Kafez

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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Thursday, 31 July 2008

I'm up in Belfast today.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Shamini Flint to publish thrillers with Little Brown UK

Just read in Publishing News that Emma Dunford of Piatkus Books, an independent imprint within the British publishing house Little Brown has bought 3 crime fiction titles by 35-year old Malaysian-Indian lawyer turned writer, Shamini Mahadevan-Flint. The thrillers will be released next year, starting with the first one in April. The publishing contract awarded to this Singapore-based mother of two is worth a five-figure sum.

Met Shamini in Singapore last year at the Writer's Festival and also made many good Singaporean acquaintances especially at the Symposium. Shamini is a stout believer in self-publishing and already has a number of children's books under her belt.

Congratulations, Shamini if you catch this. You deserve it. You're gorgeous!

Credit: Image courtesy of Sunbear Publishing.

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The Indian Writer Writing in English - Excerpts I had Posted Elsewhere

by Suzan Abrams

Excerpt 1:


South-East Asian writers who publish in the West appear to have been left out of the Man Booker longlist this year. One hopeful was Malaysia's Preeta Samarasan for Evening is the Whole Day. Samarasan is of South Indian origin and Malaysia belongs to the Commonwealth. Many were banking on her to have made the longlist. Sadly, she failed. But this sort of identity description is a bit tricky too.

Like de Krester who is considered of an Australian nationality but is Sri Lankan in race. At the end of the day, she's still seen by the world as originally, from the Indian sub-continent. While Samarasan's fans are careful to keep reminding us all that she is Malaysian, she's still an Indian writer by race. Her plot revolves around an Indian family although other cultural situations are cleverly drawn in as well. To deny a race would be to practically deny ancestry, family ties and a valuable heritage.

So the question is, in lists to come, will Indian writers be recognized by the countries they represent or by their race?

No matter which countries they choose to live in or were born in, they'll still be easily traced back to their homeland. I feel that race will always triumph over country which will eventually be seen as a symbol. I feel that because Indian writers have come into their own in a big way since the time of Rushdie and Roy, they will be around for a while yet and continue to surprise us from different parts of the world.

In the same vein, I do think that Pakistani literature has risen tremendously of late. And this issue came up recently at the South Bank festival where Mohammed Hanif read from his new novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes. It came somewhat as a shock to the audience as to the recollection of just how many Pakistani writers had published novels and short stories in the last 2 years alone.

Excerpt 2:

At the moment, the English Language being written by writers from the Indian sub continent worldwide and on homebase, doesn't differ from a text that you would read in England or the States. The majority of writers approach prose in a careful, studied way.

The ethnic voice hardly touches structure or form.

Instead, it nosedives into the heart of the plot as it wades its way through conflicts arising from different cultural customs, traditions, superstitions, rituals and even unusual ethnic settings or objects. The 'fractured' part of the use of English that you mentioned , is currently limited to dialogue and foreign accents. Somewhere along the way, a reader is likely to traverse history. That seems to be the general skeletal frame that shapes such a novel.

Basically after such pioneer novelists as Hanif Kureishi, Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, raised popularity for South-Asian writings worldwide, there was a monumental rise of Indian authors and writings all through the 1990s. Most focussed on stories of emigration and identity, where thanks to India's complicated caste system, offered such a lot of difficult introspection through deeply serious works.

Then for a few years, came a sudden lull, a quietness, a dip in popularity if you like.
Now the surge of works has started up again and there appears to be a newer stronger voice...a sharp turn up the road from those common emigration themes.

If you look at Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri's first collection of short stories called Interpreter of Maladies and compare it to her recent bestselling release titled Unaccustomed Earth, you will see the difference. New stories feature characters that tend to focus on present-day events; characters that have assimilated themselves more fully into their adopted countries and no longer stay too mournful about their countries of origin. Also Vikas Swarup who wrote a first novel based on Indian life, has just released a second novel published in London; a chunky thriller titled Six Suspects. He is now threading the road less travelled, for Indian stories.

I think that in the next few years, Indian writings will become more daring and experimental, threading into untouched terrain rather than focussing on emigration themes as a safety net.

Excerpt 3:

When Rushdie indicated that Indian writings in English appears far more confident today today as compared to a few years ago...

Not too long ago, there was a wide gap between the Indian population overall for writers published in their country and Indian writers who had emigrated abroad. There was rivalry and disgruntlement, a subtle sulkiness now and then.

There seemed to be two distinct sides that found it difficult to be reconciled to each other with their various stories. "Living in the West" as the man on the Mumbai street would term the Indian writer living in Europe or the States and this, rather scornfully too, as I might add.

I remember reading of complaints where it was said that the writer who fell into this 'unfortunate' category wouldn't know or would otherwise have simply forgotten the essence of India as it stood. I remember vaguely that this was a big issue a few years ago and Rushdie was named as the perfect example of someone "brainwashed into Westernised ideas with only a superficial idea of what India could possibly be."

This the opinion of farmers, provision shop owners and the like. Rusdie may have had a bone to pick, because of this.

But the thing is Indian life abroad is as much as Indian life in India when it comes to the heart and soul of things. Family ties for instance are so tightly knotted, they will not be dissolved. Also, I think there is a furious misconception that the Indian writer abroad won't know the right Indian stories to tell.

I don't know the nuts and bolts of things but I believe the rivalry has lessened considerably in the last few years and the gap has narrowed to a more harmonious playing field between Indian writers in the Sub-Continent and abroad. Peace. That's what Rushdie may have had in mind as well, using literature as an example to express his relief. Just a hunch and my 2 cents worth.

Excerpt 4:

To separate a writer from his/her heritage and blood ties would be quite impossible I think.

As children of Indian immigrants, these writers are still unsettled and restless, still seeking answers.

That is why too, the Indian diaspora is filled with complexities.

I will add though that I think Hanif Kureishi to be one of the most confident and sophisticated writers when it comes to individual identity. His plots and themes often have broad European themes don't they. In his stories, he is able to switch from East to West with hardly any trouble or questions asked. Another would be Vikram Seth. Think 'An Equal Music.'


Clip art used with permission

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The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2008

Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold - Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry - The Secret Scripture
John Berger - From A to X
Michelle de Kretser - The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh - Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant - The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif - A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher - The Northern Clemency
Joseph O'Neill - Netherland
Salman Rushdie - The Enchantress of Florence
Tom Rob Smith - Child 44
Steve Toltz - A Fraction of the Whole

The shortlist will be announced on Tuesday, September 9th at a press conference.
Just looked at my schedule and I'll be in London then.

The winner will be announced on Tuesday, October 14th at an awards ceremony in London.

I have lots of thoughts on this. More later.

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Breather

by Suzan Abrams

This came to mind. There is a beautiful song by David Gates of Bread. It was a hit in the mid-70's. He sings of how we take people for granted especially with those we're supposed to love. We can take them for granted in many subtle ways. We don't see it until they're lost or gone (the lyrics have these words) and then it is simply too late.

We don't know the day, hour or the very next moment when they may be suddenly lost or gone.

I've learnt this from hindsight that it really is true. For me, so many of the simple things around me are beautiful, but the contentment around me only came with lessons from the past. It is a delightful contentment that follows my ambitions.

I too, get busy very busy sometimes but that's because I choose to be. I choose my priorities. I choose to take on things. It's a lovely busy-ness, exciting, vibrant, energetic as I do write stories and I love what I do. My busy-ness reflects who I am. But I do stop to listen a lot of the time. Stop to play. Stop to rest. If something or someone flees, the truth is it hardly ever comes back even if it was meant to be because so many other aspects of life get in the way. Remember, we live in a new age.

