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Wednesday 24 September 2008

The Lies That Build A Marriage by Suchen Christine Lim

First Print Run Sells Out in Singapore!

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin.

In The Lies That Build A Marriage, a paperback fiction and new title published by Monsoon Books Singapore, one straightaway senses that Suchen Christine Lim's efforts at writing and compiling a series of short stories, have been subtly designed to haunt and provoke a straitlaced but thoughtful Singapore with restless, stirring themes that hover like a dark cloud, over the classic immeasurable pain cradled by marginalized communities.

Be warned that such a book acts like a mini-dynamite...it steps into your life on tippy-toes and suddenly embraces you with the giant squeeze of a bear-hug from where you failed to look. You may never again be the same.

A page, a paragraph, a word and all fast rising to a steady flame as your eyes scan the pages. Be warned of Lim's sound talent at exploiting the dark and hidden and in bringing to light, the old and unsaid.

You'll dwell on the explosive revelations that garlands traditional Singapore life, while armed with all of its walled sophistication, colourful taboos and superstitions. And here amidst the old quiet streets, flanked by unsuspecting ancient flats and modern apartment blocks, are where dangerous secrets lie.

For the surprised but adventurous reader, the passionate thinker and one who may look to a courageous author, Lim's tales waste no time in winding powerful messages into the tender if not sometimes stubborn heart.

Lim, one of Singapore's foremost prized writers, draws on her vast writing experience to create bold but loving debates on the open secrets of homosexuality, measured immorality and even the dire consequences of racism.

A mother's reconciliation with her son's hesitating confession that indeed, he had been gay for a long time.."since I was 9 or 10..." he offers hopefully, a daughter ashamed at her two uneducated mothers - traditional Chinese amahs, whom she discovers to her horror to be contented lesbians and both of them, her doting servants, whom she learns to appreciate only after their death.

Then there are the roles of suffering mistresses and wives caught on the jagged edge of society...the named women who will eventually be redeemed as haloed angels or damned as dominant shrews.

Picture for instance, the rude fights of a mother and daughter-in-law that results in unfairly punished sons and a high maid turnover. Sounds interesting? But there's more to woo the spirit.

Lim's strength lies in her excellent execution of dialect and accents featuring a cruder version of Singapore-dialogue. The rough strains of the English Language, deliberately spoken and written, if you like, with a twitch and tickle. Intensity moulds itself eagerly into harried conversations.

Perhaps it would be best after all, to settle on a skilled dark comedy or studied emotional discourse.

Lim also successfully ends each questioning story on the play of a sharp poignant note that will hound the reader with subdued reflections. A thinker's book surely.
In the event too, that more is sought to whet the appetite, Lim regales the reader with true-life anecdotes on the unexpected reception of her book in Singapore amongst nuns, pastors and congregations. On a parting note, the author employs a pleading and intimate voice for understanding and acceptance of the extraordinary from the ordinary.

For ordering details, please click on Monsoon Books, Singapore.

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Tuesday 23 September 2008

My book review on Sayed Kashua's Let it be Morning was run by The Iranian online magazine on September 9 and I didn't even know. I had been waiting for the longest time.

It's very hard for a foreign writer to be published on a Middle-Eastern site at all as most of these are tightly-knit private communities. But I have managed it so I am pleased. Not everything submitted as I have discovered, is published. Even comments are held by the administrators to be reviewed. If you click on the link below and scroll down a little way, you'll find my article-header titled, Holylands - Caught in Troubles by a Few and you could click on that.

If you scroll yet further down, you will come across, another book review titled Bomber-Sharing The Pain which I had announced on this blog and which the editor had published in August.

The link is over HERE.

Monday 22 September 2008

The European Commission to order reforms for digital expansion in publishing works

by Suzan Abrams

I absolutely love the idea!

I love it that in today's The Bookseller.com, the European Commission has proposed efforts to increase wider accessibility and free availability of digitised works and to prevent published writings from being declared as 'orphans'. These proposals come as the European Digital Library prepares for a November launch.

To fail to recuperate a work from an orphan source means that various obstacles have blocked a published work from the privilege of securing a ready audience digitally.

This happens when the copyright holder cannot be traced. In a changing publishing era, where technology advancement booms its microphone voice every other hour, this has proved to be a major problem.

At the moment, there is the ARROW project which supports broader reforms that call for cooperation between right holders and cultural institutions so as to provide a strong comprehensive digital database for orphan works especially with regards to writings from an ancient time. Denmark, Hungary and Germany are currently, hard at work broadening their own copyright objectives.

The European Commission also wants the present very high cost for rights clearance so as to digitise a piece of writing, especially when dealing with out-of-print or out-of-distribution works, tackled urgently.


I'm pleased because I love the digital era. I also relish my yellow-leafed dog-eared books. Its just that I cherish both differently... am easily able to detach myself between the two categories and to appreciate each innovation for its own sake.

I am an avid collector of books that currently press at the seams of my library shelves. In other words, they may topple at anytime. This, especially with regards to the classics, world literature, crime and all sorts.

Sometimes, when I want to choose a new read, I haven't the faintest idea where to start. The potent effect of a collector's library provides for a delightful mass of story-telling pleasures. Think me the bungling half-blinded pirate, stumped at the sudden sight of a treasure chest.

At the moment, I've scattered untidy stacks of books all over the place and from a spiritual sense, already observe it to be a safe haven, from just being able to catch an adoring glimpse as soon as I wake up.

Never for a moment, have I felt insecure that traditional print would go out of fashion. I believe the world is ready for the tight embrace of a varied contemporary change.

If all my reading of the world's publishing industry is anything to go by in these last months, it signifies, that digital technology works beautifully when combined hand-in-hand with traditional print.

A writer's simple tale is resurrected to a far more abundant and richer personality, than it could have have hoped to conceive with a singular binding of restful pages. Digitial technology is a super and highly effective technological aid. Think the added idea a cd archive, complete with the book's text, pressed onto the book jacket as an extra bonus.


