by Dan Bloom

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Taiwan sits on a piece of colourful and multi-splendoured island real estate, south of Japan and east of Hong Kong and China. As an independent, sovereign nation since 1945, it has produced its share of Asian literature since the beginning of the Japanese Colonial Period (1895-1945) to the present. In this brief essay, I want to introduce two Taiwanese writers; one a novelist with an international reputation, Wu Ming-yi, who writes in Chinese, and the other a short story writer based in Taipei, Jane Wu, who writes in English and has recently published a collection of nine stories about the martial law period of Taiwan history (1949 to 1987).

Nature writer and university professor Wu Ming-yi  (吳明益) wrote a popular novel titled The Man with the Compound Eyes in 2011, with translations in English and French following in 2013 and 2014. Largely ignored at first for the novel that was published in Chinese, Wu’s eco-fantasy later  attracted attention overseas in translated editions, thanks for the eagle eye and savvy marketing skills of Taipei-based literary agent Gray Tan, who took Wu under his wing and introduced the novel to agents and publishers in Europe and America.

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The first Africans came to Japan in 1546 in a Portuguese ship as slaves and shipmates.  But that did not impact Japanese lore as much as the black samurai who came to Japan in 1579 in the service an Italian Jesuit missionary from  the Indies, India in the case of this missionary. (The term Indies was inclusive of the South East Asian areas influenced by Indian culture.)

His story has captured much media attention this year with Chadwick Boseman of Black Panther (2018) fame cast as the black samurai for an MGM movie and with Netflix planning an animation on him.

When the young man arrived in Kyoto in 1579, he was not a samurai. He rose to be one after a powerful Japanese  feudal lord, Oda Nobunaga, in the Sengoku period (1467 to 1600) took a fancy to him. He became a famous samurai known as Yasuke . After the death of his master, he became a ronin, a samurai without a master.

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The sea with its moods, vibrancy and colours has been a source of fascination for countless poets, writers, photographers and artists.

Break, Break, Break, Alfred Tennyson’s elegy, written for his friend Arthur Hallum in 1835 and immortalised over centuries, uses the violence of waves to express the grief and the sense of helplessness caused by loss. Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) brought the ocean to our doorstep and subsequently on to the silver screen. 

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The Slave Ship by Turner

Around the same time, in 1867, Matthew Arnold , a British poet, published Dover Beach, which again plumbs into the darkness and the depth of the sea, some critics say to express “ a stand against a world of broken faith”. A little earlier than Mathew Arnold artist William Turner also expressed his fascination for the sea with his paintings The Slave Ship and Dawn after the Wreck (1840).



IMG_0476Title
: The Billionaire Raj

Author: James Crabtree

Publisher: Oneworld

Year of publication: 2018

Pages: 384

Price: S$22.40

Links: https://singapore.kinokuniya.com/bw/9781786075598

About: India’s explosive rise has driven inequality to new extremes, with millions trapped in slums as billionaires spend lavishly and dodge taxes. Controversial prime minister Narendra Modi promised ‘to break the grip’ of the Bollygarchs, but many tycoons continue to thrive amidst the scandals, exerting huge influence over business and politics. But who are these titans of politics and industry shaping India through this period of breakneck change? And what kind of superpower are they creating? A vivid portrait of a deeply divided nation, The Billionaire Raj makes clear that India’s destiny – prosperous democratic giant or corrupt authoritarian regime – is something that should concern us all.


IMG_0370Title: Indigo Girl

Author: Suzanne Kamata

Publisher: GemmaMedia

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 258

Price: US$14.95/ Rs 1,326.00

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Indigo-Girl-Suzanne-Kamata/dp/193684673X

https://www.amazon.in/Indigo-Girl-Suzanne-Kamata-ebook/dp/B07RV7PG7D/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Indigo+girl+by+Suzanne+Kamata&qid=1559100922&s=gateway&sr=8-1

 About: Fifteen-year-old Aiko Cassidy, a bicultural girl with cerebral palsy, grew up in Michigan with her single mother. For as long as she could remember, it was just the two of them. When a new stepfather and a baby half sister enter her life, she finds herself on the margins. Having recently come into contact with her biological father, she is invited to spend the summer with his indigo-growing family in a small Japanese farming village. Aiko thinks she just might fit in better in Japan. If nothing else, she figures the trip will inspire her manga story, Gadget Girl.