Sometimes you may hear the return of footsteps after seasons have passed but that's time already wasted. When you stop in your tracks, everything becomes a whole. You know where everyone is and where everything lies...i.e. metaphorically speaking. Your friends and those you love and who love you wait in the right places. Which is how it should be and how it is for me.

We can choose to love, when to, or not to. People may try to help us do the right thing but that doesn't always work. Life stays the best teacher. Never go to your coffin in a huff where you could have lounged in a flower's petalled-hammock for just that bit longer. Long enough to catch a brilliant sunset that would give you a kinder ride with death than you expected.

I would think this applicable to any individual in the human race, no matter what our roles.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Kafez is my new blog.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The Congo and the Cameroons by Mary Kingsley

by Suzan Abrams

It's hard to picture the formidable but well-humoured Victorian explorer and writer, Mary Kingsley furiously scribbling her detailed journals complete with comic observations, over 150 years ago and this with a similar satire afforded to modern-day Britain in its New Age.

If memories are to be steadfastly recaptured and visualisations of the old world hung thoughtfully as a hazy mind's portrait, then it is to be considered one of our most fragile and precious gifts indeed as it often is with all enchanting obscure literature; that Kingsley's stories have been tenderly sealed in this pocketbook classic aptly titled The Congo & The Cameroons from the Penguin Books series of Great Journeys from where even Marco Polo with his enthusiastic expedition to India is heartily embraced.

Despite her stern countenance, Kingsley's humour was light and her mood seldom wore thin. I did not get the impression of a deadpan Christian disposition as I was more inclined from reading Kingsley to picture her instead, the chatty jovial adventurer.

She was the quintessential *Mary Poppins after all; a sort of endearing Disneyland figure with her well-meaning and slightly liberal rules; that one immediately conjures up so as to be maternal and schoolmarmish and this bearing a steely attitude as she busily barked commands to her faithful African help insisting that they form her entourage for a challenging Cameroon mountain climb and this if you will have it; on a lazy Sunday morning when goodness knows... everyone else desired a lie-in. Pleas of an injured toe or a burnt breakfast proved to be of no avail.

Otherwise, she may have with wide-eyed passion, furrowed eyebrows, a quizzical expression and that too, all nicely shadowed by a sly come-and-get-me-if-you-dare attitude, sailed up the Congo basin, splattered with crocodiles as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Now if you will take a minute to read this as she splashed about with boats on the Congo filled with cat-fish, maggots, mosquitoes and mangrove flies, she would have had you know: "Now and again, the strong musky smell came that meant a crocodile close by, and one had to rouse up and see if all the crews' legs were on board, for Africans are reckless and regardles of their legs during sleep. On one examination, I found the leg of one of my most precious men ostentatiously sticking out over the side of the canoe. I woke him with a paddle, and said a few words regarding the inadvisability of wearing his leg like this in our situation; and he agreed with me saying he had lost a valued uncle to a crocodile. His uncle's ghost had become a devil which had been a trial to the family ever since..."

I had also added Mary Poppins for a vivid imagination, as Kingsley insisted on opening her umbrella in the midst of heavy equatorial jungle downpours, knowing as she admits that it was a completely useless thing to do but at the same time "wasn't it all proper?" This reflected her English-ness in more ways than one, plus the fact that her constant pursuit for a good flask of tea followed her everywhere, from mangrove swamps into ravines and from forest-tongues into native villages. Kingsley was well-rewarded of course as her "beloved natives" always made sure with even-tempered understanding, that a tea caddy had been dutifully slipped into her bag. Still, it must be added that Kingsley treasured West Africa and its people as another may have cherished a sparkling jewel.

Her hastily-penned notes in makeshift tents during a valuable expedition interim, reflect her sunny affectionate disposition, her energetic fortitude and high skills at hurried decision-making.

Her thoughts are compassionate and emphatic for her loyal workers who diligently lead the way through think foliage and stubborn tree belts. At catching sight of a shiver, Kingsley had often handed the unfortunate native her own blankets and when observing with eagle-eyed sharpness, a native go hungry or stay parched with thirst while armed with a silent forebearance; had often handed him her own food and drink with not a moment's hesitation.

Naturally, as with all weary reflections, Kingsley too was once in a while overcome by wishful thinking. This, especially on a day when nothing went right. Then she would regret her wanderings from England with the odd muttering.

However, as it was even with me while in East Africa, a sudden change of scene would instantly masquerade the perfect antidote with which to illuminate the mind with new joys.

In Kingsley's case, one of these was surely the wildlife, even as here she gasps, "Never have I seen anything to equal gorillas going through bush; it is a graceful, powerful, superbly perfect hand-trapeze performance."

Sometimes despite herself, Mary Kingsley was led to a strong annoyance especially when roused from precious sleep by the gullibility of the village-folk: "The women of the village have been keeping up a most melancholy coo-ooing. These foolish creatures are evidently worrying about their husbands who have gone down to market in Ambas Bay and who they think are lost in the bush. I have not a shadow of a doubt that they are safely drunk in town...
...September 21st, 9.30pm. I was aroused by uproar in adjacent hut. One husband had returned in bellicose condition and whacked his wives and their squarks and squalls, instead of acting as a warning to the other ladies, stimulated the silly things to go on co-ooing louder..."


Sadly, Kingsley died from typhoid while working as a nurse when treating Boer prisoners in Africa. She was just 37 and according to her wishes, was buried at sea. This afternoon, I can almost catch her guffaw while picturing her next to me, having a right ramble with a delicious Earl Grey. Kingsley would have enjoyed its aromatic flavour after all. I am convinced that nothing flees but time.

***********

*Mary Poppins: A famous children's classic of a governess who flew down from the skies with her umbrella to apply for a job in a difficult household.

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Friday, 25 July 2008

Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup

by Suzan Abrams

Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup who is currently India's High Commissioner to South Africa, publishes his second novel in London, a thriller titled Six Suspects.

You tend to get a sackful of emigration stories from the majority of Indian writers worldwide but a good old-fashioned whodunnit makes for a fascinating change.

I've read parts of it already and like it. The plot has murder and dark secrets embroiled into India's complicated caste sytem which I thought to be a fabulous selling point. The book's official launch date is July 28 but the Dublin bookstores have already displayed the title.

Swarup received glowing accolades for his first novel, the award-winning Q & A which has already been translated into 34 languages, optioned for musical rights, bought over by Film Four of British television and is currently being made into a film called Slumdog Millionaire.

Six Suspects is a chunky read that still lends itself to the tone of serious fiction and I love the cover which straightaway spells intrigue. The novelist dedicates his second novel to his wife, the artist, Aparna Swarup.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

I don't know when I can go downtown these days without returning with a book of some sort. This evening it was Yasmina Khadra's bestselling but disturbing novel The Attack. Its fictitious plot is narrated by the main protaganist, an Israeli Arab doctor who tends to patients severely injured by and decapitated at the hands of a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv.

The Attack was recently nominated for Dublin's International Impac Literary Prize, one of the most lucrative book prizes there is. Long after the winner had been announced, the shortlisted titles continue to be promoted and sold with a seriousness here in Irish bookshops. I think this to be a very good thing.

I have just finished a pocketbook classic detailing Mary Kingsley's travels into West Africa. Written over a 100 years ago, The Congo and the Cameroons forms part of Penguin's Great Journey series.

I am especially excited about the Man Booker longlist this year, to be announced on July 29. I feel that there will be some strong contenders dominating the list this time round and selection will prove difficult. I know I'll splurge on all the titles if I haven't bought and read some of them already. The other time, I'd probably go broke is when the start of September releases scores of new autumn titles.