For instance, my cell phone which seriously needs to be upgraded, feels like an essential limb at the moment. When I've recently been busy with deadlines and didn't have time to browse the internet, I read all my favourite world newspapers on the phone. I also used it to send numerous emails, thought nothing of calling abroad - no landlines or operators are necessary - was able to mobilize it from any region during my travels, besides being able to download any number of books I wanted.

At this very moment, my nifty little phone holds all my tight deadline schedules and reminds me of what needs to be completed by the hour. Nestled in a pocket, it follows me everywhere. Without my cellphone alone, to say nothing of a laptop and broadband, I'd be totally lost.


That's why I so absolutely love being in Europe as I'm sure it must be too, in major cities in the Americas.

You're on the forefront of change, running a tightrope on the planet's lively heartbeat that's manouvering its pace for a sharp and speedy new era. To embrace the digital age, you have to respect modernity, be challenged to applaud a vibrant change, be ready for all kinds of unknown possibilities, be full of zest or simply love your life.

In my country, Malaysia, media technology stays stout and highly influential especially with the top-notch presentation of its digital newspapers and sophisticated corporation websites.

But not so, the publishing industry, I have to admit.

Unfortunately, self-publishing methods are painfully traditional and old-fashioned. Techniques followed are perhaps what Europe herself engaged in 20 to 15 years ago. We are almost totally archaic in this area.

Many writers and writing enthusiasts are hardly open to digital change, understand only a fraction of its possibilities and would spend time protesting the change rather than welcoming the idea.

There is an almost ridiculous assumption, suspicion and fear that traditional books would be wiped out altogether. If you observe the publishing industry closely from here in Europe, you'll know the chances of such a happening to be remote.

Many writers in my country also, sadly, don't know how to make the digital era work for them and just through a swift perusal of certain blogs, have watched how the chances of unexpected sales have been easily diminished through a lack of expertise or familiarity with the digital era. - I'll talk more about this someday.

Most don't go further than a website.

Whereas the Singapore publishing industry views things differently.

On the little island, publishers and writers command an Emperor Meiji mentality. Meiji was Japan's ruler in the second half of the 19th century. The Emperor who was also a poet, sent many Japanese to the USA to learn of the latest electrical inventions, scientific applications and to observe economic affairs before returning home to educate the rest of the population, that would result in the Asian nation's major restoration.

In this vein, Singaporean writers are not afraid of looking outwards.

Indeed, it's nothing short of a courageous education. I noticed this at the Singapore Literary Festival last year. The writers hardly felt insecure about aiming their works for the European nations. Their rationale was that it would enhance their patriotism to make their writings better known and understood worldwide.

What Europe knows these days and many in Malaysia unfortunately still don't, is that there are billions of websites in the world in the year 2008 and with all kinds of intricate alleyways to get to one in the first place, a writer is lucky if a rarely updated website strikes even 10 hits every 2 days.

These days, the digital era has commanded such unrelenting universal competition, that a writer needs more than just a stagnant website in which to make published work known.

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Friday 19 September 2008


Dear Readers,

With the exception of a couple of posts if I can manage them, I may not be able to blog on this page again until September 27th (Saturday).
This concerns a project I had said I was involved in earlier. In the rise of that, I'll have to submit any leftover documentation by September 26 - Friday. I should be able to tell you what it was all about next week or very shortly after.
I'll be back next weekend at the latest or before that, if I manage to complete the necessary skeletal framework for my project. Sadly, my reading takes a backseat too. I've been wanting so much to mull over a Dickens Christmas tale as I often do...this time of year.

Thursday 18 September 2008

The silver lining on Palestine's cloud

Pictured here is the Jewish Quarterly's latest autumn issue.

by *Suzan Abrams

The editorial featured in the Jewish Quarterly's Summer 2008 edition - the Quarterly with its introspective and poignant essays being held as the world's oldest English language journal devoted to Jewish studies - talked with some relish, hope and candour about the enterprising Palestine Festival of Literature - a festival that was being held simultaneously and armed with the same industrious passion as Israel's widely-known International Festival of Literature, deigned to feature such greats as Nadine Gordimer and Amoz Oz.

The ambitious Palestine however offered the humbler if not slightly more reverential option and as always through circumstance which outlines an injured miscarriage of justice; succeeded in receiving almost no publicity at all.

Yet the event had managed to gather an ebullient crowd of British, American, Indian and Arabic writers; all eager to lend a rhapsodic feel to the hearty writing discussions.

Throughout the literary festival, one urgent question had stuck out like a sore thumb. Dutifully engaged in playing the role of the misfit nation, the puzzle was drawn on how to write books that would make people understand. But understand what?

To native writers, it mattered everything that just that right book that explained the Palestinian situation to the world would be written for libraries, bookshops and readers come the length and breath of planet earth.

Esther Freud was herself reported to have said that 'thank you' had turned out to be the most abundantly scattered phrase that peppered the entire celebratory scholarly discourse. The gratitude was immense. "Thank you for coming and not forgetting about us." In return for the confetti-throw of lavish courtesy, the audience was to stay fascinated and deeply touched.

The enlightening editorial further explains with kindly analysis; the current isolation of Palestine's intellectuals and writers that often pinches painfully at their plight. No one visits them and it is sometimes equally impossible for them to travel.

Says the editorial, "If the Palestinian people are to articulate their path to self-determination and statehood, the writers and intellectuals will be a vital force in countering extremist hatred and bigotry. They are the voices, we, in the west, need to cultivate and hear while they still want to talk to us, before they, too, are engulfed in the burning flames of racial hatred."


*With the exception of the quoted editorial passage in the final paragraph, the short article above features this writer's own words.


Wednesday 17 September 2008

The Daily Telegraph publishes Alexander McCall Smith's first online novel for free

by Suzan Abrams

If you're in the West or Australasia, you'll know that there's something about those borderline winter months that spell cosy thoughts to ready you for a Christmas mood. For me, it would be warm wines, port, the cheery autumn telly drama, rugs, armchairs and books; lots of thick, fat classics or thrillers as opposed to the slimmer and kinder sunshine-Margarita-paperbacks that went before.

