Chinatown by Thuan

Chinatown by Thuan

Vietnamese fiction

Original title – Chinatown

Translator – Nguyễn An Lý

Source – subscription edition

I now move to a book from Vietnam that in some ways seems to mirror part of the own writer’s life. She grew up in North Vietnam where she grew up with a love of Vietnamese literature and the greats of French literature like Balzac, Hugo and Flaubert. Then she got the chance to study in Russia which expand her reading more. Then lead to her moving to France to live Paris. This is the latest from my Tilted axis subscription and as they did so well last year in the booker international prize I decided this year `I would get to the books when they arrived and this was a perch choice for this month as it is from a female writer from Vietnam and also it is the first book from Vietnam I will have reviewed on the blog.

During my ten years at school, I came to understand that the pig brains for which my father queued from morning till afternoon were not a reward for my ten in literature, but to guarantee that I
would bring home another ten, in history or military exercises. That was why his pig brains needed no dill, pepper, or MSG, and no attempt to enliven their presentation. Even now I can still see
them, aluminum bowls in the steaming rice pot, and taste the metallic tang of blood which no amount of salt could mask, and which I always had to down in one gulp. I didn’t care for steamed
pig brains, I had no disease to be cured by them, but every other day I closed my eyes and my nostrils and downed them in one, because they were most nutritious, especially for the brain, and
most of all for a child’s. It was my duty to turn catjang soup and steamed pig brains into tens and praise

This is an evocative passage that caught me when I was reading.

The book has a framing device and that is the narrator is waiting on a platform on the metro for a train when a package is discovered and the police are coming to have a look at what it is. Our narrator is caught in her thoughts and this takes us through her life from her early years in Vietnam but then we see how she met the man she would marry Thuy a Chinese man from Vietnam this is set as there is a war between the two countries and she meets him in class this leads to trouble;e with her family the book isn’t linear more it is wonderfully evocative as it seems like how we would remember love or the way you look back on a past love that one Thuy reminds me of an earlier girlfriend I had for a number of years and lived with that first big love and that when I look back event aren’t in a linear narrative more it jumps at times and her it is similar we see how they meet then spend time apart. but then meet and married and it showed how hard this was at the time in Vietnam which it is the 80s there is a huge Chinese feeling in the country and this is one of the things that highlights the deep divide in the two cultures at the time as the two falls in love and the knock out effect on the tow na their families then we find her later in France and how she andThuy drifted apart and eventually she hadn’t seen him in years. Add to this is her studying in the Soviet Union at this time and then moving to France this is a globetrotting book.

 

my Sino-Vietnamese wedding that actually took place, they opted not to attend. Neither did Thuy’s parents. The day went by in a flurry. The only guests were my few friends from
Leningrad. They came with their children. Their children born in the USSR, who’d had just a taste of butter and milk before boarding the plane to the homeland. The wedding was their first time
meeting Thuy. They asked me in Russian, so this is your architect beau. He didn’t understand. He just smiled awkwardly. He stood there embarrassed. Then they asked him, in Vietnamese, where are
you working, which office, which department. This time he was even more embarrassed. His smile grew fixed.

Another about getting married.

Thuran is a translator and a huge fan of French literature and I can see part of some of my favourite writers for me it has a pick off Modiano (maybe cause been talking about him a bit recently ) there is a flip in the sex of the character usually it is a male character in his book looking back on memories here Madame Au is looking back on her love the bare bones of the story is similar to the writer’s life but she then said in an interview she hadn’t wanted to duo memoir this is deeper more mediative around love across a divide exile and looking back at times that love affair. I was reminded in a small way of the English patient the love affair in that novel se t against war and Ondaatje is another writer heavy on memory, love, war and division. The book is dense in it style but worth the effort and is a great book from a new writer. It has part of the new novel movement, Proust and a love story all in one. Have you a favourite book from Vietnam ?(I had a nam le on my shelves but want something translated as my first book from Vietnam ) . My third book of this month and the first new country for a while on the blog.