I am consumed by books....their overwhelming charm and seductive power. My greedy purchases increase by the day and it's still all never enough.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Gulf News Calls for Best Summer Reads

Gulf News will discuss the best summer reads on August 2nd. Readers are encouraged to write in with their favourite story titles and recommendations. The required email addy as well as comment boxes are provided here.
Having read Gulf News in Dubai and on flights in the region, I can assure you it's a classy, popular paper.

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Google officially opens Knol to everyone.

When expertise knowledge may now bow gracefully to a relative thought. - sa

by Suzan Abrams

July 23, 2008. Google officially announces the opening of Knol that commands a vibrant new system on the worldwide web for the dissemination of information. Knol is also seen as a direct competitor to Wikipedia. The only difference is that the authorship on Knol will proudly carry the byline of an author or bylines of a group of authors, depending on the ownership of the said information or opinion. Up to a few months ago, when Knol was regarded as an experiment for use by experts only, it is now accessible to everyone and held as a welcome option to the man on the street. All the enthusiastic writer needs is a google account.

It is Google's rationale that despite the fact of the Web holding vast amounts of information on just about any subject, there is still a need for billions of people to benefit from the millions of others that may know "certain useful things". It is a case of more the merrier as each writer - or rather, any writer - can contribute an individual knol, meaning a voice or opinion. Google expects multiple knols on similar subjects which it insist can only be a good thing.

There is also the suggestion of strong interaction with the writer and reader, as the latter is invited to offer edits or suggestions to any relevant article. However, it stays the author's call if he/she would like to modify, edit or simply reject the earlier suggestion. There are other strong community tools and the New Yorker magazine has also offered its library of cartoons for use in an article if desired. Nothing like a touch of humour, says Google.

********

My feeling is one of excitement at the very idea of this bold innovation. It is so easy to observe the race of advancement although I suspect that the quality of many articles may eventually be questionable. Only time will tell but I do greatly admire Google's verve and daring spirit.

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Mayank Singh, youngest Indian blogger to have blog material used in school textbook

This link also gives you a whole range of Mayank Singh's picture collection (many self-portraits) on Flickr.

The 28 year old assistant editor for Hindustan Times, Mayank Singh is said to be the youngest Indian blogger to have material from his blog about to be used in an English textbook for Class XI students. Singh who from his love for Jane Austen and Sufism, assumes the identity of Mayank Austen Soofi and who updates five blogs regularly will most probably be commissioned by Samuel Ray, the editor of Oxford University Press in Pakistan.

In his blog, Pakistan Paindabad, Singh aims to shatter worldwide perceptions. "People see Pakistan as a country of terrorist camps but there are swanky cafes, pretty girls, writers and galleries...a very Khan market crowd," he says in the Hindustan Times.

"If I'm published, it will be a slap to all those people who think that Pakistani publishing is all about India haters," he adds.

Another of Mayank's interesting blogs: The Delhi Walla.

This information was sought from the article by Damini Purkayastha of Hindustan Times. Credit to the said reporter and newspaper.

Credit for picture from Hindustan Times

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Man Asian Literary Prize 2008 Longlist

This is the longlist for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008 ie. the best unpublished Asian novel for the written year. The rules state that Asian actually means the residency and citizenship of the author and not the setting of the novel manuscript itself.
Writers from the Indian sub-continent so easily rule the list followed by 4 nominations from the Phillippines.

To study each author's profile and view their photographs, please click HERE instead.

Talk about a wicked deadline. Amit Varma (India) of My Friend,Sancho blogs HERE with more in-depth truth than you can imagine. :-)

Tulsi Badrinath, “Melting Love”
Hans Billimoria, “Ugly Tree”
Ian Rosales Casocot, “Sugar Land”
Han Dong, “Banished!”
Anjum Hasan, “Neti, Neti”
Daisy Hasan, “The To-Let House”
Abdullah Hussein, “The Afghan Girl”
Tsutomu Igarashi, “To the Temple”
Rupa Krishnan, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”
Murong Xuecun, “Leave Me Alone, Chengdu”
Kavery Nambisan, “The Story that Must Not be Told”
Sumana Roy, “Love in the Chicken’s Neck”
Vaibhav Saini, “On the Edge of Pandemonium”
Salma, “Midnight Tales”
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, “Lost Flamingoes of Bombay”
Lakambini A. Sitoy, “Sweet Haven”
Sarayu Srivatsa, “The Last Pretence”
Miguel Syjuco, “Ilustrado”
Amit Varma, “My Friend, Sancho”
Yu Hua, “Brothers”
Alfred A. Yuson, “The Music Child”

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Little Hut of Leaping Fishes by Chiew-Siah Tei

Where Ripples Shun the Tide - sa

by Suzan Abrams

The Malaysian-born and now Glasgow-based playwright and novelist, Chiew-Siah Tei in her skilled role as gentle raconteur, pens this thoughtful, pensive tale that lends itself without regret, to the stricken tone of a lingering sadness.

In Little Hut of Leaping Fishes, brooding Mandarin scholar Mingzhi a promising lawmaker and genius is inclined on finding his place in a fishbowl world surrounded by volatile elements that shape late 19th century China. Raised by his strict grandfather and docile prayerful mother in Plum Blossom Village, Mingzhi, aims for a haven of solitude and the rise of destiny, by delving in between the pages of the ancient Chinese classics. Nestled along with this determined peaceful spirit, is a steely fortitude of perseverance that strings the character along; as Mingzhi plods with continued calmness through the rest of the plot.

In fact, it is Mingzhi's unruffled air that would eventually rescue the thoughtful academic from the the jagged turbulent crisis of sibling rivalry and jealousy, help him battle the worrying uprising against Western missionaries from where he had derived his few best friends and too, escape the wars fast looming on the horizon. The time of the novel represented an unsettling period when any Chinese imbued by Western influences would be considered a criminal by radical groups and jealous gangs.

About one third way through the novel, an unexpected intrigue siren-ed by the new sharp stab of Mingzhi's half-brother's brutality, may have drastically turned the pace of the plot if allowed.

Mingyuan sits on a little girl servant, treats her like a horse and punishes her slowness by beating her head with a bamboo cane.

Having no regard for the frail girl's pain, he rules over this merciless act with gusto. Mingyuan later asks a shocked Mingzhi to join him. Both brothers have been brought up in relatively easy comfort by their grandfather, Master Chai who is constantly surrounded by a butler and servants. The cantankerous sulky man used to habit and prestige, grabs his fortune from the opium trade by heartily faming poppies. Mingyuan is the materialistic brother, lawless in his greed for power even as a lad.

Of course, the act of walloping a little girl's head is no less a sadistic one but I thought it made an exciting balance in the way of technical execution when you weighed the episode up with Mingzhi's almost angelic disposition....here was a kind gentle soul who cherished his floral curtains, little animals and butterflies and would also follow the Christian commandment of turning the other cheek. On the other hand had this heroic character been made to confront his brother's intense brutality, what robust power would have been added to the story.

A boisterous clash from this forced partnership arising from one man's brawny prowress to another's focussed singular will, perhaps? However, since this possibility was not developed, such an aspect of the story would continue to stay limp. Until Mingyuan's tragic end, the brutal brother would rely only on casual appearances now and then, swinging the odd jealous plot long after the barbarous act had faded.

Still, Chiew is a glorious storyteller of the benevolent and amicable.

One could almost hear her soothing hushed voice lull her readers to an indefinite rhythm of meditative calm with this narration.

Of course, Malaysian, Singaporean, Macau and Hong Kong audiences would be easily familiar with the picturesque descriptions of old world China sometimes screened on daytime television; what with the crowd of young men who spotted half-shorn heads and long plaits, bustling about their daily trade or drinking tea and playing *mahjong in noisy brothels.