It's a time when I also think of hardy trees that wait with saintly patience to greet me. Their outstretched branches and scattered throwaway leaves make for clumsy garlands. All the time, I stroll the pavement with the usual shivers and sighs. I tramp on a soft bed of bright reds, oranges, russets and browns.

One of the great pleasures of embracing the digital era is the clear knowledge of forests being saved and the smug silence of blowing regards wishes as they live out their years in happy retirement. Think a holiday idea of reclining on sand beds - allow that for the palms - or reaching out to the skies with the grandeur of kings.

These days, I spend a lot more time on my laptop reading world affairs and literary reviews, newspapers and the many subjects of the arts. When I can, I catch the odd modern classic , Im unlikely to find in a bookshop, say someone like Willa Cather.

But here now and apologies for being the slightly late and bungling bell-ringer, but the Daily Telegraph has commissioned bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith famed for all those delightful African detective agency tales; to write an online novel exclusively for the newspaper. It is the Rhodesia-born writer's first e-book.

Each weekday sees the online publication of a new chapter and besides, you can have your story delivered to an email box or through a feed. Otherwise, simply settle for a listen. At the moment, the paper features chapter 4 although it's easy enough to catch up on chapters 1, 2 and 3 with the right clicks. Be prepared for 20 in all.

Smith's Corduroy Mansions hints at being a modern fashionable and extremely elegant novel.
Do have a Look-See and happy reading if you like what you find.

Alexander McCall Smith's new website

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Tuesday 16 September 2008

Popularity of online poetry soars

The Daily Telegraph reports on the popularity of online poetry; observing that it has managed to take off on the internet with the speed of wind. This unlike its traditional print counterpart that had for years now, mourned a tragic and shocking decline in readership.

The British based Poetry Archive has released statistics that viewers are now viewing millions of its pages a month. Britain's Poet Laureate Andrew Motion who remarks on the exciting accents and rhythms of the many American poets from their different state regions in audio recordings from the archive, says that he plans to add more poets and wonders if poetry books have been "outmanoeuvred by the internet".

If you're a poet or poetry lover, you may find the rest of this article exciting.


Monday 15 September 2008

Essay - The Authenticity of the Indian Writer's Global Identity

*I thought I had lost this article having written it almost 2 years ago and am so glad to have suddenly retrieved it.

by Suzan Abrams

Not too long ago, when I was in England, the distinguished author and historian, William Dalrymple - of the bestselling White Mughals - essayed a handsome feature spread for a British weekend newspaper in which the subject of a voracious Indian literary culture with respect to its burgeoning authorship worldwide, was eagerly questioned and debated as to any remaining skeletal form of a present existence.

Mr. Dalrymple appeared to me, to doubt that Indian writers were sucessfully working their way into novels or making sales without stepping out of their Mumbai/Kolkata shores.

He preferred to acknowledge that the successful Indian author was one who made sure he/she balanced at least 2 national cultures - one Eastern and the other Western - if not more within its belt and on its head.

He especially appeared to base his present conclusion from the personality of the current stereotype of the Indian author present at the famous Hay-on-Wye writing festival (2005) in particular, for its book readings and talks.

A British hybrid perhaps, given examples of successful Indian authors from those of Indian parents, later born and raised abroad especially in Britain and the States. I, of course, disagree.

In fact, such questions re-open a Pandora’s box with quicker speed than you could cast a dice.

How would you label the successful Indian writer whose parents emigrated from India into different eastern cultures eg. Singapore, Malaysia and even Japan. How would one explain the high inspirations of gentler poets like Mani Rao who while based in Hong Kong, has long established a tremendous following.

Such debates open up pages of controversy in a quest to decide on an author’s true identity. Perhaps the author is simply what she/he is, created by its heritage and life’s experiences.

How would one after all, explain globalisation that is swiftly opening borders and boundaries and destroying limitations, for any ambitious traveller who writes, making the stay-at-home-author and futuristically speaking - an almost sure relic of the past.

Mr. Darylmple appeared to doubt altogether, the existence of any living and working author in India - still successfully thriving on its literary merits - to the best of my knowledge.

“Darylmple’s assumption is that he can assess India’s youthful literary culture in English by adding up prizes, publishing advances, and sales figure rather than by examining individual texts, ” penned a disgusted Mr. Mishra to the Guardian. “Clearly, Dalrymple feels free to air-brush Indian writers out of existence in the pages of the Guardian,” he finished. “… But he will have be a lot more scruplous and rigorous if he wants Indian readers to accept his judgements.”

I agree with Mr. Pankaj Mishra on the grounds that he also named a good flurry of Indian authors who write and makes their homes in their motherland or who retain exceptionally strong roots even while staying in the West.

He named Amit Chaudhuri, Vikram Chandra, SiddharthaDeb, Raj Kamal Jhan, Rana Dasgupta, Rupa Bajwa and Tabish Khair amongst others.

I know that Siddharth Dhanwant Sanghvi who won the Betty Trask Award in UK, for his debut novel, The Last Song of Dusk and who has a British agent, still lives with his parents in Delhi. Rupa Bajwa did not come to England to launch her popular debut novel, The Sari Shop which was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction at the time, as it was called. She has remained in Amritsar to work on her second novel.

Manju Kapur, authoress of Difficult Daughters and winner of a Commonwealth Prize still lives, works and writes actively from New Delhi. Uzma Aslam Khan the author of her debut novel, Trespassing, launched her book in England. She lives in Lahore with her husband. The gorgeous Raj Kamal Jha, author of the highly-acclaimed The Blue Bedspread still lives in Delhi where he edits The Indian Express, a national newspaper.

Radhika Jha who wrote The Elephant and The Maruti and Smell, lives and works in Delhi, 3 years ago, Smell turned up winner of the Prix Guerlain in Paris. Anita Nair, author of various bestselling novels worldwide, lives and writes in Bangalore. Then there is former journalist Shinie Antony who left her job to write novels and subsequently won different Commonwealth Prizes for each one. She lives and writes in and from Delhi.

