanaka’s father was in the army, and that Chanaka believed this was a just war, a humanitarian effort with zero casualties. As the play progressed, Maheshwari grew increasingly politicised and, in the end, their relationship was unable to bear the weight of history.

After the show as I walked to the train, I was lost in thought remembering my own thoughts and feelings during those months in 2009; remembering how I didn’t want to join the Tamil protesters because they were protesting under the Tiger flag, but how I also couldn’t join the counter-protest by the Sinhalese in Toronto, as they had taken up the zero casualties-humanitarian approach, which I found ridiculous.

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Writing Matters: In conversation with Deepak Unnikrishnan

By Michelle D’costa

Deepak Unnikrishnan’s book Temporary People won the 2017 Hindu Prize and was the inaugural winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, 2016. He teaches at New York University Abu Dhabi.

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(Photo credit: Philip Cheung)

Michelle D’Costa: Do you feel labelled as an ‘immigrant’ writer? Do you want to break free from it or do you wear it with pride?

Deepak Unnikrishnan: I don’t have any control over what people call me. Depending on where I go, people call me different things. In Abu Dhabi, I am Indian because I look Indian. In Kerala, I am an NRI, because NRIs have a way about them, so I’ve been told. In the States, I am brown enough to be brown, but certainly not American enough, whatever that means. To the best of my knowledge, no one has labelled me as an immigrant writer yet. So at the moment, I’d say there’s little to break free from.

However, if we’re talking about life, and someone is simply labelling me an immigrant or a migrant, and I sense fire and condescension in the labelling, then you bet, brother, immigrant I am, migrant I stay. Deal with it, and me.

Michelle: How do you think your fiction stands out from other American immigrant fiction like that of Akhil Sharma, Celeste Ng, Jhumpa Lahiri, etc. (apart from the magical realism)?

Deepak: I don’t identify as American, but calling me Indian doesn’t hold true either. My parents are Indian and I was fortunate enough to land in the States. Your question has got more to do with how I see myself if I were to compare myself to writers who come from families that have moved from one nation to another for a myriad of reasons. You’re also asking me to compare myself to writers who have already made their bones. That’s probably not fair to them or your readership.

But let me say I am perfectly comfortable and confident in the knowledge I don’t write like any of the names you’ve listed. This does not mean I’m better than them, or feel I’m not worthy enough to compare my craft to theirs. Frankly, my stuff does not sound or read like their material. Deepak Unnikrishnan writes like Deepak Unnikrishnan. And sure, Ng, Lahiri and Sharma confront the immigrant experience, but their writings are also layered. They deserve to be seen as writers, period; American writers, period; good writers, period.

Michelle: Gulf immigrant fiction is scarce. You have attempted to address it with your latest collection ‘Temporary People’.  Do you see yourself writing on the same theme even 10 years later?

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China’s fiction and nonfiction bestsellers of 2017

Fiction bestsellers in China last year were dominated by non-Chinese authors, according to OpenBook, while homegrown authors sold better in nonfiction.

One of the most reliable fixtures on the monthly fiction bestseller lists from China’s OpenBook has been Japanese author Higashino Keigo, best known for his mystery novels. In 2017, his Miracles of the Namiya General Store had its second year at the overall top of OpenBook’s China’s charts. In both 2016 and 2017, this was the biggest seller.

Keigo’s dominance doesn’t stop there. Three of his works are in the Top 5 on the annual charts, with Journey Under the Midnight Sunand The Devotion of Suspect X at Nos. 4 and 5, respectively.

The Afghan-born American author Khaled Hosseini and Scotland-based Claire McFall complete the Top 5 on the list, with Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and McFall’s Ferryman.

One of the most noticeable trends in the fiction bestseller list is the dominance of foreign authors. When Publishing Perspectives pursued the question of why so many fiction bestsellers in China are by non-Chinese authors, we were told that there are three factors in play.

  • Many Chinese readers have an interest in leading international popular titles, a factor evident in the familiar Western books on the list.
  • Television and film production, often attached to one of these titles, can be a key driver.
  • And some authors—chief among them is Japanese author Higashino Keigo—gain a kind of cult status and can generate years of sales on reputation and across many books.

OpenBook in China is similar to Nielsen in the UK or NPD in the United States, providing research and analysis on the evolving Chinese publishing industry. Below is OpenBook’s list of bestselling fiction titles in China in 2017:

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Looking ahead to Taipei International Book Exhibition: Interview with director James Chao

‘The Power of Reading’ is the message to Taiwan’s consumer base at this year’s sprawling Taipei International Book Exhibition, while Frankfurter Buchmesse’s professional program there examines changes in business, markets, and sales.

The Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE) is an important event for Taiwan and a measuring stick for the country’s publishing industry over the coming year, according to director James Chao. The TIBE “predicts the performance in sales for the year and reflects the confidence of the publishers,” Chao told Publishing Perspectives in an interview.

Opening Tuesday (February 6), the TIBE is a six-day book fair which this year features Israel as its guest of honor, an international rights center, and a Frankfurt Publishers Training Program opening on Monday, the eve of the exhibition’s public launch.

Directed by the Frankfurter Buchmesse’s Katharina Ewald, this year’s Publishers Training Program (February 5 and 6) highlights publishing markets in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Thailand. Speakers include:

  • Richard Nash, US-based entrepreneur and consultant in publishing
  • Jackie Huang, Andrew Nurnberg Associates China director (read our interview here)
  • Jerome Su, chairman with Bookman Books and BK Norton, Taiwan
  • Amy Ho, founcing CEO of CW Education Media & Publishing Company, Taiwan
  • Sarah Sohlemann, online marketing lead with Verlagsgruppe Random House, Germany
  • Gerald Cai of MXRi and SnapLearn, Singapore

As well as working as the director of TIBE, Chao is also the chairman and president of China Times, said to be the only publicly traded publishing company in Taiwan. We’ve opened our interview with Chao by asking whether the TIBE is more a trade show or a consumer-facing book fair.

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Kitaab call for submission: The Best Asian Crime Fiction

Kitaab – Call for Submissions

Kitaab is seeking high quality short stories for The Best Asian Crime Fiction anthology to be published in 2018.

Stories submitted should have a minimum length of 2,500 words and a maximum length of 12,000 words. Submissions that are shorter than 2,500 words or significantly longer than 12,000 will not be read or considered for inclusion in this anthology.

What we’re looking for:

We want to see strong, well-written stories that deal with some aspect of crime. It is essential that your characters be engaging and – most important – believable. Also, the plots should be credible. An appealing style is preferable, but as with all crime fiction, plot and character should be paramount.

We will be generous in our consideration of what constitutes crime. However, we don’t want to see stories about someone who simply embezzles funds from his / her office or club, gets caught and dismissed, or someone who is a bus fare cheater. The crimes should engage the interest and emotions of our readers.
We strongly encourage originality and look for novel approaches to the idea of crime fiction.

The best three stories (decided by the editor) will get cash prizes or Amazon vouchers (worth $50 each)! All selected contributors will each receive 2 complimentary copies of the final publication. 

The Best Asian Crime Fiction anthology will be edited by Richard Lord on behalf of Kitaab, Singapore.

Richard Lord has written or co-written over 20 books put out by legitimate publishers. In recent years, he has concentrated on writing and editing crime fiction. He was the editor of two popular crime fiction anthologies: Crime Scene Singapore and Crime Scene Asia. In addition to short stories included in these and three other anthologies, Lord wrote the acclaimed novel The Strangler’s Waltz, about a serial killer in 1913 Vienna.
One of his crime short stories was adapted as a TV mini-series by Singapore’s Mediacorp network, with Lord serving as script consultant and script doctor on the teleplay for this series.

 

Rules and regulations:

  • Submissions should be e-mailed to krimi.asia@gmail.com and to kitaab.sg@gmail.com. Submissions must be made to both ids to qualify.
  • Asians of all nationalities living anywhere in the world can send their stories. However, non-Asian authors who have resided in and written extensively about an Asian country will also be considered.
  • Submissions must be MSWORD (.doc/.docx) attachments typed double spaced in legible fonts, preferably Times New Roman 12. The submission should also be pasted within the body of the covering mail.
  • Please include an author’s bio note of 100 words.
  • The subject line of the email should read as: Submission/TBACF/author’s name.
  • Up to two submissions will be considered from each writer.
  • Translations are welcome, provided prior permissions are taken by translators from the authors. If your submission is a translation, you must note this in a message accompanying the submission.
  • Previously published work in print or online (including blogs, magazines or other online fora) will not be accepted. However, if a previously published short work has been extended into a longer piece, we will accept that longer story for consideration.
  • Simultaneous submissions will be considered. Please notify us immediately if the story is accepted elsewhere.

Last date for submissions: 31 March 2018

 


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Rewriting myths for the modern world

Dec 31, 2017-Poet Madhav Prasad Ghimire once described Ghanashyam Kandel as a writer capable of making nature cry, but had Kandel not won the Madan Puraskar, the prestigious literary award in Nepal, most readers would have never encountered his poetic vision.

He is one of the few writers, who believes that an artist exists as the vehicle of his work and once the book is written the writer is no longer needed––naturally, a man with such beliefs has maintained a low profile.

