Leave a comment

10 Books set in Tokyo: Reading the motley city

Tokyo has been a subject of literature for centuries, and continues to inspire writers today. These ten fiction and non-fiction works capture Tokyo’s unique character, revealing multiple aspects of the city from its arts scene to its pop culture, and down to the depths of its underworld.

Fiction

After Dark, Haruki Murakami

Internationally acclaimed Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami has published many works set in Tokyo, including Norwegian WoodThe Wind-up Bird Chronicle and After Dark, which was originally published in 2004. In After Dark, Murakami depicts one night in the city from midnight until dawn, using a third person perspective to portray the many characters which occupy this night time sphere. From Denny’s Restaurant to a ‘Love Hotel’, the locations of the novel are reminiscent of the seediness of a bustling street in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho. Murakami captures the urban midnight landscape of Tokyo where different people’s lives interlink and where the boundary between today and tomorrow, reality and dream are blurred.

Almost Transparent Blue, Ryu Murakami

Ryu Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue is based upon events from the author’s own life during the 1970s in Fussa-city, Tokyo, when he was in his twenties. Ryu, a hero of the novel, is living in an apartment located near the American military base in Fussa. On the margins of this base, Ryu and his companions lead a life of sex, drug and violence without any hope for the future. Although the story is depicted through Ryu’s perspective, Murakami maintains a sense of objectivity about everything which occurs, and relates it without any trace of empathy. Through the novel’s haunting emptiness, Murakami achieves a poetic depiction of the devastating life of the Japanese youth during the 1970s.

OUT, Natsuo Kirino

Natsuo Kirino’s OUT, the first Japanese novel shortlisted for the Edgar Awards Best Novel prize, is a story about four women working for a bento factory in the suburbs of Tokyo. Plagued by problems in their families and jobs, they are desperate to get out of such a tedious and repetitive life. This desperation manifests itself in a tragic form, as they are suddenly led into the violent underworld of Japan after one of them impulsively kills her abusive husband. In OUT, Kirino depicts the dark side of modern Japanese society with a profound insight into the reality of ordinary people’s lives right after the collapse of the ‘bubble economy’.

Read More

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Could Eco-Literature be the Next Major Literary Wave?

Eco-literature includes the whole gamut of literary works, including fiction, poetry and criticism, which lay stress on ecological issues. Cli-fi (climate fiction), which deals with climate change and global warming, is logically a sub-set of eco-literature. Most of the current writing under this genre looks at human activities that have been killing nature slowly.

Cli-fi often ventures into the realms of sci-fi and/or speculative fiction when the narrative gets rooted in future or in an imaginary geographical locale. The litmus test is how far such fiction evokes in the reader a sense of urgency towards an action to save the environment, or, if they are capable of leaving a deep impression to humans conscious of their role in saving the earth.

The crux lies in ensuring that such literary works do not sound like propaganda and should necessarily carry with them deep literary values. Authors need to ensure that they do not artificially structure their plots or introduce characters in their narrative to justify their labelling as eco-literature, which they have largely failed to do. This is why the eco-literature wave did not reach greater heights, though the modern eco-lit wave started in the 1970s. Authors could induce a tendency in the readers’ minds to dismiss them off as a kind of “moral literature” dictating the dos and don’ts towards the environment, albeit in a subtle way through a structured ‘moral’ story.

The genre of cli-fi seems to have given regular novelists just another platform and locale to shift their storytelling from the normal world’s heinous crimes to ecological crimes perpetrated by either villainous individuals or corporations. Such crimes include causing massive glacial ice melting and flooding cities, resulting in huge disasters with heroic characters rising up to the occasion to save humanity. But such plots, more often than not, make uninteresting reading.

The real ecological issues lie elsewhere. There has been a rapid loss of ecological species with the progress of time. Natural habitats keep shrinking due to human activity. Wildlife poaching has resulted in species becoming endangered, pushed to the brink of extinction. Illegal largescale mechanised fishing has resulted in the erosion of ocean biodiversity. Large scale deforestation across the world has led to displacement of tribal populations and consequently, loss of their culture and languages.

Read More


Leave a comment

Blind by Joginder Paul

By Mitali Chakravarty

Blind

 

Title: Blind
Author: Joginder Paul
Translated from Urdu by: Sukrita Paul Kumar & Hina Nandrajog
Publisher: harper Perennial
Pages: 244
Buy

Blind interfaces between being a thriller and a symbolic multi-layered novel. It starts in a home for the visually impaired and soars into the political and social arena of the world in which we live. Mr Joginder Paul, the author, based this story on his experiences in a blind people’s home near Nairobi during his sojourn as a teacher in Africa. In the book, he has relocated the home to India and the inmates are Indians.