The majority of these authors have their interests looked after by literary agents in Europe and subsequently with translation rights, are published by several European publishers all round. Rupa Bajwa was straightaway published by Penguin UK. Kapur’s literary agent is Heather Godwin of the David Godwin Literary Agency. Anita Nair, Uzma and Radhika Jha share the same British literary agent. Rana Dasgupta is looked after by the world-famous agent, Toby Eady in London.

And Vikram Seth attests to the fact that he spends at least 6 months annually with his mother in Delhi, even while living in London. Of course, having no commitment rings on his finger helped, Seth had boasted to The Bookseller of his single status.

I could think of a few more names if time was on my side. These are just some that presently sit at the back of my head, ready to be summoned at a moment’s notice.

Free wallpaper credit to Sanatansociety.com.
Captions are of a saint teaching in a temple above and a lady eagerly waiting, below.


My Predictions for Multicultural Fiction

by Suzan Abrams

*I wrote this article about 2 years ago and my predictions are ringing true.

How will the world classify multicultural fiction in the future?

It is my guess that an author’s nationality will always dictate his/her heritage for a novel, as a serious focus on identity.

This will stem about as emigration increases and people choose their green pastures to live and work in. Which won’t be their homeland.

Writers will keep flitting to different cities as is already the case with a whole new breed of contemporary novelists. Still, they will always be defined as part of the town in which they were born. This too, as a necessary source of identity for fiction.

But global opportunities and a new creativity are fast conquering the world and there will come a day when English literature for fiction will offer several new major forms that will define an acceptable brand-new reading taste and stay seriously in demand.

Will there be a place for multi-cultural fiction that dictates hometowns, cultures, traditions, quiet anecdotes and stories for locals by locals without the influence of cross-country cultures? Yes, but I feel only in a few established continents.

Yes, but I feel only in a few established continents. Will there be arrogant prejudice about this as being a true traditional literature over something that is multi-cultural especially in the new Asia?

I think an individual global identity will still win the day in this new borderless world.

And I don’t think we’ve witnessed a major literary impact for multi-cultural fiction yet though there are interesting buds sprouting about the place.

I believe there will always be a place for homegrown fiction in English but some countries may sell their stories better than others. Authors will dip into local flavours and experiences to combine multi-faceted identities in a pursuit for each individual soul.

Which means that the world audience will still read about a cow wash (pictured above) in a little Balinese village for instance, but the plot is unlikely to stop in that small town.

The story will probably move further afield before the last page ends, to embrace extraordinary adventures for the reader.

So don’t be surprised if in 10 years times, purely traditional Asian literature based only on local observations and without any outside influences, turns into a specialised niche market.

Photo credit (above) Jim Richter 2003 (Bali)

Sunday 14 September 2008

Reading Campaign for Omani Children

by Suzan Abrams

Sunil K. Vaidya, Bureau Chief for Gulf News reported yesterday that concerned by the wilfulness of Oman's younger generation's addiction to MP3 music, headphones and SMS texting as well as the swift advancement of a visual technology, sophisticated television sets and fast-paced lifestyles, the charitable organization Dar Al Atta'a (House of Giving) in Muscat have formed a Let's Read campaign. This to seriously encourage children to develop reading as an essential habit. The country's capital will pioneer as the pilot campaign in the series.

The motto of the campaign is to Catch them young, an ingenious move prompted by British author and social worker, Jane Jaffer. Jaffer who is married to an Omani has conceived an ambition to spur children to read and cherish thier storybooks even in the interior regions of the Gulf state. In this instance, there is an urgent attempt to raise funds for a mobile unit through the corporate sector although 10 volunteers stay enthusiastic and ready on the sidelines. Childrens' literature both in Arabic and English are being sought for although Jaffer laments that there are not enough Omani writers, publishing childrens' stories with that much needed-local flavour.

You may catch more of this interesting article HERE.

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Reading Anton Chekhov's The Darling

by Suzan Abrams

Reading, The Darling, a short story by Anton Chekhov at bedtime, I was enthralled at the universal disbandonment of the human emotion. And in this case, featuring one soul's unnecessary indispensability towards another, that serves to bring only sorrow.

Olenka suffers misfortune from good fortune. A lady described sweeter than a candy bar; she thrives on love that encircles her like a peek-a-boo ring-of-roses game and so is unable to measure solitude in any given time.

She marries men, one after another, the first a theatre manager dies and so too, the dull timber manager later on and finally, she falls into the arms of a self-centered vet.

Each cheery relationship attempts to masquerade this dark truth that settles itself like fine sly thread into lazy conversations. The dialogues mould themselves on Olenka's man of the moment - his work, health, accounts etc. A sacrificial identity is telling.

She learns no lessons but continues to make herself indispensable to people who may simply tell her to shut up and go away.

The story builts a thoughtful lesson for the self that I suspect may jolly along as a vivid illustration every now and then.


One more accolade for the late Tan Sri A. Samad Ismail

I had written and posted the article below with some fervour, when one of Malaysia's most memorable man of letters passed away recently at the grand old age of 84. He was Tan Sri Abdul Samad Ismail, a humble, brilliant Malay writer and an equally powerful statesman and nationalistic freedom fighter in those early days when the then Malaya, wrestled for its rightful independence from the British.

Yesterday, in Malaysia's national newspaper, the New Straits Times, columnist Johan Jaaffar gave the late exemplary gentleman, affectionate credit in this beautiful recollection of how encased in humility, his fellow-writer and editor, Tan Sri A. Samad Ismail really was when mirrored through unseen visions. Unforgettable anecdotes are scattered throughout the article.
You may read it here: Johan Jaaffar on "One of the Least Decorated Literary Scholars.

My recent post:

by Suzan Abrams

One of Malaysia's most prominent senior journalists and early nationalistic freedom fighter, Tan Sri Abdul Samad Ismail, has passed away at the age of 84 after being warded in hospital, almost10 days ago, for a lung and blood infection. This eventually resulted in multiple organ failure. Earlier, it was reported that recovery was possible although the longtime advocate of human rights, stayed weak.

The famous award-winning columnist and editorial advisor affectionately known as Pak Samad, started life as a cub reporter at 16 with Utusan Melayu, a popular Malay newspaper and was trained by the powerful literary figure, Abdul Rahim Kajai, who was known as the Father of Malay Journalism.

