Friday, November 30, 2007

Sarah HALL wins the 2006/7 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize

SARAH HALL’s third novel, The Carhullan Army (Faber & Faber, 2007), a dystopian portrayal of a troubled Britain, has won the 2006/7 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize which celebrates the best of literature in its various forms.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mining for local literary gems


Get it from the horse’s mouth: the man who decides which manuscript sees print and which is tossed shares his insights about being published.

“NO IRON SPIKE can pierce the human heart as icily as a full stop in the right place,” Eric Forbes says, quoting Russian journalist, playwright and short-story writer Isaac Babel.

As senior editor of MPH Group Publishing, Forbes’s job, of course, includes placing full stops and other punctuation marks in exactly the right places. He’s the one who reads the manuscripts of aspiring authors and decides whether their work is worthy of being published.

Forbes, who has been working in publishing for more than 20 years, is constantly on the lookout for good books to publish. When asked if he’ll be offering up a manuscript for publishing himself, he replies, “No, I like being an editor. That’s what I do.

“If everyone wanted to write best-selling novels and no one wanted to do the behind-the-scenes work, the publishing world would be in trouble,” grins the 45-year-old native of Kluang, Johor.

Nevertheless, Forbes feels that it’s important that budding writers hone their own editing skills.

“If the manuscript you submit is a mass of errors, the editor may just ignore it and move on to the next one,” he warns.

Authors should proofread and edit their work. If it’s beyond your capabilities, Forbes recommends getting your manuscript read and corrected by a professional.

“Not having to plough through bad grammar and poor punctuation helps tremendously. The fact is, the editing process can be very monotonous and people who submit manuscripts are often not open to criticism, no matter how constructive.”

Still, although editing can be tedious work, Forbes says there’s no beating the rush of working on a piece of good writing. Unfortunately, such works are few and far between.

“The industry is more commercial than creative. There are great ideas floating around but they are not used because there is uncertainty about whether they will sell. Many writers are also very focused on whether they can market their books, and not so much on the quality of their writing.”

He laments the lack of interest in honing good writing skills.

“Having talent is just the first step. As with every skill, you have to work hard at writing to develop it and make it memorable and worthy of notice.

“Being good at language is not good enough. You have to stretch yourself further before your writing sings and shines. The great writers of the world struggle every day with what they produce. And they have doubts all the time.”

While believing in one’s ability as a writer is a good thing, Forbes stresses that this must not be coupled with a reluctance to rewrite and revise one’s work.

“Part of an editor’s duty is to advise the author how to improve her work,” he says.

Belligerent writers who refuse to even listen to suggestions and opinions really get Forbes down.

“I want to see the local publishing industry grow and improve in quality but before this can happen, authors have to be willing to work on their writing. It’s rare that the first draft or even the fifth is perfect. Another pair of eyes, another viewpoint definitely has a part to play in taking a piece of writing to greater heights.”

Because of the lack of good, homegrown, Malaysian-flavoured books, MPH Group Publishing is keen on encouraging and discovering local writers. The company accepts unsolicited manuscripts and plans to publish two short-story anthologies of “high literary standard”, for which an open call for submissions has been announced.

“We want these collections to be really good,” says Forbes, who developed these projects with his colleague Janet Tay.

The two editors will be choosing the stories for the anthologies and intend to work closely with the authors of the final selections to ensure that the books can hold their own at the international level.

Forbes is keen to discover and nurture good Malaysian writers, especially good fiction writers.

“There’s not much good local fiction because our writers lack the skill for it. For a start, there aren’t many avenues for creative writing in Malaysia, though small, private presses like Silverfish Books have played a part in encouraging writers.”

As an editor, Forbes’ advice to aspiring authors is to read voraciously: “Read as widely, deeply and omnivorously as possible, both fiction and non-fiction.

“Whether you’re a writer or a reader, or both, you are enriched by reading,” he says.

“Books take us everywhere, show us new worlds and different people, make us aware of feelings we were unaware of, make us think and question, give us ideas and answers.”

As can be imagined, Forbes reads obsessively and hungrily, delighting especially in contemporary fiction and essays.

When he likes an author (favourites include Salman Rushdie and John Irving), he tries to read everything ever written by him.

Could he imagine a life sans books and reading? A brief but acute expression of horror and pain passes over Forbes’ features.

“It would be unbearable,” he says and pauses, as if to consider the possibility. Finally, he shakes his head, “I can’t imagine it.”

Interview originally published in The Sunday Star, November 25, 2007

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Alexandra WONG reviews Wena POON's Lions in Winter (2007)

A lean, pithy début


By Wena Poon
(With an introduction by Kirpal Singh)
Publisher: MPH Publishing, 232 pages
ISBN 978-983-3698-71-4

TO PUT IT SIMPLY, Wena Poon’s Lions in Winter is about people like you and me.

