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‘Something Other Than Other’: The poetry of Philip Rowland captures quotidian Tokyo life

By Kris Kosaka

Tokyo poet Philip Rowland’s third full-length collection of verse, “Something Other Than Other,” quietly resonates with profound images of the quotidian humanity he finds around him.

Published last year by Isobar Press in Tokyo, the collection is a showcase for the playful power Rowland holds over his words. Organized into four sections, the book is a finely woven tapestry of forms ranging from found poems to pithy musings, tanka and haiku, all exhibiting a mastery of line and space — proof that Rowland is a craftsman who is confident with his tools.

Especially worthy of note, in the second section titled “Surveillance,” is a series of vignettes documenting Rowland’s observations about strangers and the lives they lead in and around his neighborhood in Shinjuku Ward. Read more

Source: The Japan Times


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Gone Guy: A Writer Leaves His Wife, Then Disappears in Greece

By Fernanda Eberstadt

By Katie Kitamura
229 pp. Riverhead Books. $25.

When I was young, I felt a high-minded scorn for the whodunits my elders favored: mystery novels that inducted you into the specificities of British racecourses or Native American reservations while satisfying the same itch for neat solutions as my father’s games of solitaire, my mother’s crossword puzzles. Back then, suspense struck me as a cheap trick, like tickling the sole of a baby’s foot or cooking with scads of butter. The novels I loved occasionally included a murder — sometimes even a police inspector whose investigation actually produced the culprit — but the real question at stake wasn’t “Who killed the old bastard?” but “Is there a God, and if there isn’t, why should we be good?”

Now that I’m older, I have a grudging respect for the mystery novel and its resourceful practitioners, writers whose art depends on catching the world-weary reader unawares. Suddenly I too can see the point of having my questions answered, the teasing threads unknotted, cases closed.

Katie Kitamura would seem to share my youthful disregard for closure. In her third novel, “A Separation,” she has created a kind of postmodern mystery in which we end up with a dead body, evidence of a violent crime, an abundant trail of clues and even angry mourners, yet nobody feels compelled to pursue the investigation. There is something unknowable in human nature, the novel seems to assume, something better left unexamined. “Once you begin to pick at the seams,” we are told, “all deaths are unresolved.” Read more

Source: The New York Times

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Book Review: Collected Hong Kong Stories – love, shattered dreams and pursuit of wealth in the vertical city

By Tessa Chan

Collected Hong Kong Stories

by David T.K. Wong

Blacksmith Books

4 stars

While most authors build a following in their home country before venturing abroad, Hong Kong’s limited outlets for literary fiction led to local author David T.K. Wong taking his work to the US, Europe and Southeast Asia before publishing them here.

Now, however, he brings us 30 years worth of his short stories in one book, a rich and complex portrait of Hong Kong told through the lens of its varied inhabitants, their relationships with the city and each other.

Drawing on his own broad experience and knowledge – he studied political science and journalism, worked as a journalist, educator and government official – Wong conjures characters from all levels of society, from wealthy businessmen to migrant workers. He takes us on a vivid tour through Hong Kong’s back alleys, and abroad, whether to London’s Embankment or the traditional tea houses of Kyoto, Japan. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post

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The Rare Writer Who Hates the Word ‘I’

By Jiayang Fan

By Yiyun Li
208 pp. Random House. $27.

“Why write autobiographically?” the Chinese-American author Yiyun Li asks in this new collection of essays, “Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life,” the closest thing to an autobiography she has ever published. It is a question Li takes seriously and explores tirelessly, not least because she professes an unease with the assertion of the pronoun “I.” It is a “melodramatic” word, Li writes. “The moment that I enters my narrative my confidence crumbles.” This a remarkable statement in a volume that is essentially memoir.

Such diffidence is difficult to detect in her fiction, where the first person has been deployed to devastating effect, albeit infrequently. But then the narrative “I” of a short story is perhaps best seen as a means of self-effacement, and it’s notable that Li’s remarkable fiction — two elegant novels and two story collections — is all assiduously unautobiographical, from the forgotten granny living in China to the gay immigrant seeking asylum in the United States. Read more

Source: The New York Times

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The magic of allegory

By Shafey Kidwai

Isa Kamari’s “Tweet” is a modern-day fable that juxtaposes human condition with natural environment


Does the much-needed sense of contentment elude zillions of children who seek uninterrupted amusement through mobile and internet? Does prattling of birds soothe their inflamed nerves or does it symbolise ungainliness of their tweeter ? Do they now look for super birds when they find themselves surrounded by birds? Is it the time to ponder over ‘tweet’ instead of concentrating ‘twitter’ for conveying one’s feelings instantly? Should we look beyond twitter that has become the muse of many artists of our time? These unsettling questions, coupled with a deep sense of bewilderment and dislocation that breathless ubiquitous techno-culture produced, are creatively explored by an eminent Singaporean writer Isa Kamari in his recently published novel “Tweet”.

It is his first novel in English though he has published nine novels, two collection of poems, a collection of short stories and a number of theatre scripts in Malay. Read more

Source: The Hindu

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Caught in the religious tangle

By  Madhulika Liddle

denied-by-allahIslam allows for a practice called Halala: if a man divorces his wife but then wants to marry her again, she must first be married to another man, then divorced (or widowed) before she can be remarried to her first husband. In its essence, it sounds logical, because divorce must not be an impulsive decision. The decision must be considered, attempts must be made at counselling, and parting should happen only if there is no other way out.