Winstons score – B is a solid book from a new voice her first book to be translated into English she has more so hopefully we will get more from her.

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Edited in Prisma app with Thota Vaikuntam

Tomb of Sand by Geertanjali Shree

Indian fiction

Original title – Ret Samadhi

Translator – Daisy Rockwell

Source – personal copy via subscription

Well I have finally got round to reviewing this book as I just struggled how to get across how wonderful Tomb of sand is I have read it twice and still struggling with how to put it across. It is the fifth novel from the Geetanjali shree her earlier books have also been translated into English but not by Daisy. Geetanjali was brought up in Uttar Bradesh and she said the lack of available children books in English made her write in Hindi and her rich connection in Hindi( I was lucky with my shadow Jurors to have a zoom chat with daisy where she said Geetanjali loved word play and sometimes just put pieces in the book for the word play ). This is the first novel translated from Hindi to be translated into English to be longlisted and now shortlisted on The booker shortlist. I agree with daisy when she said there is a real blind spot in the UK for translated works from India and South Asia, The lose of a couple of prizes although I now know there is a new Prize in India The JCB prize Which I will now be watching for books to read from India.

Serious son got up and left. The world, wrecked by destructive humans, rematerialised all about him. The sand, defiled beer cans and plastic bags, the earth, colonised with white people, the flabby Indian bandar log, the cacophony that fancies itself music and makes nature weep, the laughing screaming stupid people, laugh, they told him; what’s there to laugh about- look at all you’ve done to this Nation! Fume fume fume. Serious Son went back to his room , fuming. And fell asleep.

The older son was said to not laugh or smile a serious young man.

Well to the book well first the title Samadhi which is a Hindi word with a multitude of means and the English title was suggest by Daisy as it has part of what the word means but also makes you think about it (For meI felt it was in a way about the sand of time running out but that was my view when first reading the title). The book allows an 80 woman she has lost her Husband at the start of the book and has gone into a slump the first hundred odd pages is her at her daughters just in her bed with Grief or I do wonder is the grief the loss of her husband or the loss of time in her life ? maybe that is just me what is captured we’ll her is the household the coming and goings around Ma as she gets to life together, there is also a lot about how her being on with her daughter which I didn’t know isn’t very common. As she  comes out of her room and starts to live again. This involves reconnecting with Rosie a Hirja( a trans woman) on the cover it says they meet after the husbands  but at times in the book there is reference to them, spend time as kids as Ma visits Lahore this is the later part of the book and is about the loss of identity when partition happened and how it had a knock on effect on Ma as Her and her daughter Beti visit. That is just part of the book add a lot of sidetracks about the locals , birds and Hindi religion and myth you see how hard this book was to get over.

A coolness descends into her heat which is pleasant, calm, not the kind of numbing chill from outside .The peace of the wall, not the carrying-on occurring behind her back. That painting behind her that makes her wonder how the breathing of the whole world has caused her own to collapse.

Ma closes her eyes, finesses her silence, stops her breathing so that no one will know  there’s one breath left: one tiny life form. Let it slip into the wall, let it slowly glide forward, let nothing get in its way to ruin its rhythm, let nothing break its stride, suppress it, make it fall off the edge

Early on Ma still in her bed viewed by Beti

I loved how this was put over in English when it dropped through the letterbox I went oh no a 700 page novel but it is actually maybe 500 page novel what they did between the Hindi version of the book and the English is add chapter breaks also the fact that in Hindi the books fill the pages this was 300 pages of tightly packed text. This is a story that was hard to get into English as it had the Untranslatable tag Daisy said the wordplay at times is hard to convey but what she found at times is that if she had to cut something another wordplay would appear in the same passaged. The book has a number of controversial stories the first is Rosie there is very few books written in India with Hijra portray or even mentioned. I did feel that Rosie was a real person that the writer may have meet the mannerism and speech it just jumps off the page. This is one of those books that is hard to put across it dislike doing into a world outside your own for a time it is Ma’s world we see the world through her eyes , add to this some great wordplay and a mix of myths this is a blend that maybe for me deserves to win the Booker prize. I felt that after the first reading earlier in the year and even more after this reading this is a book I will read again and again over time which for me is something I never think of doing. Have you read this book or any books Translated from other Indian languages into English ?