However, Aiko’s stay in Japan is not quite the easygoing vacation that she expected. Her grandmother is openly hostile toward her, and she soon learns of painful family secrets that have been buried for years. Even so, she takes pleasure in meeting new friends. She is drawn to Taiga, the figure skater who shows her the power of persistence against self-doubt. Sora is a fellow manga enthusiast who introduces Aiko to a wide circle of like-minded artists. And then there is Kotaro, a refugee from the recent devastating earthquake in northeastern Japan.

As she gets to know her biological father and the story of his break with her mother, Aiko begins to rethink the meaning of family and her own place in the world.

Reviewed by Mitali Chakravarty

Losing Kei

Title: Losing Kei
Author: Suzanne Kamata
Publisher: Leapfrog Press
Pages: 195

 

Losing Kei, a novel by Suzanne Kamata, an American expatriate living in Japan, highlights the story of a mother who abandons her child, torn by the clash of cultures.  Kei is the child from a marriage sundered by the incompatibility of the parents. The American mother leaves the Japanese father and their six-year-old son. Set in Japan, the focus of the story is on the mother’s struggle and inability to adjust to her marriage with a Japanese man in his own country.

Jill Parker, the mother and the protagonist, states at the very beginning of the story, ‘I came to Japan because a man had broken my heart.’ The author uses the perspective of the protagonist to narrate the story in first person. Jill takes an art scholarship to Japan to get over her boyfriend, Philip. When she meets her well-to-do Japanese spouse, Yusuke, a businessman who owns an art gallery, she is down and out. She has no money to pay her rent and works in a bar in Tokushima City to support herself. Yusuke is the solution to her monetary hardships and heartbreak. Jill marries Yusuke, telling him that she is exploring the world like Blondelle Malone, a nineteenth- early twentieth century impressionist artist who never married. However, unlike Malone, Jill is willing to marry. Jill doesn’t speak of her earlier heartbreak to Yusuke. As she struggles to conform to her Japanese marriage, she grows increasingly resentful of parental interference. The last straw for her is when Yusuke’s father dies and her husband declares that they would have to continue looking after his mother and live in the same house. For Jill, Yusuke’s grief at his father’s death is unattractive as is his clean-shaven face, which makes him seem ‘like a stranger’.

As she leaves him and her young child, one is left gaping at the heartlessness and self-centeredness of an irresponsible mother who is unable to put a child’s needs above her own.

By P.N. Balji

Asia Reborn

 

Title: Asia Reborn
Author: Prasenjit K. Basu
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Pages: 708
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Asia reborn… but what next?

He is a keen watcher of Asia, having spent the last 25 years putting the economies of this wonder continent under his microscope. Economist Prasenjit K Basu is eminently qualified to write this weighty tome, which runs into 680 pages. His research is painstakingly done with the notes and references alone going into 41 pages.

At first flush, Asia Reborn is intimidating. The title doesn’t seem to tell anything new and the voluminous nature of the book might put off many potential readers who want information on the go. Still, those interested in a deeper perspective of Asia and why some countries succeeded and others failed will find it worthwhile to plumb through its pages.

The author’s style is engaging; he makes sure that his research findings don’t interfere with his prose. He adds spice to his narrative with anecdotes that will keep the subject matter alive. For example, he brings to life one about Lee Kuan Yew. The former PM was among other students at Raffles College when they heard an explosion at the Causeway. The Allied forces had blown a hole in the Causeway to stop the Japanese army from moving into Singapore during the Second World War in 1942. The principal asked the students what the explosion was about. LKY’s reply: ‘That is the end of the British Empire.’