Chiew also reflected a high talent in analysing Mingzhi's tragic marriage. She paints the character's heartbeak with a memorable subdued tenderness; nothing short of realistic. She is kind to her characters, one gets the impression she is so fiercely maternal of her creation, Mingzhi that as a devoted author, she would do her best to rescue him from ill-will.

It was also an innovative idea to sketch the life of a dedicated scholar as readers would be treated to the study and progressive duties of academia, not known to many in the closed years that moulded 19th century China. Much of old literatures settles on the lives of peasants, trecherous landlords, monks or soldiers. Chiew's tale of Minghzi and his love for the written word, adds on a refereshing change.

Still, because of the consuming staidness of such a somber plot, Chiew's studied efforts to draw high drama and a chilling conflict towards the end of the story failed her purpose as the sudden warning notes could not arouse enough attention from this reader, now used to sobriety from earlier ensuing chapters. The plot buried under solemnity struggled to rise and race with its slow-paced legs to a fast-speed end. The emotions of fear and anxiety in later chapters could not be roused to their desired acceptability that would lend its reader any fraught expectant moments.

Chiew-Siah Tei is a fine and promising storyteller and her playful wit which peppered the plot, was a powerful element that surely made her writing doubly exquisite.

*********

Suggested futher reading:

a) Please find an extract from Little Hut of Leaping Fishes.
b) Alasdair Gray's superb analytical review of Little Hut of Leaping Fishes in the Times Literary Supplement.


*mahjong: a favoured Chinese pastime amounting to gambling. 4 players are needed to play the game consisting of 144 tiles marked in suits, counters and dice. The object is to build a winning combination of pieces.

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I am working on a writing project that must be completed by the end of August. I also have another big writing assignment to finish by the end of September. Both are personal ventures but which involve a heavy commitment. Still, I don't know when I have felt as vibrant about my writing. I'll be travelling again in October or November depending and either to India (to where I haven't been to in years) or back again to Africa or to Jordan. When the time comes, I'll just follow my inclination as to mood and nostalgia. However, I will be making more trips to London every fortnight or so, just to enjoy the arts.

Forgot This

by Suzan Abrams

In describing the sudden rise of Pakistani literature a few days ago over here I forgot this nifty little number from HarperCollins India, published in September last year. Called Neither Night Nor Day: 13 Stories, By Women Writers From Pakistan; and edited by Rakhshanda Jalil, the stories that wrap an older Karachi with modern times, call the reader's attention to the ordinariness of women's lives imbued by haunting evocative emotions and while gracefully side-stepping the limitations of time and space. Some tales might prove painful to the heart.

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Monday, 21 July 2008

Interview with Devika Bai by Suzan Abrams

Some readers may have seen this on an old blog I kept about at the start of 2007. This interview with Devika Bai, a talented Malaysian novelist was conducted then. I feel it's still relevant today as this article has been kept from view since the blog closed At the time, Bai was still writing her second novel, after a successful run with the first. The Flight of the Swans after a series of rejections that make for any writer's baptism of fire, finally found its home with British publisher Philip Tatham of Monsoon Books, Singapore when Bai a retired teacher had turned 59. One of the most obvious qualities about Bai's writing days, is her easy level-headed approach to routine and a familiar environment. I also found Bai to be a highly-skilled author and I trust the search engines to sprout wings for the little interview here.

Caption: Pictured is D. Devika Bai, a former teacher turned novelist who successfully authored her debut historial fiction in 2005 titled The Flight of the Swans, published by Monsoon Books Singapore, 320pp, S$23-50 (MYR49-90).

For content information and purchase details, please scan to end of this entry.

The Flight of the Swans was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2006 (for the SE Asia & South Pacific regions. Bai has also been featured in Sawnet's (South-Asian Women's NETwork) bookshelf section and an extract from the first chapter of The Flight of Swans was published in DIMSUM (Asia's literary journal, volume 11.

Interview in 2007

Here is a day in the writing life of Ms. D. Devika Bai, who is now working on her second novel, with a resolution to completing it by year-end.

As told to Suzan Abrams by D. Devika Bai.

"I've chosen the Indian Ocean slave-trade as the subject of my second book. Not much has been written about it to this present day from a fictional sense. Yet, it's a theme that existed during the same era as the trans-Atlantic slave-trade. I narrate my story through the voice of an Indian gypsy-girl. By the way, Indian gypsies are another subject rarely explored on, in English fiction.

"When I started writing The Flight of the Swans 9 years ago, I did not own a computer with Internet facilities. There were also no cybercafes in Rawang, Selangor, where I live.

"My relatives in Chennai, India kindly sent me material I needed for research. As for the rest of the bits, I delved into my own book collection.

"Of course now for the second book, I use the Internet a lot. The bulk of research has been done but I daresay, I still have to look up a fact or two when I'm writing.

"As they say, fact is itself stranger than fiction. Already, I've worked on my story for more than 2 years. I'm two thirds done and am trying to finish it by 2007 if I can.

"I've always been a notorious homebody so even with a title like published author for The Flight of the Swans, my life still hasn't changed all that much.

"I don't go to town unless absolutely necessary. I only visit relatives when a function comes on or otherwise, ocassionally. I've lost touch with most of my friends and colleagues, except for those who reside in the town where I live. And I know that they're presently delighted with my book.

"Anyway I'm happiest when I'm writing and that's what matters to me.

"There was a flurry of media interviews just before and after the official booksigning events for The Flight Of The Swans in July, 2005. I find it exhilarating but humbling to be in the public eye."I must admit that being a published author has definitely opened up possibilities for my writing. It's also given me a real sense of elation and achievement.

"However I work more from the home now especially that I'm writing my second novel.

"I wake up at 7.30am. My breakfast is always simple and fuss-free. A thosai, chappati or slices of bread with butter. My plan is to then catch up with the BBC news on television and to skim through the headlines of the morning papers. That's followed by a variety of household chores that could be anything from sweeping, dusting or mopping. This lasts for about an hour. I'm very lucky that I don't have to cook. Two wonderful people handle this for me. My mum and my sister-in-law.

"I start writing everyday around 9.00am. The only compulsory ritual here that I engage in is to sharpen my pencils fastidiously beforehand. That's because I write in longhand.

"There is of course, a clear difference between writing a book and what teaching used to be for me. As you know, writing is far more exhausting. It demands intense concentration that is focussed on a single page at a time whereas in the classroom, you could easily divide your attention with students, books and the blackboard.

"Anyway, for the next three hours I become completely immersed in this story that I'm busy creating. I don't set any kind of target for the number of words or pages to be finished at one sitting. I take it slow, mulling over words and sentences. I happily lose myself in this world. And I don't wait for inspiration. Routine and discipline do it for me.

"Still, if you mention inspiration on the offside, my muse has to be my late father. He was an avid reader and will always stay my hero.

"The first story book I ever read when I was a child was Lassie. My Dad bought the book for me. During my growing years, I started reading the English Classics and my father's collection of Reader's Digest condensed novels and World War II epics. Then, I went on to read the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (borrowed), and A Town Like Alice (a gift)."Both novels had me hooked!

"Once I started work as a teacher, there was no stopping me from buying my own novels and becoming a voracious reader. Though I've given away all my old novels now, I still have with me The Good Earth which I treasure.

"Writing, for me came as a natural consequence of reading. My book collection now consists of some classics and contemporary novels. I also own books on philosophy & religion, mythology, culture and history. "Anyway to come back to my morning, when the writing gets a bit overwhelming, I'll confess to flitting out of this new door to grab a cup of coffee. For awhile, I'll admire the red and white hibiscus shrubs outside my window and listen to the birds twittering around the bushes.