In Noor Zaheer’s Denied by Allah, the author offers several real life case studies. Sakina, for instance, married to a drunk man, finds herself divorced one night when, in a drunken fury, he pronounces ‘talaq’ thrice. The next morning, he is repentant and wants to marry her again—but it is too late. Sakina now has to go through a hundred-day period of Iddat, where she remains housebound, unseen by strange men, until she can marry another. The husband quickly finds a solution: his younger brother will marry Sakina and divorce her after one night. But the younger brother cannot bring himself to consummate the relationship with his former bhabhi. So Sakina has to marry another man (and obtain a divorce from him) before being free to marry her first husband. Read more

Source: The New Indian Express

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Book review: Alia Malek’s The Home That Was Our Country mirrors the tragedy of Syria

By Marcia Lynx Qualey

Alia Malek

Nation Books,


Alia Malek’s newly released The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria follows the author as she struggles to reclaim her grandmother’s Damascus home, her family narrative and her country’s history.

In broad strokes, Malek’s second work of non-fiction is much like Lebanese-American journalist Anthony Shadid’s House of Stone (2012). Both narratives required a steady hand, as they thread through family lore and violently contested histories.

But The Home That Was Our Country sets off through even rougher terrain. Malek wrote her book in the early years of Syria’s civil war. As the reader picks it up, the war still rages, its effects felt around the world.

The book’s lodestone is the author’s maternal grandmother, Salma. It begins with the story of Salma’s father Abduljawwad, who was born during the Ottoman era. This history is compelling and it creates a fluid, multilayered portrait of Syria’s people. Read more

Source: The National

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Book review: Three Daughters of Eve looks at the challenges facing Muslims

By Lucy Scholes

This week I’ve read two new fictional works, both of which speak directly to the world today: Vietnamese-American author Viet Thanh Nguyen’s short-story collection, The Refugees; and Turkish writer Elif Shafak’s new novel, Three Daughters of Eve.

The Refugees, with its moving depiction of the immigrant experience in the United States, should be compulsory reading for anyone in favour of US president Donald Trump’s attempts at a refugee ban; while Three Daughters of Eve, in its efforts to speak to the broader ideological concerns that underlie this pernicious anti-Muslim hate-filled rhetoric, is a text to linger over. It’s a novel of ideas – sometimes to the detriment of its story – that advocates replacing dogma with doubt.

Opening in modern-day Istanbul – “a bloated goldfish, unaware of having gobbled more than it could digest, still searching around for more to eat” – Peri, a wealthy housewife and mother, is on her way to a dinner party at a seaside mansion. An altercation with a mugger leaves her out of sorts. In the course of their struggle a Polaroid snapshot, a “relic from a time long ago”, is shaken free from her handbag: a professor and three young female students outside the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Two narratives thus unspool: in the present, the performance of the dinner party – the small talk, the silent hovering servants, the polite but ultimately empty delight of fine food and wine, itself a delicious portrait of the contradictions and intolerances of the city’s bourgeoisie – fractiously rubbing up against Peri’s recollections of a buried episode in her past. Read more
Source: The National

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‘Into a Black Sun: Vietnam 1964-65’: Takeshi Kaiko turns his reporting experience into fiction

By Iain Maloney

Journalist Takeshi Kaiko covered the Vietnam War for the Asahi Shimbun, later fictionalizing his experiences in this novel about a Japanese journalist in Saigon and the Vietnamese jungle.

Embedded with a U.S. Army company, the unnamed narrator leads the reader through the boredom and high drama of a war zone with philosophical objectivity and a wry sense of humor. After surviving a stint at the front he returns to Saigon, where he chases rumors between drinking sessions, attends writing groups, and enthusiastically explores the seedy underbelly of Saigon life. Tiring of this dissolute existence, he decides to rejoin the troops and follows them on a mission deep into enemy territory, where the novel reaches its climax.

“Into a Black Sun” is an irresistible blend of narrative and inquiry, a moving exploration of how war desiccates humanity. Read more

Source: The Japan Times

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Book Review: The Jeera Packer by Prashant Yadav

By Manisha Lakhe

jeera-packerThe Great Indian Publishing Machine has been churning out Indian writing in English for years now. Most of it is culture-apologetic, where authors explain how idlis are “steamed rice dumplings”, and other “literary” novels are plain pretentious pomposity where the authors suffer from a colonial hangover, write paragraph after convoluted paragraph to show how clever Indians can be in writing a “foreign” language. But when you come across a story that casually embraces the English language to tell the story from gun country, which is completely Hindi centric, is a rare thing of joy.

The author Prashant Yadav is not just telling us a story in The Jeera Packer, he is telling it with love. Love for the language as well as for the characters.

“The car moved as slow as the thoughts in the professor’s head” followed by: “Why would he and his son be thrashed with chappals and thrown into jail?”

No apologies for using Indian colloquial English where people do tend to put “me” first as in Hindi (“main aur meri tanhaai” as an example). But you forget this and enjoy sentences that describe the traffic jams you have experienced in person.

The immediacy of the events in the book is remarkable. The author takes you to wherever the characters are. In the car with the “lal batti”, inside the politician’s den, and even to the workshop where the Bullet is treated like god.

If you’ve met a motorbike aficionado, or are one, you will love everything about the Bullet in the book. Not just Abdul and his passion, his philosophy (the motorbike lads don’t just drive with passion, but live the philosophy unique to each rider, and the author seems to knows that), but also how graciously the protagonist teaches his son to ride his Bullet when he realises that he may be going out in flames. The son Abhishek has to walk back with the bike… If you have ever attempted to ride that Bullet, that God of a bike, then you’d have complete sympathy with the son, who has to walk the beast back because it just won’t start for novices…

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