15 Books to Look Forward to in 2020/2021 from Kitaab
Kitaab celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2020. What started as a literary blog in 2005 has now grown to a credible indie publishing house, connecting Asian writers with global readers.
To mark this milestone in the journey of Kitaab’s life, we are announcing 15 titles that we are very excited about–they will be launched this year and next year. A few of them have just been released, and some will be released at the virtual Singapore Writers’ Festival this year.
- Dreams in Moonless Night by Hussain Ul Haque (Eng. translation by Syed Sarwar Hussain)
This much-appreciated multilayered novel spans the traumatic years of the aftermath of Indian Independence to the current apocalyptical state of affairs. It tells the story of Ismael Merchant who even after losing his whole family in a communal carnage represents the intrinsic Indian passion for love and brotherhood.
This title will be virtually launched at the Singapore Writers Festival 2020.
“Sometimes,” said Sternmeyer, “I get into that gym and I just sweat.” And then he shone his successful face at them. Everything about Sternmeyer was successful—the titanium watch, the oiled trekking shoes, the clear tan skin; everything shouted—I have never lost!
“What does he want with the likes of us?” Willet wondered.
“He’s bored,” was Hudson’s explanation. “You get these people with trust funds, and they’ve got all the stuff.”
Sternmeyer, then, was bored of stuff. Incredibly to Willet, he was bored of his condo-with-a-pool and his Italian clothes and his German car. He wanted experience.
The day before, sitting on plastic stools drawn up to a noodle cart, Hudson had waved his chopsticks at the fragility and squalor of the small border settlement—the semi-naked children heedless in the mud, the haze of flies worrying at the fish heads and banana skins rotting in the open drains, the pats of buffalo dung hardening in the road, and waiting in the gathering clouds, the tropical rain that would whisper down all night, making more red mud that would have dried into red dust by late afternoon. He said, “To him all this is exotic.” Read more
Thailand was probably the only state in South East Asia to have escaped colonial rule. The country evaded colonial rule because the French and the British decided to treat it as neutral territory to avoid conflict of interests. The policies enacted by King Chulalongkorn of the Chakri Dynasty , which continues to hold sway in Thailand to this date from 1782, also helped.
The resultant effect, says a report, is “the lack of English readers in the country — which reflects the absence of Western imperialism in Thailand, along with the linguistic colonialism it facilitated.”
The numbers from University of Rochester’s Translation Database, which track original literary translations published in America show that Japanese literature leads the way, with 363 books since 2008, followed by Chinese, with 254, and Korean, with 141. Whereas only five Thai novels have been translated to English. Read more
We studied the extensive menu, which listed both international as well as local cuisine. Joe and I were fast decision makers when it came to selecting our dishes. Joe settled on rice with Crispy Catfish in Chili Paste and a side order of the ubiquitous tangy Green Mango Salad to share, while I chose rice with Red Curry of Roasted Duck, a dish Joe had suggested after describing it as a bracing Thai classic combining tender roasted duck with a perfect blend of spices, coconut milk, and pineapple. The food arrived within ten minutes of ordering, and was excellent in both presentation and taste. My duck curry surpassed Joe’s mouth-watering description. I complimented Joe on his recommendation. His quiet response was “I’m happy you liked the duck.”
Food aside, what do you talk about with a charming Thai man whom you have just met on his home turf? A lot, apparently. I told Joe about my job, and he pressed me to tell him more about the documentaries I had shot from Singapore to Bangkok. As I had at least a dozen documentaries under my belt in Singapore but only one in Bangkok, I gave Joe capsule highlights of my work. He seemed impressed. It was now Joe’s turn to talk about himself. His voice was even and fluid as he told me about his student days majoring in Read more
HONG KONG — At Monument Books, a bookstore in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the magazine racks are stacked with copies of The Economist and other titles from Britain, Australia, France and the United States.
But one top-selling magazine there was founded in Phnom Penh and takes its name — Mekong Review — from the mighty river that runs beside the city’s low-rise downtown.
Mekong Review was first published in October 2015, and each quarterly issue has featured a mix of about 10 to 20 reviews, essays, poetry, fiction, Q.& A.s and investigative reports about the culture, politics and history of mainland Southeast Asia. Supporters say it is a welcome platform for Southeast Asian writers and scholars of the region, as well as a sharp political voice in countries where speech is perennially threatened.
“It’s an incredible beacon of light to see someone bring something like the Mekong Review into being, and I just hope it can continue,” said William Bagley, a manager at Monument Books, which has nine stores across Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar and caters to tourists, expatriates and English-speaking locals.
Minh Bui Jones, Mekong Review’s founding editor and publisher, said he saw the magazine as a vehicle for cross-border connections in a region that lacks a sense of a shared historical narrative.
According to Mr. Bui Jones, it also aims to be for Southeast Asia what he said The New York Review of Books and The London Review of Books had been since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: “brave, trenchant critics of their respective governments.”
Mekong Review is a long shot on many levels, not least because it covers a region where English literacy is patchy, postal systems are unreliable and newspapers that are not controlled by governments tend to struggle against censorship and chronic financial constraints.
