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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.

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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.

By Lakshmi Menon

this-wide-nightSarvat Hasin’s This Wide Night has been described as Little Women meets The Virgin Suicides. While this is not entirely wrong and there are some clear parallels between the works, the description belies the levels of meaning the author has packed into this work, and the comparisons fall short.

The majority of the story is told through the eyes of Jimmy, who, like Laurie in Little Women, is fascinated by the women who live in the house across the street from him. As he learns more about them, to live among them and love them, so do the readers. We grow to share his fascination with the Malik sisters – the beautiful Maria, firebrand tomboy Ayesha, shy Bina and the petulant Leila, and their mother Mehrunnisa who is as lovely as she is mysterious. In the absence of the patriarch of the household, Captain Malik, these women form parts of a whole that does not leave any room for outsiders. Even as Jimmy feels welcomed into their world he is aware that he will never be completely privy to it. They share “an invisible net of sisterhood” that he cannot penetrate, try as he may.

Through the course of the novel, we watch Jimmy try to find a balance for the failings of his own life. A loner in many respects, it is in this intimate shared space that he is invited into that he finds solace, even as he is aware that their world isn’t exactly considered “ordinary”.

No one lived as these girls did, no other mother would have allowed these freedoms. But even this freedom was not boundless. There were things you could live in the world without and things you could not. This was not a city for hiding sins or secrets.”

The isolation of the Malik girls from society in general becomes a real, physical thing in the latter part of the book, when circumstances force them to move to an island off Karachi, and Jimmy is aware of what it entails to share a roof with the women.