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Book Review: The Scorpion by Kim Won-il

Reviewed by Anushka Ray

scorpion_cvr

Title: The Scorpion (Trans)
Author: Kim Won-il
Publisher: Kitaab International, Singapore
Pages: 445
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There is a throbbing ache of subdued anger throughout The Scorpion, an ever-present bitterness, which seeps through the most deadpan of narration and into the hearts of the readers. The Scorpion by Kim Won-il finds its footing with this: a constant pragmatic voice, but full of resentment, to emphasize the loss of desire to romanticize the world in which these characters find themselves.

The novel follows Kang Jae-pil, his father Kang Cheon-dong and, briefly, his father’s father Kang Chi-mu, as each man navigates the tension he faces in Korean society. Each alternate chapter adopts a different perspective as a way to seamlessly and organically transition between timelines and generations. We venture into the narrator Jae-pil’s thoughts and feelings as he grapples with life right out of prison. Kang Jae-pil’s matter of fact observations are riddled and tangled with acute detail, giving way to a man who perhaps has deep sensitivities, a startling recognition of guilt and gratitude for the family he let down. Jae-pil’s meetings with his step-sister Myeong-hee (who holds greater importance as the story continues) as well as his grandmother, excel in showcasing glittering remnants of humanity that he holds onto despite his seven years in prison.

Jae-pil vows to leave behind his gangster lifestyle in Seoul as he travels to meet his family and eventually begins writing his deceased grandfather’s biography as a way to show his respect and perhaps as a way for him to move on from the years he spent behind bars. His story is by far the most engaging, largely attributable to the first person narration, a man who feels regret and has potential. Won-il travels in time through flashbacks and dialogue to explore Jae-pil’s perilous journey and brings alive the Korean society as it morphs through the ages. As the novel unfolds, Won-il seems to gain in confidence and fluidity with Jae-pil’s character and begins to introduce more graceful description of the beauty found in nature. Despite this, at its core the story remains dark – Jae-pil is haunted by vices, much like his father was; we find ourselves screaming at him to resist his temptations when he begins turning to drinking and crime. While the lack in build up does not prepare us for this, it’s not surprising in the context of the character’s past. Regardless of this, Jae-pil stays the most likeable man of the three.

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How to catch a killer in China: Another Chinese crime novel goes global

(From The New York Times. Read the complete article at the link below.)

Zhou Haohui, the latest author to catch the wave of Chinese crime fiction crashing on international shores, had an unsatisfying job teaching engineering at a university outside of Beijing in 2007 when he began publishing — online — the novels that would earn him a cultlike following in China.

These books — a trilogy about a police hunt for a vengeful killer — went into print two years later, ultimately selling more than 1.2 million copies. They inspired a serial on the streaming site owned by Tencent, the social media giant, that has, to date, been watched a staggering 2.4 billion times, according to his agent, China Educational Publications Import & Export Corporation. A feature film went into production in April.

Now the first book of Mr. Zhou’s trilogy, “Death Notice,” will be released on June 5 in the United States, and in Britain next week. The American publisher, Doubleday, hopes it will vault him into the ranks of other contemporary Chinese novelists — like Qiu Xiaolong, He Jiahong and A Yi — who have reached a global audience with stories from China’s criminal underbelly.

Crime, Mr. Zhou says, is a universal theme, which is why detective stories or police thrillers (even from an authoritarian political system like China’s) can more easily transcend cultural divides than, say, historical fiction.

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Kitaab call for submission: The Best Asian Crime Fiction DEADLINE EXTENDED

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: 15 May 2018


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In Teheran, Noir is a political act

Writing crime fiction in post revolution Iran

Back in the day, so my mother tells me, on the rare occasions when my father took her along to one of the cabarets of old Tehran, the tough guys—the lutis—the bosses, the knife brawlers, and the traditional wrestlers, would lay out their suits and jackets on the floor of the place for my mother to walk on. It was a gesture of supreme respect for one of their own. And it says a lot about a Tehran that simply doesn’t exist anymore—a Tehran of chivalry and loyalty, a place where allegiances meant something, where friendships harked back to a classical world of warriors from the great Persian epic, the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), and to the medieval Islamic notion of the ayyar brotherhood in Iran and Mesopotamia where the bandit and the common folks’ champion were one and the same, and where every man followed a code of honor set in stone.

Or else, all of this may simply be wishful nostalgia for something that didn’t exist even back then. Back then means a time before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. That watershed event that sits in the mind of every Iranian as a chasm, a sort of year one after which everything strange became law. The brutal eight years of war with Iraq—the longest conventional war of the twentieth century—the persistent pressures from America in its own everlasting twilight war with Iran, the official corruption of the new ruling class, and the snowballing inflation turned just about everyone into a “night worker.” Living an honest life was no longer an option. Prostitution, theft, an explosion in the drug trade and addiction, the selling off of raw materials and historic national treasures—plus endemic, in-your-face bribery—became a way of life. Meanwhile Tehran grew and grew, until it was one of the megacities of the world, now pushing at fifteen million stray souls—a leviathan that can barely stand itself, a purgatory of unmoving traffic, relentless pollution, and noise and anger and inequity, surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world.

Tehran, then, is a juxtaposition of ugliness and beauty that breaks the heart. A place where not one but two inept dynasties came to miserable ends, and where, arguably, the third most important revolution in history (after the French and the Russian) was started. It is also the city where Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt met to divvy up the world while the flames of WWII were still burning. And it was where one of the CIA’s first manufactured coups (with the prodding and support of the British—who else?) against a democratically elected government was put into motion, thus ushering in years of a dictatorship which in turn was swept aside by the first real fury of fundamentalist Islam, a harbinger of the world we now live in and call post–9/11.

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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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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.

 


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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.

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