Tan Sri Samad was also reputed to be one of Malaysia's best bilingual journalists. His writings were literary and philosophical and his jokes and temperament volatile.

He also involved himself deeply with Malaya's struggle for national independence and was once imprisoned in 1951, by the British colonial administration in Singapore for alleged communist activities. Although released in 1952, Samad was never brought to trial.

Despite his 48 years as a journalist, Samad managed to pen 11 novels, four books on journalism and writing and two collections of short stories. His novels in Malay titled Patah Sayap Terbang Jua ( Flying High on a Broken Wing) and Tembok Tiada Tinggi (The Fort Isn't Tall) spoke of his experiences before and during the Japanese occupation and during a time of imprisonment.

I feel broken-hearted on having heard the news here in Dublin, as some part of an old and romantic Malay culture in days long gone but still remembered; appears to have fled the world with this brilliant fearless gentleman.

Here you may read an orbituary in the New Straits Times today - Malaysia's national newspaper - on the finer nuances of this writer's life.

Rest in peace, Pak Samad.

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Friday 12 September 2008

A Short Take on Guy de Maupassant

by Suzan Abrams

Guy de Maupassant. One of the greatest writers of the short story.

In one of Maupassant's tales, called An Affair of State that describes the turn of revolutionary France into a Republic, this grandmaster of the short story, also conjures up his well-versed sardonic amusement at comic characters who pursue self-centered ambitions for power and the lower working classes who regularly mock them.

This paragraph was one of many that proved memorable with the author's jesting:

"On the morning of the fifth of September, in uniform, his revolver on the table, the doctor gave consultation to an old peasant couple. The husband had suffered with a varicose vein for seven years but had waited until his wife had one too, so that they might go and hunt up a physician together, guided by the postman when he should come with the newspaper."

In Memory of cynicalsteve who passed away a month ago, today.

by Suzan Abrams

This post is held in memory of cynicalsteve (Steve Bailey) who passed away suddenly, a month ago at his home in Devon, England. He was 49.
Steve was a popular Guardian Books Blog poster and an exciting doggerelist. His writings were always captivating. He also loved his gardens and his flowers, did Steve.

It is easy to see that his presence is still deeply missed by those who knew him.

This blog offers a remembrance once more today.

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Thursday 11 September 2008


I'm struggling once more with blogging well just for these few days as I'm having to catch up with excruciating deadlines for a project which hopefully, I will soon be able to tell you about. It also marks my return to professional writing although not quite in the vein of fashion journalism which I soaked up like a flower in the sun, for years. Those times felt like a rollercoaster that would never end. Now, I'm on a rollercoaster of a different kind. :-)

As I walked to the shops just now in the cool still air, there was the smell of leaves - dried, crusty and battered autumn leaves, resting on pavements and gravel after having been showered quite kindly by the rain. It proved a strange if not interesting scent. I was reminded of running through wet grass when I was little. The air and night sky seemed perfumed with unexpected joys. Lightness, beauty and vibrance haloed my stroll and threw peace to my thoughts on life. Trust a playful imagination. And I ask you, isn't life beautiful even when it's caught unawares and chooses not to be... The autumn is here. It has come at last.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Ghost Train To The Eastern Star by Paul Theroux

by Suzan Abrams

It's the kind of dreamy title intent on conjuring up old romantic worlds, vague memories of the Orient Express or the sound of poetry recited to perfection.

Here now, spells a brand-new Theroux that would make the ideal Christmas gift - it's classy and elegant in the way of books - or even as a picture-pretty armchair display for the fireplace hearth and rug in the long winter months, or otherwise, nothwithstanding the immediate future. Think a dismal rainy weekend.

No doubt as befits any travel epilogue, lush ambiences could be created to the word rainy. Of course, you may recall Paul Theroux not just as the accomplished traveller and writer but also an alleged famous foe to British novelist and Nobel Prize of Literature winner, V.S. Naipaul.

In Sir Vidia's Shadow, Theroux described a literary friendship set amongst the more congenial atmosphere of exotic landscapes in a controlled teeth-grinding manner that was seen to pose a shocking stab in the back for his old friend, Naipaul. Dark, fascinating truths that formed an uneasy betrayal were disclosed and that is putting things mildly.

Reuters reports that in writing Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Theroux relieved his early travelling days by retracing his steps from the 1975 bestseller called The Great Railway Bazaar. He travelled once more to 18 countries that included the little known Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Burma and Cambodia. "It's the literature of revisiting," enthusesTheroux.

The science of revisiting would take place in the mud-driven tracks designed to bolster new opinion and change perceptions. For instance, Theroux was stunned by Vietnam's transformation from the war-torn 70's period. He discovers that Delhi station is still full of squatters. Apparently, Theroux is unapologetic for his many self-indulgent expressions although a recent New York Times review labelled his book conceited seeing his one-liner descriptions as smug.

He explains to Reuters that this travel epilogue is meant to be a kind of memoir...filled to the brim with hearty, personal opinions. It is not a geography book, he stresses.

At 67, Theroux has indulged in fiction and travel writing for almost 43 years.

Paul Theroux's Website.

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Tuesday 9 September 2008

How an Ingmar Bergman Film Engages Me in the Writing of Stories

by Suzan Abrams

Captions: Ingmar Bergman as an 85-year old recluse in a rare television interview and Bergman in his younger days, celebrating a well-deserved stardom that saw him grab 3 Oscars for Best Foreign Film.
A Bergman Poster.
Liv Ullman and Bibi Anderson who starred as lesbian lovers in the world-famous Persona (1966).
Also pictured is Norwegian actress Liv Ulmann who was a favourite Bergman choice.
Finally, a
poster that attempts to capture multi-faceted emotions.

It begged a serious contemplation for any Bergman film to prove educational as befits the writing craft.

Perhaps as an excellent example, the tear-jerkers shot decades ago in Sweden, but which continue to be watched worldwide with religious repetition.

Or how about instead, the brilliant screenplays that provided as an urgent call to their scripts; a lingering sensual awareness with regards to skilled body movements and extremely careful speech. Then there were the whirpool emotions wound from heartstrings, strummed up and torn from maligned affairs of the heart, that promised to stay classic for all time.

