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Spotlit at last: Asian American writing’s new generation

After years on the peripheries of US fiction and poetry, Asian American authors have stepped into the spotlight during 2017. Books by writers of east and south-east Asian heritage are one of the hottest trends this year. Led by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jenny Zhang and the poet Ocean Vuong, it marks the emergence into the centre of the US literary world of a previously marginalised group.

Transcultural writers, born to immigrant parents in the US or immigrants themselves as children, they are channelling their experiences into writing that, with perfect historical timing, challenges readers to resist attacks on immigrants’ rights and to see refugees as individuals with unique stories.

The experiences of displaced people are central to the work of this new generation of Asian Americans, and their books cross genres and forms. Vuong, who recently won the Forward prize for best first collection, arrived in the US as a refugee from Vietnam in 1990. His poems in Night Sky With Exit Wounds mix migration with myth and eroticism. Early in the collection, the narrator of Telemachus pulls his father from the sea, dragging him “through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail / the waves rush in to erase”. Such images stick in the reader’s mind and, though it is never said explicitly, feel as if they are etched in the memory of the young gay Asian man navigating the 21st-century US in subsequent poems.

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Book Review: Memories Cached by Cameron Su

Reviewed by Shruthi Rao

Memories Cached

Title: Memories Cached
Author: Cameron Su
Publishers: Cameron Su (co-funded via the Act!on for a Cause programme of Kids4Kids Hong Kong)
Pages: 302

Across the world, there are tremors of the beginnings of a youth movement, sparked by young people tired of the status quo – teenagers who are no longer satisfied with sitting around and waiting for adults to do things for them; youngsters who want change, and are not afraid to take on any situation by the horns.

There is still a considerable amount of eye-rolling about millennials and disapproving head-shakes at ‘this new generation’ that will ‘never amount to anything’. I believe that this attitude is unfair to those young people out there who are actually standing up and making a difference.

Cameron Su is one such person. He is a 17-year-old high school student in Hong Kong, who wants to tackle the issue of bullying through his book Memories Cached. Set in a high school in Singapore (which is ranked by a study as third in the world in bullying among 15-year-olds), Memories Cached takes the reader through a few months in the life of a handful of high school kids on the cusp of college. Dominic Chiu is a regular high school guy who, on a dare, kisses his girlfriend in school. Savannah Dixon, another high school student, captures it on her camera, and on an impulse, uploads it on YouTube. The video promptly goes viral.

Dominic is now in trouble, both from the principal (PDA is banned in the school!) and from Ryan Chang, the school bully and the brother of Talinda, the girl he kissed.

The rest of the book takes us through the repercussions of this incident, in two POVs – that of Dominic Chiu, and that of his cyber bully, Savannah Dixon. Savannah’s POV is interesting. It highlights the reason why she chose to upload the video, her almost-immediate regret but with the knowledge that once a video is out there, she has no control over it. It takes us through her insecurities, her wanting to fit in, and makes us feel sorry for her. She wants to make amends, however, and at the end, she redeems herself.

This incident in the book highlights a very important aspect – that a private moment that would’ve gone unnoticed or uncommented upon in an earlier era is now potentially in the public domain, up for everybody to see. You need to have eyes at the back of your head; if you drop your guard for a moment your privacy is not yours any longer.

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When real life outstrips fiction…

Hussainul Haq’s novel “Amawas Mein Khwab” initiates a new debate on the Hindu-Muslim relationship

At a time when people cherish to be lied to, what can scare away the spectre of an unprecedented assault on the very idea of truth? Is truth a sociological reality or an unachievable ethical reality? Does the narrative of homogeneity set in motion by new information technology produce a kind of immodesty that allows us to recognise falsehood but we still treat it as if were a reality? Does our intent on peddling fantasy as a fact correspond to “Suspended Disbelief” that Coleridge found essential for literature? These frightening and unsettling questions thrown up by the post-truth period are impeccably sewn together in a novel of a celebrated Urdu novelist and short story writer Hussainul Haq and his latest novel has been doing rounds in the Urdu knowing circles of the subcontinent.

His recently published novel, “Amawas Mein Khwab” (Dreaming in the last night before the new moon), poignantly tells a tale of Ismael Rajai, who lost all his family members in a communal riot but a marked Indian passion for free-flowing of inter-personal relationship unencumbered by religious and cultural affinity and uncontaminated by self-interest enabled him to begin a new life. Ismael, lived in Bombay, Bhiwandi and Patna, and is exposed to many cultures and as a power loom owner, teacher, a friend of a landlord, a father and a thinking human being, he tries to understand why common people do the uncommon to transform themselves. His stint as a lecturer at a college in Bihar provides him with a space where several mediations are carried out. Arousal of mass-hysteria in the name of caste and religion acquaints him with the aggressive and self-destructive potential of conflict and disharmony. His tantalising journey of a new life transcends inadequacies and presents a higher level of synthesis where being apart and being together emerge a reality as audaciously as they can.

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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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Book Excerpt: Rasia, The Dance of Desire by Koral Dasgupta

 

Artwork

 

Title – Rasia, The Dance of Desire
Publisher – Rupa Publications (2017)
Price – Rs. 295/-

 

Excerpt from chapter 2

Raj Shekhar Subramanian

Thiruvananthapuram

2015

 

Manasi!

My entire being arouses with a protective shield towards this woman. Seventeen years of togetherness is a long time. When have I ever been a husband who wakes up, orders breakfast, takes bath, goes to office, watches television, has dinner and kisses the wife goodnight? Manasi isn’t tired of my creative whims. At least, not yet. Rather, the unpredictability keeps her entertained. My demure wife though, has her own ways to follow her mind. Without the least warning, she goes ahead with things without considering the consequences they might have on me and everyone else around her. Just like her secret visit to my orphanage. Just like she had agreed to marry me on an impulse, even though I had promised her neither luxury nor riches, no undying romance as suitors usually do.

What a strange evening it was when I saw her for the first time.

That was 1998. I had landed up in Kolkata for my final round of meetings with Britannia industries. I was being absorbed by the organization in their supply chain wing post my B.Tech. The city was celebrating the Saptami day of Durga Puja, and was all decked up in pomp and gaiety. Every lane was crowded. After finishing the formalities with Britannia, I was walking leisurely through Rashbihari Avenue watching people pouring into the sari shops, pampering themselves.

So lucky—this privileged class!

I had broken free from my orphanage and moved to the college hostel when I was sixteen. I topped various examinations at all academic levels. The Government, since then, had taken special care of me. I thrived on scholarships for a large part of my life. That made life easier, but I never had the opportunity to splurge. My funds were limited, and I had vast plans with the money I had for the days to come.

The sun had set; darkness was slowly taking over. The city, with its lamps and lights, seemed to awaken to welcome the evening festivities. Distracted with my thoughts, I had unmindfully landed up at one of the pandals*, lit brightly, surging with visitors. I made my way through the chaos and pushed myself forward. A young girl in her early twenties, flawlessly draped in a cotton saree, was dancing with the dhaak** that played. Her vigour wasn’t impaired by the growing crowd watching her. I could tell from her moves that she wasn’t professionally trained. Yet, she had a style—of youth and feminine abundance, of letting go and not holding back. She smiled as she stretched, bent and whirled around; her muscles and body reflected serene fulfilment. Her eyes, beneath a big maroon bindi, sparkled with mischief.

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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’.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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

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