One such newspaper in Phnom Penh, The Cambodia Daily, closed in September, after 24 years in operation, amid allegations by the government that it had not paid millions of dollars in taxes. The closure was widely seen as linked to a steady loss of free expression in the country.
Mekong Review would not be subject to the same direct pressure because it is based in Sydney, Australia, Mr. Bui Jones’s hometown, where he resettled in 2016 after living for nearly a decade in Britain, Cambodia and Thailand.
But Mr. Bui Jones faces other challenges, including a shortage of manpower. He said that while his wife and father-in-law, along with a friend who lives in Kashmir, help out with copy editing, he edits and commissions all of the articles. “It’s a very modest enterprise,” he said.
I often ask myself and others: why has so little Thai literature been translated? We are a country of around sixty-seven million people, and Thai is the twenty-fifth most spoken native language in the world; the numbers should suggest a better outcome. Have we been written off abroad as a good-time country of pad Thai, Phuket, and, troublingly, prostitution, a land where, as Thais like to say, we have fish in the water and rice in the fields, and therefore our people are viewed as not having suffered enough for deep meditation? Then I thought: instead of merely contemplating the question, why not start chipping away at it? When Words without Borders suggested a Thai issue, I was delighted, shaking in my boots as I pondered which authors and pieces to pick among the many I would love to showcase.
The writers back home offered backup. I pounded the pavement and made cold calls to reach authors, many of whom have become friends, and they generously shared their reading recommendations. Especially because Thai literature has been so rarely translated, theirs, I sense, is a Thailand that shows its vulnerable side, not the Thailand that has its best foot forward like in the guidebooks. In these pages, you will find expressions of the disquiet of living in contemporary Thailand, a Southeast Asian nation where the rate of modernization seems only to accelerate.
Thailand is an axe-shaped country with the “blade” flanked by Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. The “handle” separates the Andaman Sea from the Gulf of Thailand and touches Malaysia at its southernmost tip. The nation very recently lost the beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej (also known as King Rama IX), the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, which moved the country’s capital to Bangkok in 1782. Contemporary Thailand has known nothing but King Bhumibol as its head, and during his seventy years on the throne he was an imposing ballast for the country. Yet, the kingdom has not been without political turbulence: since its transformation from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932, it has seen a dozen coups (plus a number of attempted ones) and is currently under military rule, this time since 2014.
By Lucy Scholes
New publisher Tilted Axis Press has made it their mission to publish world literature that ordinarily wouldn’t make it into English translation and shine a light on difference. Prabda Yoon’s short story collection The Sad Part Was certainly showcases both inventive storytelling and an innovative translation process. So much so that the volume carries an afterword by its talented translator, Mui Poopoksakul, which provides some invaluable information regarding the intriguing idiosyncrasies of Thai wordplay and the challenges of rendering these as accurately as possible in English.
Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj
Kukrit’s epic novel follows one woman’s life spanning the reigns of four kings – Rama V to Rama VIII – from the 1890s to the second world war.
At the age of 10, Phloi goes to live in the royal palace in Bangkok with her mother, who serves as a minor courtier. Phloi’s eventful life inside and outside the palace – as daughter, sister, wife and mother – reflects the enormous changes taking place in the country. Traditional Siam is buffeted by historic events at home and abroad – a palace revolution, two world wars, Japanese occupation, allied bombing – as it evolves into modern Thailand.
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
“Pussy and elephants. That’s all these people want,” says a hotel owner who caters for farangs (Thai slang for foreigners). That sets the tone for an east-west culture clash in the opening tale of this lively debut collection of short stories set in contemporary Thailand. It’s a fresh, provocative take on the country’s beauty and bleakness – without a hint of exoticism.
A History of Thailand by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit
This engaging and accessible history focuses on the economic, social and political forces that shaped contemporary Thailand. Baker and Pasuk reveal how ruling nobles, unfree labourers, Chinese migrants and Buddhism become part of the mix as the country is transformed from a culturally and linguistically disparate region into a homogenised nation-state under a strong monarchy.
Brightways loved his pickup. It was the kind of doting, paternal love you’d extend to a large dog. A bull mastiff, perhaps, of shuddering weight, who barked at your enemies, understood nothing and trusted you implicitly. So it was with the pickup. Brightways loved the way the engine started the first time, with a jolt like the detonation of a small bomb under the bonnet. He loved the steady vibration of the cab, the deep three-litre, diesel-consuming growl.
Also, driving it made him feel more Thai. For two years now he had been collecting such feelings and marshalling them as evidence he presented to himself: he could live here. His flat was one such proof, his girlfriend Ning another. And now the pickup. In the cab’s elevated height, on Bangkok’s choked and dusty roads, among the other pickups and thundering lorries, the weaving motorcycles and buses groaning with human freight, Brightways felt that he belonged and in fact, was surviving.
It hadn’t always been thisway. He’d spent six months travelling on the buses himself and had frayed at the edges, taken apart by Asian entropy. The hindering crowds, diseased street dogs, splattering overhead drains, odours of rotting vegetation wafting up from black-water canals. He’d bought the pickup to escape from all of it. Read more