When you visit him at his residence in Kuleshwor, his personality can challenge the popular, even mythical image of a writer––reading his works, one might imagine him to be an eccentric man bent on changing the ethos of religious myths, but when you meet him, he will only complain to you about the throes of old age.  However, prompt him to speak about language and literature, and he might as well forget that he exists in a body. For a few seconds, he stammers and struggles to find words, but soon he enters into an eloquent soliloquy explaining to you the intricacies of this or that piece of literature. And, as he speaks he can recall from memory some of his favourite lines to explain his thought. “K ho Jiwan ko satya Janna Sakdainan kohi pani/ payeko jindagi bhogna byekti badya cha thehi pani—this is what Dhritarastra felt and I feel this too… I saw the injustice in society and fought against it, but I also cannot claim to have understood life.”

Kandel through his literary creations has been fighting the social injustices of the modern world. He has been actively writing for over four decades, and his literary vision culminated in Dhritarastra, for which he won the literary award.

Dhritarastra is a monologue given by the blind father of the Kauravs, Dhritarastra, in the Mahabharata. Kandel said that his poem reflects on the nature of humans and the reasons for war. In the historical narrative of Mahabarata, Dhritarastra, though blind, is a morally reprehensible character with whom Krishna and the Pandavs find necessary to go to war. In Kandel’s narrative, however, that necessity is questioned, and Dhritarastra wonders if Krishna made the right call by preaching the Gita to Arjun, who became the catalyst for manslaughter during the Kurukshetra war.

“I had suffered from retina displacement and I was blind on one eye for a long time,” Kandel elucidated the inspiration behind his poem, “I was searching for a blind character to portray the woes of differently-abled people.” Despite the moral undertone of the epic poem, many criticised Kandel for distorting the myth and some who were Kandel’s friends were upset with the writer for depicting the Hindu god Krishna in a negative light. “I am interested in taking the skeleton of a mythical story and recasting them in a new light,” Kandel said, “As a writer, I am more interested in using my pen in raising the voice for social justice and my way of doing that is by deconstructing popular myths.”

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12 Indonesian books you should add to your reading list

Before Dawn: The Poetry of Sapardi Djoko Damono ( 2005 )

Author: Sapardi Djoko Damono

Translated by John H. McGlynn, this book contains poetry written by Sapardi Djoko Damono, one of Indonesia’s most renowned poets. It contains 30 more poems than Before Dawn – Suddenly the Night, which was released in 1987.

Some of the most popular poems in the 2005’s book are Rain of June and I Want, with the latter being commonly quoted by and even put to music by fans.

Man Tiger (Lelaki Harimau) ( 2004 )

Author: Eka Kurniawan

The book, which recently named a nominee for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, follows Margio, a youngster from a rural area in Indonesia, who decides to kill a man. This leaves the whole village confused as Margio doesn’t seem like a person who could actually harm anyone. The worst crime he has ever committed is stealing a chicken, which was regarded as something that “happened out of spite”.

But, Margio really did kill the man, moreover in a brutal way. When asked why he did it, he answered, “It wasn’t me. There’s a tiger in me”.

The Land of Five Towers (Negeri 5 Menara) ( 2009 )

Author: Fuadi

Alif was a country boy from Maninjau in Padang, West Sumatra. Even though he dreamed to be another BJ Habibie, the country’s former president, circumstances led him to enroll at Pondok Madani, an Islamic boarding school in East Java.

Although disappointed at first, he learns the words man jadda wa jadda during his time there, which translates into “He who works hard must be successful” in Arabic, and later finds his life changed because of it.

Winter Dreams ( 2011 )

Author: Maggie Tiojakin

Nicky F. Rompa went to Boston, Massachusetts, to have a new life. During his stay, his new family, lover and his boss—apparently everyone around him—teaches him new lessons about living in a multicultural society.

Not only does he have to learn more about himself through it, he also embarks on a journey that will last throughout his life.

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The case of reading and preserving Indonesian literature

In March 2016, a study conducted by Central Connecticut State University (CCTU) entitled “Most Literate Nation of the World” placed Indonesia as the 60th most literate nation out of 61 nations on the list, above only Botswana, and below fellow ASEAN member Thailand. A survey by UNESCO in 2012 records that only one out of 1000 people in Indonesia have an interest in reading. It might sound meagre enough, but what if we ask this next question: how many of the 0.1 percent read books that were written by an Indonesian author?

In most developed countries, especially English-speaking countries, high school students are taught to read books, being exposed to the work of English literature greats like Mark Twain and Shakespeare and encouraged to enjoy and find fun in reading literature. However, in Indonesia, this practice is rare or not practiced at all. Yes, we are taught about the history of Indonesian literature and the periods that divide the styles of literature in Indonesia, but we are not given time to read in class nor are we properly taught to read and appreciate the works of our own people.