"This is easy for me as my antique writing desk is stationed in a corner of my bedroom, right next to the window.

"On it are my writing material, dictionaries, files, a calendar and a-clock-and-pen-holder. I also have a very old greeting card propped up beside the clock. There's a reason for this. The pictures on the cards are coloured in metallic shades and I keep it especially for a silvery dove that it depicts. To me, that dove symbolises all that's good in the world.

"I stop for lunch at 1pm. It's always rice and a curry with a vegetable selection on vegetarian days which are for me, every Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On other days, I'll have fish and meat. Lunch is followed by poring over the newspapers and a siesta.

"I'll have my tea with biscuits and cakes. Then I'll settle for any one of my favourite hobbies. This could be anything from pottering in the garden to cleaning and polishing the family heirlooms. Some of the ornaments are more than a century old.

"I also enjoy listening to songs and tunes that command a Waltz rhythm, or an Indian or Latin American beat. Besides, I have a penchant for classic Indian films or even the old Oscar-winning Hollywood ones.

"After a spell of these, it's back to writing until dinner time. I wind up my day, watching my favourite soaps and catching the midnight news on tv. "I would recommend for any aspiring author who wants to write in a specific genre of English fiction, to read several books by other authors who write in this field. And to never ever give up looking for a publisher.

"Today, I nestle future ambitions of meeting with other authors, seeing my novel The Flight of the Swans adapted for either the small or big screen and especially this... To ride on the Singapore-Kunming Express when it's completed. You see, the railways is very much in my blood as I have had three generations of my family working for the Malayan Railways. This stretches all the way back to the time of my great-grandfather."

ISBN: 981-05-2367-X
Available for next day despatch from
Monsoon Books, Singapore (please see link at start of post)
& from Amazon Online.

Set in British Malaya and India, The Flight of the Swans is an expansive family epic with a war theme revolving around the vision of a flight of swans or a bird in solitary endeavour that signals a cursed Captain and his family's hurried escape from the hands of the British. This, to face hardships in another land as well as hopeful dreams.

Family upheavals, mangled from a wounded political and historical landscape as well as sibling rivalry for the hand of a beautiful courtesan, hold reflection on a new brand of literary Indian writing in Malaysia that rests on ambitious history and vivid description of lives lived and lost through circumstances and bad decisions. This is a story that deals with the beautiful, the exotic and the tragic.

Photograph is author's own.

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Children's author and artist, Richard Kidd drowns

The 56-year old British children's author and artist of several works, Richard Kidd, has died after being swept away by a strong current in Bataan’s Dunsulan Falls, a popular tourist waterfall in west of Manila in the Phillippines.

While visiting with his British girlfriend and dad who are both residents of the Asian country, Kidd had chosen to swim alone in the wide river, below the falls. The area was said to have been swollen from recent rains.

Kidd who has exhibited worldwide was especially famous for his storybook, Almost Famous Daisy which introduced children to the works of legendary historical painters. The plot is upheld by a lively storyline where its ambitious character signs up for a painting competition and subsequently travels the world following in the footsteps of the great artists, while in search of inspiration.

Please read on for the Daily Mail's latest news story and pictures.

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Sunday, 20 July 2008

While on his way to a meeting in Bethlehem, Britain's PM, Gordon Brown has urged justice for the Palestinian people, while denouncing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But the Prime Minister has also demanded an end to suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel. Read the rest HERE here if you haven't already.

Sharon and my Mother-in-Law (Ramallah Diaries by Suad Amiry)

Thoughts...

by Suzan Abrams

It seemed the appropriate journey in my mind's eye that I could be entertained to a treat ever so divinely and fall vulnerable to the odd irrepressible giggle along the way; what with the elegant variety of fictitious women friendships that would suddenly afford themselves to me from unlikely places.

If I had earlier trekked the tempestuous and highly rebellious schoolgirl friendships in Rajaa Alsanea's Girls of Riyadh, I would then find myself an awed guest at Asya's kitchen table in Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul where a noisy family of Turkish women ruled a household complete with a high clamour of quarrels, mishaps and feasts that masqueraded as mealtime rituals.

Still, to just now turn to Suad Amiry's (pictured above) darkly comic and colourful if not somewhat fearful life on the West Bank scribbled hastily in her Ramallah Diaries and aptly called Sharon and my Mother-in-Law, one is faced with the two thorns in her flesh, Israel's stoic ruler at the time and her husband's 92 year old sulky mother, both of whom are subtly paraded as gatecrashing circus clowns with which to tickle the senses.

Amiry, a university student at Edinburgh in the 60s, an architect by occupation and a frequent traveller abroad, sketches from haphazard true life accounts in her diaries, pieces and letters posted to a group of close women friends during the darker moments of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict a few years ago and some other sections that stretch back a decade. She also recalls the early romance with her husband Salim, who is constantly abroad. She details the grief she still carries from the death of an affectionate father, and especially too, her lifelong regret at having failed to seek out the historic family home of the past. Amiry also mourns the destruction of Palestine's beautiful architectural heritages by Israeli bombs.

Yet, she is able to wear humour in her most worrying thoughts, conjuring them up for consumption like a refreshing tonic as she battles the tiresome little horrors of managing a household in a beseiged township and one of many, constantly under curfew.

It is Amiry's very disgruntlement that lends itself to her caustic wit and terribly funny, sarcasic quips. And wouldn't any of us have participated in the same. Thanks to Israeli intervention in the Occupied Territories, here is a lady who may need to climb over walls to whisper to the neighbours when Israeli troops blow down doors from idleness instead of opening them. During the measured curfew hours was when troops plundered homes while crushing parked cars and grabbing valuables and possessions along the way. Did you know that ladies hid jewels in their bras? One hears them coming...in ways that are sometimes polite and at other times rude, from a mile away and the classic joke is that the soldiers would finish with someone's home before bedtime so that the family would get a decent night's sleep.

The other classic joke preyed on the fondness of Israeli soldiers in ordering Palestinians to line up for trivial matters, constantly blaring their instructions to form long straight lines. One boy, on being told to collect his gas mask had walked a mile to reach an army truck only to get behind a long line, where he would then find himself facing his house once more as if he had never left.

Indeed, it was a common occurrence to order a village to line up for gas masks, command its people to get into a bus, have the driver circle two blocks and then send the villagers right back home again... but without the gas masks. Shopping may be inspected and the shopper questioned over a bunch of carrots or sorry-looking tomatoes. A resident could journey by foot to another village to attend his university classes or hurry to work only praying that he may not be shot at. Different residents depending on which middle-eastern region showed up on their birth certificates, would sometimes require 10 to 13 permits and visas to visit nearby towns or to cross specific roads. Some may choose to take hidden short cuts only to be forced with the aid of grumblings and heightened agitation, to experiment with 20 different routes before settling for a safe one. Even a Palestinian-owned domestic pet would be required to present a Jerusalem passport if in the event it had to be chauffered to the Jewish city for a vaccine. An Israeli vet was not allowed to treat an animal from the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

In the midst of it all, neighbours protected each other with fierce affection and relied on their many jokes and anecdotes to keep the act of survival afloat. Amiry blames Ariel Sharon for all the inconveniences and so too, her 92 year old mother in law who is forced to take refuge in her home. The mother-in-law lived next door to Arafat which didn't help matters when the defacto Palestinian leader was put under seige by Israel. As a sole trespasser and forced asylum seeker, Amiry's mother-in-law would almost drive her to a wretched despair with the nagging and yarns that befit the ancient.

Amiry comes across as endearing and wonderfully humorous. Her daily lifeline lies in the internet, the Aljazeera news in English, Malboro packs and big mugs of tea.