Written over a span of five years, the 11 short stories tread territory that is familiar yet unexplored. They are culled from everyday events and characters that have rarely found their way into Asia-inspired English language literature but that every modern Asian can identify with.

To me, reading this book was like attending a family reunion at which each of my warped, wacky, flawed relatives took turns to drag skeletons out of closets and regale me with anecdotes that were by turns funny, dramatic, thought-provoking or tragic.

My favourite story is “Shooting Ranch.” Poon is at her grittiest in this, throwing a bucketful of uncomfortable truths in my face—and I can’t look away. I’m sitting in the dining room, transfixed by horrific goings-on in the family that unfold like scenes from a Coen brothers’ noir film.

One of Poon’s greatest strengths is her attention to detail: she builds expectations by crafting intricate, richly detailed plots and layered context. I like this for one reason: I don’t feel cheated when the climax comes, in the way that I do when I am ambushed by an I-bet-you-didn’t-see-that-coming ending.

Except for some poetic word necklaces that, I feel, would fit better into a novel-length work rather than a confining short story, Poon’s writing is lean. No grandiloquent words or abstract, post-modern references here, thank God.

In fact, there are several instances when she manages to achieve an effect in a few sentences that other writers can’t manage in entire novels. “When winter came, they made angels in the snow and baked Toad-in-a-Hole. They lay on the carpet listening to CDs. They made love. Alistair never felt so accompanied in his life.” This, to me, is one of the most evocative descriptions of love I’ve ever come across.

And who needs pompous, condescending social commentary when you can have this: “On the way out of the store, she caught a glimpse of herself in the new sweater, and thought how instantly American she looked. She looked like one of those Chinese American girls? It was the same hair, the same skin; what a difference an American sweater made.”

How I wish I had come up with these pithy word-bites!

Poon has described her stories as character portraits. They are that, and more, for Poon writes with the keen eye of a photographer and the imagination of an artist, and also with the heart of a person of deep compassion.

In the hands of a lesser writer, the insidious religious zealot in “Shooting Ranch” and the nasty older sister in “Kenny’s Big Break” would have come across as characters to be loathed.

Poon’s deft, sympathetic touch ensures you don’t simply hate them; instead, you end up wondering what could have happened to make them that way.

Such skill in creating characters that are far more than one-dimensional underline the fact that, for a début collection, Lions in Winter is an accomplished piece of work. In fact, it is that by any measure and would, I wager, hold its own among works by more experienced Asian writers.

Review first published in The Sunday Star, November 25, 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Alexandra WONG speaks to Wena POON



Just because we’re Asian, it doesn’t mean we have to address mother-daughter issues in our literature. A refreshing new voice joins the crowd that’s moving Asian lit onto new ground. Wena Poon wants to write about real, modern Asians, not perpetuate stereotypes.

LIONS IN WINTER is a rare book. It’s written by an Asian author and yet there is nary a tortured concubine or plucky waif in it, no tear-jerking plot or even a flower or bird in the title.

Singapore-born Wena Poon, 33, is determined to talk about the here and now, and give voice to the millions of modern Asians who are woefully underrepresented in English-language fiction.

The 11 short stories in Lions in Winter are populated by an array of characters that could have been plucked out of any modern Asian family tree. There’s the Freud-quoting teenage wunderkind, even a marriage between—gasp!—pen pals: a modern relationship our forefathers would never have dreamt of.

The stock characters of yore are nowhere to be found.

“As an Asian writer, I have had enough of ‘prettified pathos’,” the San Francisco-based Poon declares, her firmness on this point coming across even in an e-mail interview.

“It’s always about the past, about Chinese people being concubines, having their feet bound, etc. We’re not all Amy Tans, and we Asian women don’t all have ‘issues’ with our families or mothers, or have immigration issues. We’re ready to move on.”

Her timing is perfect. It seems publishers, too, are ready to move on from “scar/misery” literature, as the life-in-poverty-under-repressive-Asian-regimes genre is called. Reports the International Herald Tribune: “International publishers and literary agents say they are ... looking for new voices and genres that capture the rapid social and economic transformation of the new Asia.”

Poon’s is definitely one of those new voices. Her stories in Lions in Winter are a tribute to real people she met and are based on real-life situations. They examine the quiet lives of displaced Singaporeans living abroad, and those in Singapore who are often torn between two worlds in their search for an imaginary homeland.

“I wanted to really capture their lives,” she says. “They would be very surprised to know they were worth writing about as they all think they are ordinary and uninteresting. Of course, it is fictionalised, I’ve ‘done something’ to the reality, but the details are authentic.