Winstons score – +A just breathtaking in the world we enter but also in the translation which draws t=you into that world.

Happy stories , Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Happy stories , Mostly  by Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Indonesian fiction

Original title –  Cerita-cerita Bahagia, Hampir Seluruhnya

Translator – Tiffany Tsao

Source – personal copy

I was pleased that I decide to try my first subscription last year and chose Tilted Axis it paid of when there were three of the books I had been sent from them on the long list of this year’s booker. I had partly read this one but then as happens it had been in my bag for a while then I just put it on a shelf and hadń gotten back to it as I am like a magpie attracted to the next shiny thing. This is the debut fiction collection from Norman Erikson Pasaribu one of the leading writers in Indonesia he has written both poetry and fiction and was said to be in the long tradition of queer catholic writing by English pen. the book also has a very insightful conversation-style interview between the writer and translator which I found very insightful. This collection came out in 2014 and was a huge success in Indonesia and lead to him winning the best young writer in South Asia. This collection of 12 stories vary in length from the first which is a single page most are between 10 and 20 pages long.

Mama sandra would bring some home for him whenecver she worked the morning shift, beofre she returned in the evening. The cart she brought it from could usually be  found at the intersection by the clothing factory in Bojong menteng where whe used to work. The Vendor liked to hang around the middle school nearby. from there , shé walk back to their house in Rawalumbu, a bag of sweet fluffy cloud swinging from one hand. Once home shé recline on the mat in front of the tv, her head propped up on one elbow, cradled her palm. Bison would sit nearby , leaning against the wall. Piching off pieces of cotton candy, heý warch the family quiz show that came on every evening, laughing at impatien fathers and micomunicating siblings, The last hindred times shé recalled this ritual they shared, mother and child, Mama Sandra had cried

A long passage but capture the power of a foood memorey and the loss due to suicide which is so hard .

I chose to just mention three of the stories in the collection and leave the other for you to find the first is the so whatś your name, Sandra? the tale of Mama Sadra who had recently lost her son Bison (she named as she liked the word and how it sounded). She has chosen to use all her leave and do something to go to My son in Vietnam. As her friend Mama Anton says she and Sandra grew up in a small village and they know of no one that has ever been abroad. She arrives in Vietnam where we see her eating cotton candy. She visits a temple at the end of this story it has a very strange twist. The next story is the following story about a broken heart this story has a couple of lists of how to get other a broken heart as a student tries to get over that lover. Then we have the story Welcome to the department of unanswered prayers which sees someone in a sort of corporate version of heaven where they are introduced to the job in the department but also told about what happens and how they are expanding as more Koreans are becoming Christian.I loved this story it was a fun look at the afterlife in fact in a way it brought to mind the world of Brazil the film where we have a world of bureaucracy gone mad.

Welcome to the department  of Unanswered  prayers ! Hereś your ID. When itś time to go home, put your badge in your bag and leave your bag in your car, tather than tossing it some drawer, I mean, or chucking it somewhere inside your room, Doń worry no one will steal it. And doń to forget to bring it tomorrow and the day after and all the days after that . You need to get past security anc to access the main entrance, the department, the sub departments,the letter storage facility and the archive

This made me smile the beaucratic take of heaven !! rememeber the badge.

really got into this collection when I started it again it goes here and there but it was after the reading when I read about how he wrote and the use of Food like cotton candy and in other places there are macdonalds meals he uses these as a springboard as memories are strong around food and can take you to a time and place so well. Then he also so mention music in the second story I mentioned he had chosen Blue by Joni Mitchell as his heartbreak album. For me, my heartbreak song isń on an album but going to Macclesfield college and passing Ian Curtis’s house most days as I walked into the town where he wrote Love will tear us apart which for most guys of my generation is a break-up song. He is a writer that uses surreal images, traditional Batak imagery and his love of food and music he talks tough subjects like Suicide which is part of the So whatś your name story a subject that always need talking about. One of three strong books from Tilted axis for this year Man Booker. Have you read this book?