Here than is an example of a comic scene:

"Captain Yossi went out and a few minutes later, came back with a Marlboro cigarette and a cup of muddy Israeli army coffee. I never understood how Israelis could drink that terrible coffee. I've been told the army has no time to boil the coffee and the water together, so they just pour warm water over the coffee grains and drink mud. Of course, they have no time as they are harassing us, twenty-four hours a day. If they stopped harassing us, they might end up with a better life and a good cup of coffee rather than mud. Look at the Italians, the Turks and the French: they all have good coffee now that they have realized it's possible to have a good life without occupying others. " - Ramallah Diaries - Suad Amiry -

Sharon and my Mother-in-Law turned out to be nothing short of a pleasurable read.

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Saturday, 19 July 2008

A Ramble

I think it must have started with Africa. No doubt, I had made several trips in the past. Still, this year was different. On my return to Dublin, I felt refreshed and vaguely subjected to a cleansed spirit even as a hopeful pilgrim may have encountered bathing for good health in the mud rivers near the Dead Sea, or plunging the Ganges in a desperate pursuit to meet the Gods.

However, this renewal may have stretched deeper than just another puzzled introspection or on looking back, a series of peaceful reflections.

Not only did I feel that I had crossed an abyss where there was no longer a need for a disconnected past or realize that I had returned far more resolute about my destiny than I had ever been, but that my passion for literature had raced a zebra crossing as well.

My love for books and that dream of a happy library clutter as if by magic shone animated, grinned alive and with its loud bubbly voice, now contemplated taking me into roads of the ancient past. Such a tempting thought indeed that my conscience would straightaway unfold merriment.

Having scoured the bookshops in Dubai, Tanzania and of course London with greedy hopes, I now longed for a deeper insight into world literature with such a painful tug of my heartstrings, more challenged by the universe's adventurous plots and colourful escapades, than I had ever been. Never one to be still, I knew that Dickens and Mrs. Gaskell's endearing homey tales would always sit well in my heart. I would be able to return to that warm fireplace anytime.

Once more, my passions had evolved in a dramatic fashion.

Now I was determined to visit new lands through the classics and regale in the stories of my father's and mother's homelands in Kerala, India and the Punjab. More and more, I sought for a quieter deeper recognition of the self. I smiled at the thought that I could happily read books all the way to my death and know at my last breath, that I had raked up a good life.

Looking back these 2 weeks, my soul has clearly been parched for Middle-Eastern literature especially of the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

I was lucky that contemporary Arabian writers had risen with a dramatic force and that their titles are easily available in England and also in Dublin. At the moment, how I look forward to to the usual September launch of hundreds of autumn titles. I'm going to be broke for sure.

In these last weeks, I'm sure it was Rajaa Alsanea's alluring episodes from the Girls of Riyardh, a secret scintillating tale of women friendships set in modern-day Saudi Arabia, that changed my perceptions of the Middle-East forever and set me on an upward course of new discovery.

Alsanea captured my thoughts in the exact way the late Iris Murdoch did when I first set out to read contemporary British fiction years ago and the way Pearl S. Buck had managed when I was a teen. Such moments don't often arrive. And I remember that Murdoch's daring prose of sex and scandal carved out in her excellent literary orbit, had led me to grab title after title, relishing everything from Kingsley Amis to Margaret Drabble ever so voraciously as if my days would never end. There would be no looking back. With hurried determination, words encouraged me to run like an ambitious athlete mastering a baton relay, from one tale to the next. At some point, I would emerge triumphant.

I know this for a fact because on finishing Nikita Lalwani's Gifted yesterday, I thought I'd settle for some Warhol this weekend. But this morning, the idea seemed terribly dull and the call for more Arab literature angry at my slowness, stabbed mercilessly at my heart. In desperation, I went downtown to one of my favourite bookshops, situated at College Green across the road from Trinity and aasked the owner - whom I knew from acquaintance if he had anything at all on Middle-Eastern literature. I have some in my library but badly needed to be surprised. I didn't fancy going into Dawson or O'Connell Street and Trinity College is close to my residence.

The Irish owner was proud of his expansive collection and showed me first of all, Let it be Morning by Sayed Kashua which I had already devoured. I remember being consumed with shock, my head buried in the story from pure eagerness. He discussed his favourite bits with me and shovelled off other chapters with a slightly dismissive air.

It is a wonderful thing when a bookshop manager takes you around like a proud house owner and recommends strange delights. The old brown shelves sought with so much love may have commanded the same luxury as marble floors. Now lost in hazy recollections, the owner pulls out hidden treasures from unsuspecting corners where you would have never guessed lay his chest of gold.

Like a couple seeking an adopted baby, each title is inspected and talked about and its cover caressed like a shock of hair being affectionately ruffled and the little book itself as if it were a child in hushed, low tones with a tempestuous personality measured out and a temper warned of - "this part is heartbreaking, watch out for the intensity etc etc..." - as if the book would need to be cajoled so to present its reader only the required desired pleasure.

The owner also suggested his favourites and introduced me to a broad range of history (non-fiction) and also some selected fiction. In the end, I settled for Rawi Hage's DeNiro Game (an award-winning Lebanese novel) and the one you now see at my sidebar, some comedy prose made up of a diary collection called Sharon and my Mother-in-Law by Suad Amiry. It is Palestinian and I am excited.

Follow your heart that wise saying, only to have change arrive like a punctual guest at your doorstep.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Salman Rushdie and a Signing Record

by Suzan Abrams

Another kind slice of humour. How this made me smile! The Times of India reports with a little help from The Guardian UK that Salman Rushdie has claimed to sign as many as a 1000 books in as little as 57 minutes while tucked away in a Nashville warehouse, during his recent American tour to promote The Enchantress of Florence.

Rushdie has written to The Guardian to inform them of his remarkable feat while taking care to place President Jimmy Carter and Amy Tan on an equal footing with his own triumph. Rushdie added that he had broken wine writer Malcolm Gluck's previous record of having attained 1,001 copies in 59 minutes. Apparently, Rushdie had boasted in his letter that "Gluck's record was toast"... and I wonder if that meant that it hadn't been burnt somewhat at the edges. But of course! :-)

Gluck in turn, questioned whether Rushdie may have just scribbled his initials on, instead - and can't you imagine the grimace that may have come along with this suspicion. On Rushdie's stout denial, Gluck said that while feeling humbled, the entire episode read like a man boasting about his sexual equipment with no regard for a personality. I do agree with Gluck but stay humoured.

I'm tickled to bits. These are the things that make the world go round and don't we all need a carousel ride sometimes.

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I have just returned to Dublin by the way.
What an interlude indeed!
And now I must start writing again so as to quickly finish my projects and get them out of the way.
These projects were created by me and are solely for my own benefit by the way. More later.

*********
Honestly, reading this news clip a minute ago, I didn't know if to laugh or cry.

The Hindustani Times reports that times have changed in Kashmir and that the business of death is suffering badly.
The tombstone maker, the elderly gravedigger and the post-mortem man are all complaining.

Military level violence is fading out, they cry. The level of violence has dropped drastically and er... there are very few bullet-riddled bodies to bury at the moment.
At one time, mourns Sheikh, a bankrupt gravedigger in 2008. There were so many bodies to bury that a new layer of soil had to be fastidiously laid out with a new set of graves roughly carpeted on top of the old.

Now there is a twist of the most bizarre kind and the post-mortem man is dealt with cases related to Kashmir's new realities instead.... suicides by drownings, poisons and hangings, thanks to the tragic fates of jilted lovers and the jobless. Not enough, not enough, business is still bad, lament the tombstone maker, the elderly gravedigger and the post-mortem man.

