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Title: The Best Asian Short Stories, 2019

Editors: Hisham Bustani (Series Editor: Zafar Anjum)

Publisher: Kitaab

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 377

Price: $25

Links: Kitaab Bookstore

About: War, loss, love, compassion, nightmares, dreams, hopes and catastrophes; this is literary Asia at its best. From a wide range of geographies spanning from Palestine to Japan, from Kazakhstan to the Malaysia, mobilizing a wide array of innovative narrative styles and writing techniques, the short stories of this anthology, carefully curated by one of Asia’s prominent and daring writers, will take you on a power trip of deep exploration of local (yet global) pains and hopes, a celebration (and contemplation) of humanity and its impact, as explored by 24 writers and 6 translators, many of whom identify with many homes, giving Asia what it truly represents across (and beyond) its vast territory, expansive history, and many traditions and languages. This book is an open celebration of multi-faceted creativity and plurality.

Contributors:JOEL DONATO JACOB (Philippines); LANA ABDEL RAHMAN (Lebanon): RAZIA SULTANA KHAN (Bangladesh); DEENA DAJANI (Palestine); ALAN IRID FENDI (Syria); SAMIDHA KALIA (India); SCOTT PLATT-SALCEDO (Philippines); ANITHA DEVI PILLAI (Singapore); ANGELO WONG (Hong Kong); ODAI AL ZOUBI (Syria); SIMON ROWE (New Zealand / Japan); SEEMA PUNWANI (Singapore); VRINDA BALIGA (India); NAMRATA PODDAR (India / USA); T.A. MORTON (Ireland / Hong Kong); HAMID ISMAILOV (Uzbekistan); SUCHI GOVINDARAJAN (India); YD CHANG (China / Malaysia); JOLIN KWOK (Malaysia); IMRAN KHAN (Bangladesh); YAN TI (Taiwan); ZIRA NAURZBAYEVA (Kazakhstan); KAISA AQUINO (Philippines); JOSE VARGHESE (India)

 

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Title: Scream to the Shadows

Author: Tunku Halim

Publisher: Penguin SEA

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 360

Price: SGD 14.50

Links if any: Penguin Random House

About: Unconfined to a single theme, this new collection of twenty short stories by Tunku Halim offers five distinct worlds—the paranormal mysteries from ‘The occult world’, with its dark settings reveal supernatural existences in the characteristic Halim style.

By Gargi Vachaknavi

The Singapore Writers’ Festival stretched to ten busy days with events glittering on the literature of Asian diaspora. The opening was by a Booker winner from Jamaica,  Marlon JamesPico Iyer was another major highlight as were local Singapore legends like Edwin ThumbooIsa KamariSuchen Christine Lim and Meira Chand .

IMG_0692One of the attendees caught the excitement of the event. Upcoming writer Elaine Chiew, who just released her debut collection of short stories called The Heartsick Diaspora with Penguin, had a lot to say: “I caught Marlon James’ Festival Prologue and Roxanne Gay’s Lecture: ‘Understanding Identity Through Pop Culture’, and lots of programming in between, including catching the exhibition on Eurasian Singaporean writer Rex Shelley (which I loved, especially Brian Gothong Tan’s stunning multi-media display), ‘Literature and Pioneer Women’, ‘First Dates and So Many Feelings’, ‘What Being Brown In The World Means’, ‘Language and the Body’, ‘Writing in Dialect’, and ‘What’s the Most Versatile Singlish Word’.” Elaine Chiew has been attending the festival since 2016. This year she attended as an author and a panelist.

IMG_0480Aysha Baqir, writer and social activists explained: “This is my first time as a featured author in Singapore Writers Festival. My novel, Beyond the Fields, a fiction about a young village girl (in Pakistan) on a quest for justice, was published earlier this year by Marshall Cavendish. I have attended the last two Festivals and like the previous years I am delighted to listen to and meet the wide diversity of authors and panelists.  This year I am particularly enjoying the relevance of the sessions to current life events and issues — migration, special needs, mental health, and diversity.”