In Waiting Women, Autumn Sonata, Wild Strawberries, Persona and others , remembered images twinned with their elegant titles like old dusty gowns, still offer seductive shadowy apparitions.

Famed actresses combined a bewitching beauty and bookish brains; those like Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson engrossed in sensitive playful roles and yet at unsuspecting unsuspecting moments, would suggest deep wretched scenes of reflection, confessions, accusations and even the occasional violent slap across the face routine - at some point the screenplay demands it - all swing with grace from an emotional tightrope banking on sadness and pain to gripping conclusions that range from happily-ever-after butterfly kisses or maybe-never-again fullstops.

Such prospects stay one of the most wonderful and immediate masters of a literary science; this free accomplished study like a series of valuable masterclasses on the flawless use of flashbacks, exposition scenes, the dissolving scenes of one character floating like a ring of mist into another and how an old one would rise again in a perfectly natural way at an inopportune moment where a new one subsequently fades into oblivion.

All these to suggest the ensuing successes of cliffhanger after cliffhanger.

Daughters watch over a dying sister, another bent on the infliction of emotional torture confronts her famous, runaway mother who later, cleverly, famously and thankfully runs away again in the dead of the night, a dead sister playacts a terrifying ghost, spinsterish housekeepers whose pasts are so macarbe, they may hide a museum of skeletons each in their cluttered closets, a cold-hearted father now wretched and misreable longing for a lost son, and perhaps as a last of many other examples; sisters who clouded in a stirring storm of love and hate for the other, end up almost becoming incestuous when lust suddenly joins hands with revenge.

Yes, Bergman could play up envious sibling rivalry with ease and grace - perhaps that's why in later years, he would confess to a shocking knowledge that watching his own films made him depressed.

Yet his films continued to make make terrific chapters for the intent study of the use of profound emotions in conversations.

Can you now hear the snatch of script from a soft serenade in Waiting Women...
"Open the door, only a little..
...Martha is a free tree,
she is a glistening little fish,
why are your eyes so sad, my Martha?
Your sweetheart is sitting outside your door.
Eternal is my love for you...
so open the door, only a little..."

All the while it shows a close-up of Martha's wonderment; the slow deliberate filling of her eyes with tears, the half-opened movement of her lips as if to kiss someone while a guitar strums, the coy turn of the head to mark a growing curiosity as she hears the creaking of the door, the footsteps of hesitation - one sharp high-heeled footstep closing in on the other - and finally Martha's smile that takes its time to break open like a flooded dam.

Each story is moulded from a timely pace that at first, slowly trickles like a forgotten tap announcing leaky drops of water and a hint of angst before spiralling up to a stormy ocean of ferociousness. So deafening is the climax that builds from one small conflict to another small conflict, that at the end of the day, all fit neatly into the other like a perfect jigsaw puzzle.

As a viewer, Bergman may even challenge you to choke from such a climax of revolving pain...the fantasy of an eternal orgasm may come to mind as a paraphrase.

What probes fascination is that entire dramatic scenes comprising various moods and tones may take place in just one bare room.

In this way, concentration becomes absolutely necessary to face the exciting challenge that bares all in body language and sophisticated speech.

How you play out a woman screaming or speaking affably in low intimate tones as she lights a cigarette or pours out a martini determines the degree of how far you could end up as an author, titallating a reader's senses and thoughts. How would she swing her bottom? How sexily would she pose? By saying nothing, your character could be telling the reader everything.

And Bergman reminds the viewer of essential detailing subtleties that spring up as flesh for the bone; character substance that helps to strengthen the foundation for a plot.

In Waiting Women (1952), Bergman's technical execution is exceptional.

Four sisters-in-law married to four brothers, young and old, but with a domesticity that has stood the test of time and lived to tell the tale, now wait at sundown for their husbands to come home, in a living-room lounge.

Thrilled over this reunion and with hearts aching from a separated love, they are engaged in chatty congenial banter. Each one gripped by a sudden affectionate mood begans a sharing of confidences. Each woman relieves the scandalous history of its making in the wife's meeting of her husband. Some were almost never meant to be.

Four supplementary stories are eagerly captured into one huge tale that embodies the entire theme for the film. But it was a clever reminder hinting on the importance of changing storylines...once again, the mood, pace, tone, subtle conversations and powerful body language hinted at everything of how a story could take its reader or viewer to great heights from nothing but the imagination and using a myriad of emotions.

How even the fact that one story could stem into a 100 little ones. After all, the plots were all different. A single mother with her passionate love for an artist. An older wife who redeems her husbands from his philandering ways when they make love in a stuck lift. A wife who betrays a clandestine affair to her husband and in a panic attack has to industriously stop him shooting himself, before she realizes she loves him after all.

Nighclubs, artist garrrets, can-can dancers and a hospital's maternity ward.

The rock of the sea, the taste of a drink, the sharp nettled ring of a telephone, the tasty scent of a plucked rose, laughter from an apartment, strange knocks on the door...

Where there was sadness, there would suddenly stem gaiety. Where there lay poignancy, this face of the film would without warning, switch into suspense. A tear would curl up into a muffled sob and then a remembered smile. As a viewer, you would be kept on the edge of your seats, not knowing what would happen next. Even romance became blanketed by the strong dark hands of mystery.

Yet, Bergman was not afraid of exposition scenes; of switching back and forth like a flickering lightbulb. And to be at home with this kind of technique, even as an author hints of great possibilities. Here was a man who would turn memories into ghosts and ghosts into real people.

The flight of imagination soared superbly when winged from a foundation grounded on reality.

Bergman could also employ mellow scenic views of lonely manors, vast landscapes and dark brooding lakes to straightaway paint any different kind of a a forlorn mood. He didn't always need a face to tell a story.

But again, learning from a master storyteller is everything.