You can read it all here.

I am intoxicated by the beauty of Wales. Its hills, dales and the rush of gushing brooks to a secret place. Only the wind knows.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

I'll be in Wales tomorrow and back in Ireland in the next day or two.

Since having returned from East Africa a few weeks ago and while travelling about now and then, I have managed to read Rajaa Alsanea's Girls of Riyadh, Jhumpa Lahiri's Intepreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth, Sayed Kashua's Let it be Morning, Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul, Kaveh Basmenji's edited short stories by Iranian women and Little Hut of Leaping Fishes by Chiew Siah-Tei.

I'm so waiting to write about my thoughts on this specific literature once I get back. I also bought a stack of East African novels while in Tanzania but these too rest patiently in my Dublin flat as I haven't had a chance to read them yet.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

I met an old friend in London for tea just. We had arranged to meet in Charing Cross as soon as I returned from Liverpool this afternoon. Here I must add that the quaint charming city known for a strong European culture, is just as bleak and windy as all the rest. But Merseyside with its rich music history is magic, isn't it.
Anyway, it was a delight to see Jackie again after more than a year. We had worked as magazine journalists together once upon a time in Kuala Lumpur.
Our executive editors at the time with the different lifestyle magazines we both represented were based in Singapore. Jackie would later head the Marie Claire Malaysia edition as its editor. I rose from staff writer to assistant editor in another magazine. However, I turned down the offer of an editorship as I had made plans to go to Australia. Then I would travel globally with Melbourne as my base, for some years.
Today, both Jackie and I are working on our own creative writing projects. Which reminds me that I have 3 writing projects on my plate at the moment. When I return to Ireland, I'll have to sit down for at least a month and a half and finish them all up without moving anywhere. I do intend to travel again in the later part of the year.
It was exciting to see Jackie. As friends and fellow writers, we continue to evolve.
Here's a book review she wrote a fortnight ago in one of Malaysia's national newspapers, in its Sunday edition.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

I'll be in Liverpool all of this Sunday and Monday. Will be back in London on Tuesday.

Briefly...

I have just finished reading Jhumpa Lahiri's award-winning collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth. I read the chunky book on planes, trains and in quiet cafes. To my real surprise, it proved to be a glorious stunner and totally elegant. It's easy to see why she won an international prize from Ireland, recently. Her stories are not set in the present time. They act as mini-novellas, each triumphing over the other and are timeless in mood and era. I'll be looking forward to Lahiri's reading in Cork later this year.

(I will write more about the book next week.)

Have also strengthened the content to my attendance at the South Bank event below, featuring Mohammed Hanif 2 days ago, for A Case of Exploding Mangoes.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Mohamed Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) at South Bank

by Suzan Abrams in London

Last evening, I was at the Royal Festival Hall at South bank here in London to hear the prestigious journalist and head of the BBC's Urdu service, Mohammed Hanif speak on his first novel, a black comedy titled A Case of Exploding Mangoes on the much-humoured imagined last days of General Zia ul Haq.

Perhaps it best serves to say that there will always be room for smiles even in pain or a slight call to laughter that may linger even at tragedy's door.

The small room at Level 5 Function Room was crowded as many admire Hanif's work. The session also proved to be a lively and intimate one as Hanif who is so clearly the optimist, chose to playact the classic comedian banking on a winning formula in the way he chose to engage in entertaining dialogue as regards modern-day Pakistani politics, read excepts of his story with high comic exaggeration, brooded on his colourful life as a journalist covering coups in his homeland and the writing of the novel itself. In fact, an eager fan would later request that Hanif read a second excerpt of his novel as she had so enjoyed the first, and the author would happily oblige.

The satrical
A Case of Exploding Mangoes was originally intended to be a murder mystery, similiar in vein to that of the famed Murder on the Orient Express. "Everyone on that train had a motive for murder," reflects Hanif. "It was only when I tinkered about with my own plot that I realised that back in the Eighties, almost everyone in Pakistan had a motive too." The crowd roared and Hanif beamed. "I wanted to escape to a place in my head where the BBC couldn't get me," he finished with a big grin.

It was also announced to the crowd that earlier in the day, Rushdie had once more scooped the Best of the Booker. This snippet of information would immediately trigger off informal and highly interesting conversation on the sudden burst of contemporary Pakistan literature and how swiftly it had risen to the scene.

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Thursday, 10 July 2008

Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children was voted by the reading public as Best of the Booker. Catch this link.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

I'll be in London tomorrow.

Afsaneh: Short stories by Iranian Women edited by Kaveh Basmenji

by Suzan Abrams


This book of 20 unusual short stories by Iranian women edited and translated by the 47-year old journalist, *Kaveh Basmenji and spanning several decades, is deeply melancholic with its spartan prose. A profound sadness with no respect for the etiquette of pretence, hovers like a funeral wake in calling out for each story's theme, no matter the fictitous woman's joys or sorrows.

A poetic atmosphere, designed to haunt and trigger brooding reflections to its sharp introspection is what lends the reader, its lavish beauty.

No doubt, the collection has been translated as closely as possible to the original and so there is no boastful writerly approach or superficial sophisticated style one way or the other. Drawn from such faithfulness, expect the crude ie "I went there seldom" or "He smiled at me also."

Lines are extraordinary and memorable. In Simin Daneshvar's To Whom Shall I Say Hello, one may be feted to unusual phrases like "3 ripe daughters" and a "giant of a wife". Or perhaps,
"Someone is clawing at my entrails again."

Stories thoughtfully sketched by reowned women writers like Shahrnoosh Parsipour, Zohreh Hatami and Fereshtei Sari amongst others only serve to search a woman's heart with a resignation of never-ending sincerity and pain. The Iranian woman is not as worried over physical circumstances or as what the excruciating demands of religion may prove itself to be.

Rather, she is concerned with family ties, a parent's approval or a man's touch and often where no happy ending may be celebrated on the horizon. The challenge is to capture the valuable meaning of existence. She may question not the conservative garb that she has been asked to don but rather her carers in those frightening twilight years. Would her husband leave? Would the snow bury a village home? Would a nasty son in law ever let her see a daughter? Would she still find herself a bed to sleep in at 80 or would she be left to die somewhere unkind? And so forth.

The reader is able to seek out philosophical truths and painful everyday realities from a woman's simple heart. The message of the authors, having lived through different eras are all the same. The Iranian woman wants to love and live with equal eagerness and bountiful joy for the sole purpose of a full engagement with life; only many a time, she cannot, simply from the way destiny may have harshly and carelessly, woven its thick web around her.

*Kaveh Basmenji lives in Prague and is working on his first novel.