Kitaab also launched three books during this festival: a translation of Isa Kamari’s Kiswah, Shilpa Dikshit Thapliyal’s Masala Chai, a collection of poems and the Best Asian Short Stories (2019).

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Isa Kamari and Zafar Anjum launching Kiswah

Kiswah kicked off the start of the Kitaab launches with Isa Kamari explaining how he conceived the novel as a reaction to the needs of the times. Kamari said in answer to moderator Mitali Chakravarty’s query that he was getting the translations done to be read more widely. Earlier he had been translated even to Urdu by Kitaab. Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab, explained: “Isa’s Intercession was translated into Urdu — the first work of Singaporean and Malay fiction to be translated into Urdu. The plan is also to get it translated into Hindi and we are working on it.”

Thapliyal’s Masala Chai came next. Thapliyal was accompanied by Singapore writer Robert Yeo on stage. Yeo had mentored her collection. Moderated by Dr Pallavi Narayan, the poetry launch was vibrant and interesting.

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Singapore writer Robert Yeo, poet Shilpa Dikshit Thapliyal and moderator Dr Pallavi Narayan

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Title:  The Heartsick Diaspora and Other Stories

Author:  Elaine Chiew

Publisher:  Penguin Random House SEA

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 256

Price: SGD$22.90 (before GST)

Links : https://www.penguin.sg/book/fiction/heartsick-diaspora-stories/

About: Set in different cities around the world, Elaine Chiew’s award-winning stories travel into the heart of the Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese diasporas to explore the lives of those torn between cultures and juggling divided selves. In the title story, four writers find their cultural bonds of friendship tested when a handsome young Asian writer joins their group. In other stories, a brother searches for his sister forced to serve as a comfort woman during World War Two; three Singaporean sisters run a French gourmet restaurant in New York; a woman raps about being a Tiger Mother in Belgravia; and a filmmaker struggles to document the lives of samsui women—Singapore’s thrifty, hardworking construction workers.

 

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Title: An English Writer

Author: San Lin Tun

Publisher: Duwon Books

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 216 pages

Price: 7, 500 MMK (local price), 10 USD (foreign price)

Links: Bookstores at Yangon

About: An English Writer is a story about a forgotten English poet/writer, C.J Richards (retired I.C.S) who lived and worked in Burma for over 35 years as an Indian Civil Servant. He retired in 1947 and settled in Swarraton, Hampshire in UK. Although he wrote seven books and many articles on Burma and UK, not many people know much of him and his life. The novel “An English Writer” explores the life of the English writer and defines his connection with both communities, Burma (Myanmar) and Britain as a poet and writer. The story, set in present Yangon, transports people back into the times of the English writer, C. J Richards, from 1920 to 1947 and then to 1976.

Uma Trilok in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

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Dr Uma Trilok

Dr Uma Trilok is a small vivacious woman, well-dressed and polite… almost more like a retired college professor. She could be a heroine of one of the novels she writes. But as one reads her poetry in both Hindi, Hindustani, Punjabi and English, one is left wondering what goes on behind that serene, calm exterior.

With her writing, Uma draws word pictures which vividly converse with herself as well as the world outside. Through them she asks questions which enquire and eventually appear on her canvas as expressions of love, anguish, loss, hope, smiles and unions. Acclaimed and awarded, she has the rare art of  balancing joy with pain which subtly leaves the reader with a profound sense of hope, courage and enterprise. “Her moving and touchy narrative brings out the deeply spiritual aspect of her writing,” writes India Today.

Besides being an acclaimed bilingual poet, her short stories and novels have been staged as plays. “She presents her lines with a  unique facility of phrase and depth of feeling. In the play of her words, myriad moods of anguish and  ecstasy come to the fore vividly,” writes the Journal of Poetry Society of India.

Uma Trilok has written award winning books including her much acclaimed debut novel, Amrita  Imroz: A Love Story. In all, she has penned 16 books. Here, in this exclusive, she talks of how she started writing and what she sees as her future.