Through the course of his narrative, he highlights the struggle faced by people with vision and without vision. He uses ‘sight’ symbolically to contrast physical, moral, intellectual and value-based vision. Some of the blind have a ‘third eye’ with which they can sense the world around them. Some of them are excellent craftsmen and have ‘eyes on their fingers’. The blind are so attuned to their condition that they fear external sight. Being free of vision gives them a sense of freedom in their interactions with each other and with the world around them. One of them, a basket weaver, claims, ‘… if my eyes begin to see, my fingers will go blind.’ When an inmate regains sight, he loses his sense of orientation. He feels threatened that he will be turned out of the home, the only shelter the blind trust.

The beautiful blind Roni finds herself in a brothel when she leaves the security of the home. Eventually, after a brief marriage with a man with sight, she is compelled to re-seek the shelter of the home. Roni, who has ties with at least five men through the narrative, finally marries an inmate of the home, Sharfu.

Unfortunately, Sharfu steps out to buy barfi for Roni, stumbles on an abandoned dead body, and, unable to convince the police of his innocence, he is taken into custody.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Louis Cha’s acclaimed trilogy to be translated into English

Despite their popularity, only three of Jin Yong’s martial arts novels have been translated into English. But fans will soon get more from the writer as his most popular trilogy, named after the first of the three books, Legends of the Condor Heroes, is scheduled to hit bookstores in February.

Jin Yong is the pen name of Louis Cha. And the author, who lives in Hong Kong, is one of the best-selling Chinese authors alive with over 300 million copies of his works sold in the Chinese-speaking world.

This latest translation project is the most ambitious with regard to Jin Yong’s works.

The trilogy, written by Jin Yong in the 1950s and ’60s, covers the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and features hundreds of characters.

The plot includes betrayal and allegiance among different martial arts schools, and the rise and fall of dynasties.

According to the publishing house, Maclehose Press, the translated work will come in 12 volumes, including Legends of the Condor Heroes; Divine Condor, Errant Knight; and Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre.

Anna Holmwood is the translator of volume one, A Hero Born.

Speaking of the project which she took up in 2012, Holmwood, a self-employed translator focusing on Chinese-English literary translations, says in an email interview: “It had to be Jin Yong then. It was the obvious place to start, not only because of the quality of his writing, but also because of his standing and reputation in Asia.”

Holmwood, who was born to a British father and a Swedish mother, grew up in the United Kingdom and studied history at the University of Oxford.

Her love affair with China began in 2005, when she spent two months traveling around the country on a scholarship.

The trip aroused her curiosity about China, and she was determined to learn Chinese. “That was the only way to satisfy my curiosity about the country,” she says.

Holmwood then chose modern Chinese studies as her MPhil major at Oxford, and went to Taiwan Normal University for a year of language training in 2009.

Read More


Leave a comment

Famous Literary Works from Northeast India

Literature is rooted in culture and tradition. The North East is a fertile ground for various traditions that have made their way to this zone along with tribes that brought such way of life along with them when they came here from various parts of Asia. Over 200 tribes and sub-sects inhabit the region. One would normally expect literature to go back several centuries but one must keep in mind that until as late as the 20th century, most of the traditions and stories were handed down by way of word of mouth. It is only in the past century that works of literature emerged from this region. Exceptions are regions like Assam that encompassed Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, where royal kingdoms flourished 1000 years ago and gave birth to legends like Kamarupa around the 10th century and Ramai Pundit in the 12th century. Boru Chandidas, Durllava Mullik and Bhavani Das left their footprints during the later periods. Clubbing the region as North East is a British leftover and indicates a bias whereas people here are highly individualistic and identify themselves with the region and with the tribe. However, the North East has spawned writers like Dr Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, a Jnanpith Award Winner and also a winner of the Sahitya Academy award, Dr Indira Goswami and others like Bhabananda Deka and others. There are hundreds of works of literature but a few are worthy of mention.

Deo Langkhui by Rita Chowdhury

Datal Hatir Unye Khuwa Howdah by Indira Goswami

M K Binodini Devi’s Boro Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi

Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya’s Mrityunjaya

Shree Krishna Kirtana Kabya by Boru Chandidas

Burhi Aair Sadhu compiled by Lakshminath Bezbaruah

Mitra Phukan’s The Collector’s Wife

Read More


Leave a comment

Book Review: Snowfed Waters by Jane Wilson-Howarth

By Nilesh Mondal

Snowfed Waters
Title: Snowfed Waters
Author: Jane Wilson-Howarth
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Pages: 296
Price: ₹ 360
Buy:

The story of finding one’s true passion and sense of purpose through confrontations with hardships has become a trope per se. One can even say it has been overdone, although new variations crop up every year, driving home profound life lessons. However, despite their often clichéd premise or plot, some stories still manage to deliver a heart-touching performance in terms of fully sketched characters and a sense of anxiety through a gripping story which serves us with a steady sense of exhilaration when we finally see the protagonist come out of all trials, injured but wiser. That in a nutshell is why Snowfed Waters works well despite its shortcomings.