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Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Why Rani Manicka is the first Malaysian author of serious fiction to be internationally popular


by Suzan Abrams
  1. Rani Manicka's first novel The Rice Mother was translated into 18 different languages at one go. No other Malaysian writer achieved this before her.
  2. This would later be followed by her second novel, Touching Earth a novel that went a different journey as I remember seeing it at several international airports - the time that I was travelling constantly - all at one go.
  3. She was the first Malaysian writer who received so large an advance, that the news clip was splashed all over the search engines in a day. Before this, the media never discussed the wages of other published Malaysian writers. There wasn't such a thing as a large advance with the exception of writers like Arundhati Roy.
  4. She was the first Malaysian novelist to have had The Rice Mother published in the States after the UK.
  5. She was the first Malaysian novelist to have had her novel internationally accessible in bookstores from the first day her novel was launched in London. In Australia, The Rice Mother was splashed in lavish window displays all over Sydney and Melbourne. Think David Jones, Myers and Dymocks.
  6. In East Africa, The Rice Mother was upfront in the few bookshops that were available for expatriates. There were even posters of The Rice Mother and Rani Manicka that hung on the walls. I remember that really took my breath away.
  7. I would never been able to observe this of course, if my global travelling of 9 years had not put me in such good light of how Malaysian novels sold to the masses at the time.
  8. Today, you can still pick up The Rice Mother even in the smaller bookshops outside Ireland. Six years on and the novel still makes its rounds and is often easily available from a bookstore shelf.
  9. Rani Manicka was also the first Malaysian writer to have received a one-page spread in Waterstone's quarterly, the in-house magazine of one of the UK's biggest bookstore chains.
  10. She was the first Malaysian writer to be named by the Bookseller (UK) as having honed a possible bestseller with The Rice Mother.
There were a few writers published beforehand. In 1998, there was Malaysian writer Yang May-Ooi with her novel, The Flame Tree.
Still in 1999, I was unable to purchase a copy in Melbourne, as no store had heard of her. She didn't have it as good with bookstore availability in spite of being published in London. I had considered this at the time to be a strange thing. Neither was this novel available any longer in bookstores like Borders when I went to England in 2003. I was told it was no longer in print. With nary a blaze in the first place, the novel had fizzled out as quietly as it had first popped up on what may have been an expectantly hopeful scene. Due to my unsuccessful attempts at purchasing a copy at the time, I finally relied on what seemed to me, the obvious sensibility that the book had failed to garner the attention it sought.

There were other writers like Shirley Lim popular in the States but her books were definitely not available in stores in Australia or the UK. At the time during and before Manicka first published The Rice Mother in September 2002, world distribution as pertaining to books published in the US (with the exception that they were commercially highly popular or international bestsellers) were always dicey. If UK didn't buy the rights, you couldn't find the book in several of the smaller countries or even Australia and the UK unless specifically ordered, whereas books published in the UK were always circulated widely, from its first launch date.

Australian writers who published in their country suffered and still suffer the same fate. It's difficult to find Australian fiction elsewhere unless commercially popular or promoted under specific categories. I also remember trying to get hold of Beth Yap's book The Crocodile Fury in 1999/2000 to no avail.

I was finally able to secure a lone copy in Reader's Feast, Melbourne after getting a thumbs-down sign everywhere else. The title simply wasn't available and once more stores knew nothing about it. The Crocodile Fury may have been a prize-winning novel in earlier years in Australia but it didn't last the ride. I'm guessing probably from a lack of international awareness and publicity.

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Chiew-Siah Tei in the Times Literary Supplement

by Suzan Abrams

Alasdair Gray reviews Malaysian author, Chiew-Siah Tei's Little Hut of Leaping Fishes with an in-depth studiedness of the Chinese ruling dynasty and mention of other global conquests, in the July 4 issue of the Times Literary Supplement.

The review which tips over a full page, runs midway though the literary mag and boasts an intriguing grainy picture featuring the subject of introspection from the 14th century painting by Wang Zanpeng titled Vimalakiri and the Doctrine of Nondualit and which is currently being shown for viewing at the Metropolian Museum of Art, New York until the first week of August.

Tei is based in Glasgow and her book was launched at the city's Waterstone's branch, a store reputed for introducing first-time novelists.

Gray's superb review of Tei's fictitious Plum Blossom Village which also proves a long essay of sorts in tone and structure, is compared directly to Chinese history and empires long gone.

There is no mention made of Malaysia. Not that this is a worrying trend. A place of birth whether having subtly shaped an author's profile or otherwise, loudly proclaimed with gregarious chest-beating, can never be disputed or changed

However there is no doubt that this exclusion will disappoint certain Malaysian bloggers or non-Malaysian bloggers with Malaysian interests, who are often bent on capturing, heralding and celebrating with gusto; the majority - not all - of Malaysian authors published in the West complete with literary agent and any prize nomination that may come along, no matter how insignificant. Only a few years ago, these bloggers would have professed to a complete lack of understanding for and a snub duly attributed to the role of literary agents. These evident from the many blog posts that surfaced with a clamour for priority given to local publishing over the West. The faithless would soon jump camp when international acclaim beckoned the successful Malaysian novelist in the West. One, two and then a handful. Now, the clamour for local publishing seems to have wrung itself into a mere whisper as the party gets louder for a novel circling the globe.

Prizes appear to count for everything. The writer's accolades are quickly claimed as patriotic even as a national identity cannot possibly soften with the inclusion of universal fundamentals.

In this respect alone I am terribly relieved that Chiew-Siah Tei was able to think outside the box and create a wide international scope for her subject rather than settling for the usual market demand of local historical fiction with emphasis on exaggerated descriptions for the ordinary.

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On a personal note, Belfast was cold with raging winds. I nurtured a slight suspicion that autumn may have arrived sooner than expected.
This wonderful historic city with its immense skyline and wide rolling farmlands on its outskirts (forgive the Blyton-ish aspect of it all) was watched over by hovering nimbus clouds, dark and threatening and which clearly refused to budge. Trees looked like they were ready to swing their tops off.
We have had very little of a summer in this part of the world.
Clearly, London spots stronger bursts of sunshine. Dublin is a lot more colder than England at the moment but Belfast, a lot more colder than Dublin. Just rain, rain and more rain.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

I'm up in Belfast all of tomorrow.

Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2009

*As compared to last year's listings, there have been several updates made to addresses and especially requirements of publishers and agents. There are also new additions to the lists and deletions with regards to those who have shut down business dealings altogether; eg. The Friday Project. - sa

I was pleasantly surprised to see AC Blacks' popular Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2009 edition being sold already at Hodges Figges in the Classics section, over at Dawson Street, Dublin. I couldn't walk away without picking up a copy. It cost me almost 20 euro, just short of a few cents.

I'm not too sure about last year but up until then, the newest edition wouldn't have been out in England until September. How thrilling the prospect that titles are released in the UK and Ireland simultaneously. For instance, in Dublin, we have two versions to a newspaper everyday. Think The Times and then too, The Irish Times or The Independent and then The Irish Independent; all dutifully sold side by side.

Unless specifically ordered, this treasured publication is likely to reach my country, Malaysia, months later.

I suppose an early updated edition just tells me how competitive the international publishing industry really is although I confess to being one of the few who enjoys being in the swing of things and the exhilarating carousel of it all is good for an adrenalin rush. I find the world of books and the dramatic arts strangely inspiring because of this attitude.

On the whole, the directory is a chunky treat.

It serves as the ultimate motivation for any aspiring, artist or producer as well as for the more established names in the view that global markets may be expanded or publishing ventures challenged and taken to new heights.

With priority given to names, addresses, telephone numbers, websites and email addresses of literary agents, publishers, newspapers, magazines, societies, book clubs, writing festivals, poetry publications, syndicates, writing retreates, writers' websites, theatre and film producers in the UK, there are also listings a-plentiful for the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and West/Europe. Then come along those listings of e-book publishers or do-it-yourself websites and blogs. These are the categories that cut across the barriers of space, time and geographical landscapes.

Certainly, this time round, the edition turns its attention to webspace in a monumental way. For the first time, it's own url address takes pride of place on the cover. A quick peep into its website (click above) reveals the variety of self-help, encouraging and helpful articles/features with a view to publishing in the global market.

Any writer who requires this awareness, especially as with regards to the big players, who will eventually shape all else, needs this book. If there is a tendency only to worry about publishing in one own' s country especially those in the Far East, I would say in this day and age, that it becomes a bit like burying your head in the sand.

For any country interested in publishing and literature but who stay myopic to regional operations, it's a stagnant life indeed. The rest of the world have come out to play so why choose to be locked indoors.

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