 

Mitali: When did you start writing? Can you tell us what put you on the path of writing? What was your inspiration? Do you have any book, music or art that inspires you?

Uma: At the age of 32,  I was the heading a college for women in Mahashri Dayanand University. While sitting in a quiet environment, when students were taking their exams, a poem arrived, and I put it on a paper…That was the beginning.

Prior to that, I taught at Delhi University. Trained in Indian classical Music and Kathak dance, I sang at the All India Radio and gave dance performances at places like Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi. I had to conceal this part of myself from the conservative management of the women’s college. My journey as a poet started as a result of this trammel, way back in the 1970s. My creativity needed to flow somehow in some direction. I picked up the pen, a safe medium.

Writing was not a choice, it was a compulsion.

patanGujarati classic The Glory of Patan by K.M.Munshi, and translated by Rita and Abhijit Kothari will be released by Penguin. The first novel in the Patan trilogy, the novel is about the the exploits of the magnificent Chalukya dynasty at a crucial period in the history of Gujarat.

The Glory of Patan is sprawling, fast-paced saga in the oeuvre of Alexandre Dumas.

The kingdom of Patan faces an ominous future. King Karnadev lies on his deathbed. His son, Jaydev, is too young to ascend the throne. Rumours abound of scheming warlords intent on establishing their own independence and powerful merchants plotting to wrest control from Patan Fort. There is also the shadowy monk Anandsuri and his vision to unite Patan under one religion: Jainism.

In the eye of this gathering storm are Queen Minaldevi and the shrewd chief minister, Munjal Mehta. Both have striven to maintain order in Patan and ensure that Jaydev’s succession is secure. But the growing attraction between them is threatened by betrayal and intrigue, with dramatic consequences for the future of Patan.

By Aminah Sheikh

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Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Not to sound too dramatic, but it is something I can’t stop doing. It’s how I make sense of things around me. There’s this French phrase that I can never pronounce correctly, but I feel it represents a lot of my reasons for writing. “l’esprit de l’escalier” – literally the spirit of the staircase, figuratively – things I should have said. This need to speak applies not only to my personal life, but to anything that moves me about the wider world.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My most recent book is called Dvarca and it is the first of an admittedly ambitious trilogy. It imagines a future dystopian world, where India has become a fascist nightmare with a bicolour flag and a new name – Dvarca. My reasons for writing this book are related to a troubling childhood experience, that I think I share with most people of my generation. We were kids when the Babri Masjid was demolished. We were kids when the blasts shook Mumbai and riots took lives. These incidents left a mark on me and made me aware, for the first time, that friction or unresolved anger exists in society. Dvarca is a way to take these divisive elements, and project them into the future while imagining the worst. It is speculative fiction that hopes to find a peaceful way back from a horrible scenario. I made a short video to explain my motivations for writing Dvarca.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I hope I see things differently and try to give them new life by recording them. This often makes for odd digressions and some indulgences, but they are all in service of bringing the reader into my world. The most important thing for me is to give the reader something new and exciting in the form of an idea or an expression. I understand that this obsession with exploring can lead to work that may challenge some readers. I just hope that their sense of the extraordinary matches mine.

Who are your favourite authors?

I will limit my answer to three. Mikhail Bulgakov, Herman Hesse and Hemingway. Ok I lied. Please add Philip K Dick, Rabindranath Tagore, Albert Camus, and Solzhenitsyn.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

It’ll sound like I’m plugging my book, but to be honest, Dvarca is the toughest piece of writing I have ever attempted. For three reasons:

First there were many occasions when I would stop mid-sentence and wonder if I was crossing the line, entering dangerous and unchartered territory. This was echoed by some publishers who rejected my work, finding the content risky.

Second, an entire world had to be created for this trilogy. It was not easy balancing character development, the story and world-building all at the same time. I hope the final published “mix” is palatable. Though one can never please all.