Winstons score – +A a new voice from a country that hasń been translated enough

Love in the Big city by Sang Young Park

Love in the Big city by Sang Young Park

South Korean fiction

Original title –  (대도시의 사랑법)

Translator – Anton Hur

Source – Personal copy via subscription

This was one of the last books I read at the end of last year I subscribed the last April to Tilted Axis I am looking to join other subscriptions but this was my first and as they are locally based in Sheffield it was an easy choice to pick them also the books they have brought out this year so far are ones that appealed to me as they cover a broad area of subjects and countries around Asia. This was the one that caught my eye mainly due to the cover it is the debut release in  English by the New star of Korean fiction Snag Young Park. He was born in Daegu, which is an interview I saw with him he described as a conservative city he went to Sungkyunkwan University to Study French ( the same as the Narrator of this book ) He said he felt more at home in the cosmopolitan Seoul where he now lives this is his first book to be translated to English although some of his short stories have been translated and are among the most on words without borders website.

Things moved along quickly after Jaehee announced her marriage. For the three months before the weddin, I got to witness how shitty it was for a man and a woman in Korean society to unite as One family, which made me cease resenting the fact I couldn’t even dream of marriage. Not that I was confident it wasn’t jealousy,

Meanwhile, Jaehaee had a whole lot of things she needed from me. Her promotion came with a murderous workload, and with her future husband being largely absent from the preparations, I was her stadin groom.I accompanied her to the bridal shop, to the hanbok shop, to interior design firms and so on, helping her pick things out

The end of their time together is come close.

Our narrator in this novel or interlinking story collection the book grew out of one story follows the narrator from his years as a student where he shares an apartment with his good friend Jaehee as they experience the nightlife and the men they meet one of the things I discovered is putting cigarettes in the freezer, I wonder what difference this made to the Malboro a brand I did smoke when I smoked it made me wonder what the sensation was like. I often go off on little tangents like this what we get in the first part is a student life free wild and as these things are ends this happens when the two drift apart when she meets a man. Then we see our narrator heading home and looking after his mother a devout Christian and at this time he also has a relationship with an older man. The next story follows Kyu-ho and our narrator this is his big love affair they travel to Japan as But as a past lover reveals an HIV diagnosis or as he calls it Kylie this overshadows the couples happiness and his life with Kyu-ho as it restricts travel options and ultimately has a long term effect on their relationship.

I first met Gyu-ho at what’s now a defunct gay club in Itaewon it was Chuseok and they were having an all you can drink Tequilla event. Not having a family to join for Chuseok- being a certified unnatural focused in bringing shame to the family ( not much has changed since then) and genrally stuck in poverty (yup, still)_ I could hardly afford to pass up such an opportinity. I left the foloewing mesage in out group chat:

Hey guys theres an unlimited teguilla eent at G today

See you all there.

How he meet the main romance and relationship in the book Gyu-ho one what is the equivilant of Korea thanksgiving

I don’t read a lot of LGBT books well not enough is translated into English, so it is great to see some new voices getting translated into English the beauty of the book is in Anton Hur’s translation he has given it a clarity that must be in the original version of the book, our narrator live pops of the page but it is also an insight into the LGBT world of Korea which although open in Seoul this shows that there is an undercurrent of Homophobia and what faces most modern people loneliness our Narrator is a character but at its heart, there is a man trying to find his way in the world as we all our but also dealing with his feeling with his black Humour cutting at times. This is the first of my subscription and one of the best books |I read last year I hope to see it on the Man booker list let’s hope. Have you a favourite LGBT book that has been translated? How has your new year reading started ?