Man Booker Prize 2008 Shortlist


By now, you would probably know the Man Booker Prize Shortlist for 2008. I woke up very late today. :-)
Salman Rushdie whose novel The Enchantress of Florence was nominated for the longlist is out of the running. I haven't read the last four yet - I had read others on the longlist as well as Adiga whom I thought offered a completely different form of a modern approach to contemporary Indian literature and of course, Barry, whose prose I found to be profound and lyrical.

Here are the novelists selected for the shortlist:

Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger
Sebastian Barry- The Secret Scripture
Amitav Ghosh - Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant- The Clothes on Their Backs
Philip Hensher - The Northern Clemency
Steve Toltz - A Fraction of the Whole


Sunday 7 September 2008

UK and US Publishers will both publish Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina in the Autumn.

by Suzan Abrams

Remember the cacophony of arguments that resulted in publishing and reader circles worldwide when Random House USA decided to suddenly pull the plug on their publishing contract with author Sherry Jones's controversial novel The Jewel of Medina?

The writer had angered many Muslim sources when she imagined and subsequently drew up explicit details of the Prophet Muhammad's engagement and marriage to his 11-year old bride Aisha.

Well, Sherry Jones has now found new publishers.

Gibson Square Publishers will release her book in the UK from between mid-to end October.
Beaufort Books, a New York independent publisher will follow suit; releasing the American version of the book later in the fall which means roundabout the same time.

Last year, Beaufort Books published O.J. Simpson's controversial, If I Did It after it had been dropped by HarperCollins. It was successfully rewarded with lucrative sales and a good profit.

I'm afraid I'm one of the few who stand with Random House USA in their decision.
Having been born in a Muslim country and while holding on to a Christian faith, I am only too aware of the sensitivities involved.
Yes, there is such a thing as censorship but there is also the other term of lawlessness.
Isn't there a far more graceful way to exploit the idea of truths and universal freedom for art's sake.

I don't understand why the writer who seemingly grasps nothing at all on the philosophies of the Islamic faith should attempt to wound its already obvious complexities and cause more pain, when there exists fierce apparent scars on many concerned observers and fearful believers, thanks to the misconstrued versions of the religion.

It will be a subject, that may be eagerly jumped on by Islamic extremists to milk new political agendas.

Yes, it will bring Jones her desired fame and glory not through any literary brilliance but through the brazen invasion of privacy. That will always stay her opened door to the limelight while her golden key was the subject of sex insensitively imposed on a private world with delicate teachings.

Plus, innocent civilians might end up getting killed on her behalf. If that happens, I hope Sherry Jones will still get her good night's sleep.

Below are my previously reported posts on the subject:
My earlier post
My later post

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Television News Clip

by Suzan Abrams

This news is just in. The production clock for Fox's '24' television series will come to a grinding halt for 18 days from September 15th. However, this won't affect the seventh season which is slated for a January 2009 run or the special 2-hour episode, scheduled to be screened this November.

Writers who rush to meet excruciating deadlines, are to be allowed time to work on quality upcoming scripts as 24's producer/showrunner Howard Gordon has been concerned about the standard of several storylines lately.

In the past the show which features high-profile political/thriller episodes, has suffered delays from the Hollywood writers' strike and once when the plot line had to be redrawn.

Credit: Picture courtesy of ChrisHiggins.com


Friday 5 September 2008

Iranian Cinema: One Night by Niki Karimi

by Suzan Abrams

One of the main hallmarks of Iranian cinema is the row of noted pregnant silences that puncture important episodes and how such an extraordinary weaponry courtesy of the film-maker, masquerades intrigue by stringing the viewer along the reins of a script and all while parading mystery and allure.

There is hardly if ever, any sort of a thematic musical overture - so
reminiscent of popular American and European films that would be relied on to conjure the mood and tone of a film or otherwise, signalled out to dog a heightened dramatic pace.

Instead, the viewer of serious Iranian dramas bent on conveying important social messages, may be treated to illuminating shades of transparent colour and light within vast background landscapes or steady quiet character movements and various subdued expressions that prophetically conjure up the next scene to hint at an actor's possible thoughts and actions.

It is almost the watchful conjecture in mime as the reader fields through the silent scenes to predict what happens next.

In fact, the silence is so monumental you could hear a pin drop when you think that something as trivial as footfalls along a hushed hallway could kill the moment.

Without doubt, in such films, actions are meticulously designed to speak louder than words.

It was with such expectation that I watched Yek Shab meaning One Night (2005) so thoughtfully and lovingly made by Niki Karimi , an award-winning Iranian actress who has herself starred in more than 20 films before turning to directing for the display of a rightful, elegant passion. One Night which received its desired international applause in Rome, would place Karimi at the forefront of important Middle-Eastern women in cinema.

The film starred the remarkable and highly-talented Hanieh Tavassoli as its main heroine, Shahzad.

In the screenplay, Tavassoli acts out the role of a melancholic misunderstood artist who has to deal with a single mother bent on sly motives with her wiles on the seduction of a married man, a boyfriend who doesn't care enough to be around when she needs him and the fortitude to question injustices of a woman's foreberance subtly portrayed throughout the scenes.

This she does with a rather brave if not foolish attempt to wander a main street in Tehran at night. She walks alone, trying without success to hail a taxi. With her mother shooing her out of the way for the night Shahzad decides to go to her boyfriend. The mother is never seen and only her voice is heard. She is loving but insensitive to her daughter's tired day at college. Shahzad grumbles with exceptional fury.

Still, she does as her mother wishes and when she arrives at the cafe run by her boyfriend's father, her sweetheart is nowhere to be found. There are some late night diners but Shahzad is reluctant to dine even as the boy's parent invites her to do so. He tries to ring his son but to no avail. Shahzad later makes her escape when a noisy scene outside the restaurant ensures that everyone runs out to delightfully view the kerfuffle.

Before arriving at the cafe, Shahzad had reluctantly accepted a lift from a persistent middle-aged married man who vows concern for her safety but who reveals a playboy personality and makes a pass even as he kindly drops her where she wants to go. In his mind, Shahzad could just be a lady of the night. He insists on waiting for Shahzad as she steps into the cafe, hoping for a one-night stand before returning to his wife. She has to enlist the help of a friend to ward him off.