“My theory was: white people write so much about themselves, we should write more about ourselves. Don’t we have our own sorrows, stories, joys, histories? I never want to believe that Singaporeans, for example, are less interesting than any other group of people on Earth, but in Singapore we often think of ourselves as boring, dull, compliant, etc. Are we not worthy of being captured for posterity in our own writing?”

But all these deep thoughts percolated through her mind later. At first, these stories were not even conceived as a collection; like most things in life, the book happened accidentally.

While on an airplane during one of her frequent business trips several years ago, Poon read a newspaper article about Penguin putting together an anthology of stories by Malaysian and Singaporean writers. At that time, she had already had articles and essays published in magazines and literary journals but had never had a short story published.

“I was so inspired by their effort that I took out one of my legal pads and started writing a short story right there on the plane,” she recalls. “The flight between Singapore and Hong Kong was three hours long—and I finished the story in that time. When I landed in Singapore, I immediately sent it to the editors of that book and asked them if they would like to include my story.”

Inspired by the publication of that first short story (“The Move” was published in 2002 in The Merlion and the Hibiscus: Contemporary Short Stories from Singapore and Malaysia), Poon kept at it and, over a period of five years, came up with the 11 stories that appear in Lions in Winter.

Some of the stories in Lions in Winter have appeared in other anthologies and literary magazines; this is, however, the first time they have been collected together in one publication.

Eric Forbes, senior editor at MPH Group Publishing, was instrumental in getting Lions in Winter into print. He had been referred to Poon’s story in one of the Silverfish New Writings anthologies produced by local publisher Silverfish Books and was impressed enough to contact Poon and put Lions in Winter into motion.

I ask Poon what she hopes will come out of Lions in Winter. Does she want to sell a zillion copies? Become the next big thing in Asian literature? Nothing so grand, I find out, but something more profound.

“My biggest hope is that it strikes a chord with people and that they see themselves or people they know in it, and they appreciate my attempts to capture and distil our culture and identity. I hope I make them think about their lives and realise that even the most ordinary things can be extraordinary.

“In the titular story, for example, there is a scene in which the narrator looks at the clothes hanging out to dry in a typical public housing estate. We’re so used to that sight, we don’t even think about what it really means, that it could symbolise a kind of lazy, late tropical afternoon peace and security that other societies don’t have.

“Turn-of-the-century British writers like Conrad, Kipling and Maugham thought the Malaya region so fascinating,” she declares. “Why was it of such great literary focus 100 years ago, and not now? Let’s do it again, guys!” (Joseph Conrad, 1857-1924; Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936; and W. Somerset Maugham 1874-1965, who famously visited Malaya and wrote stories set in colonial times here.)

Poon and I may be 15 hours and 7,000 kilometres apart, but I can almost see the fire spitting out of her eyes as her fingers fly over her computer’s keyboard, pouring out stories that affirm her beliefs.

If hers is the voice of the new Asian literati, the future looks brighter than I think.

Interview originally published in The Sunday Star, November 25, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Malaysian Good Reading Guide!

THERE IS A NEW MALAYSIAN MAGAZINE in town dedicated to books and the reading life and it needs entertaining, edgy and well-written articles, features, interviews and columns. Write in with your proposals for articles and features to Eric Forbes or Janet Tay at We hope some of the best Malaysian (and non-Malaysian) writers will help us create a wonderful literary magazine, one that suggests the qualities that a good book magazine should possess.

nurture and nourish your spirit and soul with books ...

“THE HISTORIAN can tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like.” E.L. Doctorow

“BOOKS are the carriers of civilization.” Barbara W. Tuchman

“BOOKS are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end, which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“BUT in my opinion, literature does something much more important—it changes us. It makes us more human, more tolerant and less judgmental.” Alaa Al Aswany

Saturday, November 24, 2007

It's Just So Bally Malaysian-lah!

HERE’S a new one:

A: Oh, you publish books?
B: I guess so.
A: I write novels, stories, everything, in fact. You interested?
B: You planning to get them published?
A: I have an agent in Singapore, you know.
B: What’s his name?
A: I can’t really tell you.
B: I’m so bloody happy for you!


I overheard the following exchange recently:

A: Shall we launch a book as a public-relations exercise?
B: Sounds great. ... But we don’t have a book to launch!
A: Duh! ... Is that a problem or what?
B: I thought we need to write a book before we can launch one!
A: That shouldn’t be a problem. We could just launch a mock-up of the book. All we need is the cover. We can get the book written later!
B: Cool!


One of my favourite all-time classics:

A: Here’s my manuscript. Could you get it ready by next week? I’ll will be going overseas. It will be great if I could have the book before I leave.
B: I’m afraid that’s not possible. It will take some time to get it edited.
A: No editing necessary. It is already perfect!