Sonia, the protagonist of this fictional travelogue, is a woman who has lost a significant part of what she assumed to be her regular life in light of recent events. Estranged from her husband, wrecked with debilitating anxiety and unsure of what to do with her life, she embarks on an expedition to Nepal under the pretext of helping with teaching duties in local schools. With this trip she hopes to regain emotional stability in her turbulent life and heal herself. Although off to a rocky start, she soon adjusts well to the situations and surroundings, and as she slowly learns to fight off the ghosts of her past, she also becomes a part of the local people and their community. There are moments of endearing sincerity throughout the story, which, along with moments of suspense and sadness, create a fine balance of emotions which the reader feels almost as clearly as the protagonist herself. The end, although sweet and hopeful, shows Sonia clearly as someone who has had a change of heart, and we can’t help but be happy for her.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

I’m outraged a media house doesn’t want to review Indian authors: Amrita Talwar

It seemed like a normal “Monday” working day.

I logged in and started trawling through my email. I came across a name marked in bold that I was dying to hear from. The email was from a journalist to whom I had pitched an author profile and I had been following up persistently for an answer. You know how publicists feel when they are desperately trying to pitch an Indian author for an interview and then suddenly a mail pops up on the screen. It’s the equivalent of finding a Rs 1,000 note in your jeans when you are absolutely broke.

I manage publicity for a reputed publishing house in India and my forte is promoting writings by Indian authors – novels, narrative non-fiction, commercial and literary. Finding media space for their work is something that I quite like doing. And I tell people happily and proudly that “shrinking” media space in India is a myth. I gloat to my UK counterparts that India is probably the only country that still has lavish Sunday pages dedicated to books, author interviews and websites that happily carry book-related stories. Read more


1 Comment

Short Story: How Abstract Art Liberated Me and Infuriated My Peers

 

by Michelle D’Costa

Wine Glass Breaking

The wine glass shatters. It’s Tuesday. It is the fifth glass shattering this week. After I Whatsapp Mom to clarify if shattering glasses bring good news or the polar opposite, I sweep the shards into the dust pan and wet a duster so that the minute particles that have escaped the broom will be absorbed by the cloth. I do it immediately for if I forget and if Kriti steps on it later, I would never forgive myself.

She is in the fifth grade — she is small. She got her periods last week — not that small.

She has gone to school. I wonder what to do. I check if Mom has replied. Blue ticks. She has seen it. I log into Facebook.

Post: Artist hacked to death over explicit painting

My God! Continue reading


Leave a comment

Photo Feature: Kitaab launches T A Morton’s ‘Halfway Up A Hill–Stories from Hong Kong’ in Singapore

Singapore publisher Kitaab launched Denmark-based writer T A Morton’s debut collection of short stories, Halfway Up A Hill–Stories from Hong Kong, on Friday (19 February) at Books Actually in Singapore. Here are some images from the launch.

Copies of the book are available now at Books Actually, Singapore and will soon be available in all leading bookstores in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

IMG_1495

In Halfway up a Hill, an array of characters from the eight distinctive short stories converge and interact in and around a busy Soho coffee shop in Hong Kong. In the air-conditioned confines of an unassuming coffee shop halfway up (or down, depending on your point of view) a steep Hong Kong hillside, a multitude of lives entwine, unravel and spin off, together and apart, all watched over and influenced by forces the people involved only vaguely apprehend—as well as observed by the benign spirits that occupy the shop bathroom. The collection of intriguing stories told in Halfway up a Hill both stimulate and beguile, like a sip of hot coffee on a cold day.

IMG_1497

T.A. Morton (holding her author’s copy at the launch) has worked as journalist and editor for Longman Pearson in Hong Kong. Returning to Europe she now resides in Copenhagen where she works as a freelance editor. She lives with her husband and daughter and is the proud godmother to a commercial ship, Tracey Kosan. Currently she is working towards her masters in Literature, and also on her third novel.

IMG_1502

Something for the tastebuds at the launch @ Books Actually

IMG_1504

T A Morton in conversation with her readers

IMG_1511

Novelist and poet Krishna Udayasankar was in conversation with the author, T. A. Morton.

IMG_1512

And the book is launched: (from left) T A Morton, author of Halfway Up a Hill; Zafar Anjum, publisher, Kitaab; Krishna Udayasankar, novelist and poet; and Helen Mangham, agent, Books@Jacaranda