This is rather brave of the character to have accepted the lift in the first place, considering that there are police everywhere and women in Tehran are not allowed to be seen with a man alone unless he turns out to be a spouse or family. But she will attempt two more lifts by two different men on the quiet streets of Tehran, stopping once to desperately call her boyfriend from a public phone. He doesn't answer. She will sit and lament her fate with the sad broken heart of every wounded woman, on a deserted park bench, surrounded and shadowed by a canopy of trees. In her turmoil, she will also walk a highway. On the whole, the artist will have her fair share of adventure and episodes.

The film was especially riveting and convincing as the viewer is compelled to feel protective of the lone artist and chilled to the bone as the character thoughtlessly places herself in the face of danger. Taviassoli is wonderful with her ironic comic scenes and taut, acerbic advice that shows the artist through her difficult lifestyle, to act in a manner far older than her years and mature in her thoughts with psychological insights if not fruitless actions. She pronounces the modest ability to counsel older men far more privileged than her. She doesn't say much but her looks and gestures speak a thousand words.

The film is somewhat atmospheric and successfully conveys the idea of aloneness and the subject of loneliness masked in various disguises. However, towards the end, the pregnant pauses created to reveal horrifying declarations by one of the characters, were simply too long and it is feared that this eager experiment by Karimi, may have weakened what might have otherwise proved an enthralling Hitchcock thriller-type conclusion.

In Cathleen Roundtree's interesting interview with Niki Karimi on One Night, Karimi had labelled this screenplay a 'personal cinema.'

“The film is about things that are happening in society to women my age.," she had said. "I felt that there were few films about the experiences of women. I call this ‘personal cinema,’ not cinema from the commercial film industry. I wanted to show a woman trying to earn money, be on her own, and how many problems can surround her. I wanted to show the distance that she has from society. Because of that, she’s living out of the city. And each day she travels on the road and looks at the city and asks herself, ‘What is this place I’m going to?’”

These were some of the enlightening quotes amongst others. Thank you Cathleen for the tremendous insight.

Credit: Top picture of Niki Karimi (b/w) is from Niki Karimi Photos.
Below is of Iranian actress Hanieh Tavassoli.

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Thursday 4 September 2008

Tan Sri Samad A. Ismail Passes Away at 84

by Suzan Abrams

One of Malaysia's most prominent senior journalists and early nationalistic freedom fighter, Tan Sri Abdul Samad Ismail, has passed away at the age of 84 after being warded in hospital, almost10 days ago, for a lung and blood infection. This eventually resulted in multiple organ failure. Earlier, it was reported that recovery was possible although the longtime advocate of human rights, stayed weak.

The famous award-winning columnist and editorial advisor affectionately known as Pak Samad, started life as a cub reporter at 16 with Utusan Melayu, a popular Malay newspaper and was trained by the powerful literary figure, Abdul Rahim Kajai, who was known as the Father of Malay Journalism.

Tan Sri Samad was also reputed to be one of Malaysia's best bilingual journalists. His writings were literary and philosophical and his jokes and temperament volatile.

He also involved himself deeply with Malaya's struggle for national independence and was once imprisoned in 1951, by the British colonial administration in Singapore for alleged communist activities. Although released in 1952, Samad was never brought to trial.

Despite his 48 years as a journalist, Samad managed to pen 11 novels, four books on journalism and writing and two collections of short stories. His novels in Malay titled Patah Sayap Terbang Jua ( Flying High on a Broken Wing) and Tembok Tiada Tinggi (The Fort Isn't Tall) spoke of his experiences before and during the Japanese occupation and during a time of imprisonment.

I feel broken-hearted on having heard the news here in Dublin, as some part of an old and romantic Malay culture in days long gone but still remembered; appears to have fled the world with this brilliant fearless gentleman.

Here you may read an orbituary in the New Straits Times today - Malaysia's national newspaper - on the finer nuances of this writer's life.

Rest in peace, Pak Samad.


Wednesday 3 September 2008

by Suzan Abrams

This year, I'm looking forward to Christmas with a far more good-hearted cheer than I'd have done before. The days have turned colder and darker. Already, I'm thinking of a warm firelight atmosphere and a fitting celebration.
I think with me, the holiday season just 4 short months away, sums up in a nutshell the effect of events mapped out this year. I've had myself a wonderful time and am as pleased as punch.
Everything has come together in an extraordinary way after a long personal drought.
I'm writing and reading again and especially with regards to the kind of ambitious literature I never thought I'd contemplate. It's opened my already colourful worlds to newer ones.
I thought I'd get swinging into the spirit of things by writing about some popular Christmas classics. I don't know how I'm going to manage to squeeze the likes of Dickens into all my other favourite titles but I hope to manage at least 2 favourite classics a month until the start of Yuletide.
I've always loved Christmas stories with the usual wistful air so why not the added sparkle of spangles and baubles.
I also hope to have some personal writing news for you in January 2009. Nothing major but it will mark a slight change in my life.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Catherine Millet Confesses to Jealous Streak

by Suzan Abrams

The liberal 60-year old French novelist Catherine Millet who stunned the world with her numerous tales of flings, orgies and sexual escapades in the 2001 bestseller, The Sexual Life of Catherine M, has confessed in her newly-released French memoir (just out) that she felt terribly jealous of her partner's infidelities and couldn't handle his weaknesses that subtly mirrored her exact personal inadequacies.

In "Jour de Souffrance" ("Day of Suffering") the literary editor says that she suffered terribly when photos and notebooks emerged of Jacques Henric's affairs. They had lived together as partners for 36 years but the secret discovery prompted a 3 year crisis meted out by Millet's shock as to the sudden and painful turn in the relationship. Her latest autobiography swings into a serious psychological discourse on Millet's own feelings of insecurity and jealousy that has prompted her celebrated return back to the limelight, in the French media.

The intellectual Millet who edits contemporary art reviews for a magazine, claims that she and Henric have finally weathered the stormy crisis and achieved a new milestone in happiness. Her first memoir sold a few million copies and was translated into 40 languages.

You may read more HERE.
To order, click on Amazon.fr

Credit: Picture of Catherine Millet courtesy of Evene.

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