Winstons score – +A simply brilliant one of the strongest narrators I have read in years.

The Sad Part was by Prabda Yoon

The sad part was by Prabda Yoon

Thai fiction

original title – kwam na ja pen

Translator – Mui Poopoksakul

Source – personal copy

Well, I add another new country today with Thailand. I haven’t read enough books that Tilted Axis has brought out so I choose this one as one to read. The writer Prabda Yoon has many talents he has written twenty works of fiction. He has also illustrated hundreds of book covers.He has also translated books from Nabakov, Salinger, and Burgess whose Clockwork Orange he has translated(always have time for a Burgess translator). His works of both fiction and Art have done well in Japan. This is his first book to be translated into English and was mainly from the collection Kwan na ja pen.

The film My grandfather screened most often was Dracula, The black and white version starring Bela Lugosi. If it was pouring outside when Friday came around, there was no need to wonder which movie he’d choose to suit the weather. Come to think of it, he resembled Lugosi’s count Dracula. His cheeks were sallow, his eyes were sunken, and he wore his hair combed flat to his head; his jaw narrowed shrply to the oint of his chin, while his jet black eyebrows slanted up towards his temple. The only difference was that he didn’t have fangs , and I never spotted any tell tale puncture wounds around the base of my grandmothers neck.

A grandson grew up watch dracula that his grandparents showed in their pop up cinema.

He is considered a leading light of Thai fiction and this is a collection that shows his talent as a writer the stories are all set around Bangkok. There is a sense in many of them of that passing of the crown from an older generation to the younger generation. With a story like pen in parentheses with the grandparents showing Dracula on an old bedsheet. This links to the present when the grandson makes an ad with breath mints and Dracula.. but there is a sense of lack of connection between the generations even thou the grandson had tried by the use of the vampire. Then there is another story with vampires in.  Then we have a schoolgirls insight into her life via her diary. Then there was the crying party a strange tale of people eating hot chillis in order to cry, one of these strange rituals that crop up as a sort of rights of passage in the youth of modern Thai do when they are a certain age. Strangers meeting in a park this is a slice of modern Bangkok. Snapshots of Bangkok in the 90s the orignal collection was published in 2002.

“You all met up here every Sunday to get drunk and eat raw bird’s eye chilies until tears came out of your eyes? And competed to see who could cry the longest and the most That sounds ridiculous… and kind of awful,” Lert opined after I’d finished explanning the gist of the crying parties to him.

He seemed to have a good grasp of it

It probably no great revation to say that june was the one who instigated the crying parties. As I understood it, she founded them on a day when she was dealing with some form of heartache. But June didn’t breath a word of this to is- she even acted particularly cheery when she opened the doorto welcome the first to the gathering.

The crying party isn’t all it seems but people still go to it .

I felt these all capture parts of modern Thai life from the grandson trying to connect with his grandparents with his advert that is a nod to his youth sat watching the old Bela Lugosi film on a bed sheet but there is a barrier there, like the strangers in the park it takes time til the young man can be accepted by the older man.I feel I would like to read moire of Yoon work he seems to capture a world that isn’t perfect in fact there is a touch of melancholy to these stories but maybe that is just what happens when you live in a fast-moving city like Bangkok the speed of life sometimes drains the beauty life like a victim of a Vampire a little pale a little detached. these snapshots of a city from generation youth to strangers meeting a love affair cover every day so well. Have you read this collection? or any other from Tilted Axis what to read next?

30 covers for #WITMONTH A tilted Axis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Titled Axis is the book publisher set up by Deborah Smith who did the translation of the Han Kang books she has been brought some great female writing from around Asia. Here is a novel set in the underbelly of Seoul around a slum electronics market that is due to be demolished told from the point of view of two repair shop assistants as they see the spirits of those who have lived around the market over the years. Have you read any books from tilted Axis

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