To find out whether Indonesians are knowledgeable about their own literature, the Aksaranesia (Aku Suka Sastra Indonesia; I like Indonesian literature) Campaign conducted a survey by asking basic questions about well-known Indonesian literary works. The team specifically targeted the younger generation in the age group of 15-25 during Car Free Day Jakarta and in two universities in Jakarta.

Based on those surveys and quizzes, it found that Indonesian youngsters are not entirely aware of Indonesian literature. None of the respondents got a perfect score, and most are not even familiar with some of the names of the writers being mentioned. Even a simple question like “name three Indonesian books” was difficult to answer. On top of that, it was easier for them to answer questions about English books instead.

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Review of I Am the Beggar of the World by Eliza Griswold

How to endure the unendurable? Perhaps it comes down to wit—keen intelligence cutting to the heart of things. Truth-telling wit may bestow power—however briefly—to the powerless. Think of the rawest blues song, the bawdiest limerick, Shakespeare’s Fool, the anthropomorphic mouse in the old poster, middle finger raised at the bomb looming over his head.

With the help of native speakers of Pashtun, and Afghan scholars of the tradition, Eliza Griswold has compiled and translated a book of landays — a two-line form of folk poetry perhaps five thousand years old — from Afghanistan. Her piercing, matter-of-fact commentary on the poems and their historical and cultural contexts, coupled with Sean Murphy’s stark and beautiful photojournalism, adds a new chapter to the ancient story of human indomitability.

Landays are typically sung, and in all but rare cases sung by women without prompting or occasion. Traditionally, they embody sexual longing or delight, and some of the most affecting of Griswold’s collection do so without explicit acknowledgement of war or oppression, mention of which would undercut the ironic humor of the landays. “Your eyes aren’t eyes,” begins one, setting up the immediate payoff: “They’re bees.” The second line concludes, “I can find no cure for their sting.”

In her commentary, Griswold situates the landay within a rigidly patriarchal culture. In this context, the landay is inherently subversive—dangerous and hidden in plain sight, yet elusive. Consider the poem that opens the book’s introduction:

I call. You’re stone.


One day you’ll look and find I’m gone.


A dozen one-syllable words, three full stops. By means of strong stresses (“call” and “stone”), the first line makes us feel the power of the poet’s need and her lover’s implacable response. The second line plays on “look” and “find,” embodying a hope whose futility the speaker can’t quite admit. Likewise, the permanence of “stone” rhymes with the finality of “gone.” “One day” issues a threat the speaker of the poem wills herself to carry out, but not yet.

A young woman who “called herself Rahila Muska” phoned this landay to an Afghan radio program. Unlike most of the “twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Griswold explains, Muska had some formal schooling, but “poetry, which she learned from women and on the radio, became her only continuing education at home.” Because in Afghan culture “women singers are seen as prostitutes,” they sing in secret. After finding out Muska wrote poems, her brothers beat her. In protest, she committed suicide by self-immolation.

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Book Review: Boy of Fire and Earth by Sami Shah

By Dibyajyoti Sarmah

Boy of Fire and Earth

 

Name: Boy of Fire and Earth
Author: Sami Shah
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 360
Price 499

Could you ever imagine a full-blown fantasy novel set in the murky underbelly of modern-day Karachi? A fantasy novel rooted in Islamic concept of heaven and hell? A fantasy novel where the archetype of evil itself, Iblis (The Devil of The Bible) makes an appearance as a lovable rogue? Perhaps not, especially in the context of today’s polarising attitude to the religion itself. This is one of the reasons that makes Sami Shah’s incredible Boy of Fire and Earth such a joy to read. It takes you back to the days of Arabian Nights and Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, via of course, the western import of video games, comic books and the all-encompassing influence of Neil Gaiman.

For a while, modern South Asian writing is flirting with creating its own brand of fantasy fiction mixing local fantasy elements with established western tropes, as Ashok Banker did recently in Awaken. However, this concoction never felt as original as it does in this book. This is perhaps because Shah prepares you by setting up the rules before he unveils his big adventure.

So we meet our intrepid hero Wahid, a sickly but smart middle school teenager with just two close friends who share his love for science fiction and video games. He falls in love with a classmate and his friends begin experimenting with drinks, as occasional gun fires and bomb blasts continue to rock parts of Karachi. It’s the real deal and life is good, until Wahid meets with a car accident, sees his friend die and witnesses his would-be girlfriend’s soul being sucked away from her body by a shadowy figure.

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