Here’s another gem:

A: My grandson has written a class assignment. Would you like to publish it?
B: How old is he?
A: Around ten, I think.
B: How many words is the manuscript?
A: Well, around 2,000 words, I think.
B: That’s not enough for a book, you know.
A: I am sure we could pad it up with lots of photos and perhaps launch it at one of the five-star hotels or something. Should be most fun!
B: Yeah, looks like a great idea. Let’s do it!


This is another recent one:

A: Could you have my book ready by next month?
B: No, I can’t, I’m afraid. Your manuscript is so badly written so much so that I will have to farm it out for a rewrite.
A: But I must have it ready by next month.
B: Then you might like to consider sending your manuscript to a production or typesetting house. Then you can have your book ready within a week. You don’t even have to edit it!
A: I really must have it by next month. You see, it’s my birthday and I need the book to be ready by then.
B: Can’t you just buy a cake or something?


Another funny one:

A: Your manuscript is very badly written, you know.
B: I know.
A: Would you be able to rewrite it?
B: It is not really my fault. It is the fault of the education system.


Friday, November 23, 2007

TAN Twan Eng ... The Gift of Rain (2007)

THE U.S. EDITION of Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain (Myrmidon Press, 2007) will be published by Weinstein Books on May 6, 2008. Here is a sneak preview of the cover. Feast your eyes on it!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

TAN Twan Eng for Breakfast!

a literary saturday at bangsarville

THE 10th MPH Breakfast Club for LitBloggers on Saturday, November 24, 2007, will feature Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng, whose first novel, The Gift of Rain (Myrmidon Press, 2007), was released in March 2007 and was longlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, as well as novelist D. Devika Bai, a retired schoolteacher who has published her first novel, The Flight of the Swans (Monsoon Books, 2005).

The U.S. edition of The Gift of Rain will be published by Weinstein Books on May 6, 2008.

Tan Twan Eng and D. Devika Bai will be introduced by Eric Forbes. Janet Tay will be facilitating the session.

Date November 24, 2007 (Saturday)
Time 11.00a.m.-12.30p.m.
Venue MPH Bangsar Village II, Lot 2F-1 (2nd Floor), Bangsar Village II, No. 2, Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Phone (603) 2287 3600

Food and refreshments will be served
All lovers of literature are most welcome

There will be no Breakfast Club for LitBloggers in December 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What I Found at ... MPH Mid Valley, Kuala Lumpur

1. Twilight of the Superheroes (stories, 2006) / Deborah Eisenberg
2. The Gathering (novel, 2007) / Anne Enright
3. No One Belongs Here More Than You (stories, 2007) / Miranda July
4. The Grass is Singing (novel, 1950) / Doris Lessing
5. The Castle in the Forest (novel, 2007) / Norman Mailer
6. The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories (stories, 2006) / Valerie Martin
7. Cloth Girl (novel, 2006) / Marilyn Heward Mills
8. Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travel in Small Town India (travel, 1995) / Pankaj Mishra
9. Exit Ghost (novel, 2007) / Philip Roth
10. The Almost Moon (novel, 2007) / Alice Sebold

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

2007 Costa Book Award Shortlists

Costa Novel Award
1. Skin Lane / Neil Bartlett
2. Day / A.L. Kennedy
3. Death of a Murderer / Rupert Thomson
4. The Road Home / Rose Tremain

Costa First Novel Award
1. A Golden Age / Tahmima Anam
2. Gifted / Nikita Lalwani
3. What Was Lost / Catherine O’Flynn
4. Mosquito / Roma Tearne

Costa Poetry Award
1. The Speed of Dark / Ian Duhig
2. The Space of Joy / John Fuller
3. Look We Have Coming to Dover! / Daljit Nagra
4. Tilt / Jean Sprackland

Costa Biography Award
1. Rudolf Nureyev / Julie Kavanagh
2. Agent Zigzag / Ben Macintyre
3. Young Stalin / Simon Sebag Montefiore
4. Fatty Batter / Michael Simkins

Costa Children’s Book Award
1. The Bower Bird / Ann Kelley
2. Crusade / Elizabeth Laird
3. What I Was / Meg Rosoff
4. Blood Red Snow White / Marcus Sedgwick

The winner of each category will be announced on January 3, 2008, and the overall Costa Book of the Year on January 22, 2008

Monday, November 19, 2007

Janet TAY reviews The Almost Moon (2007)


Review by JANET TAY

Can Alice Sebold’s eagerly-awaited sophomore effort match the huge impact of her début, The Lovely Bones? Well, she’s in shocking form, says JANET TAY. In her second novel, nice middle-aged ladies aren’t what they seem.

By Alice Sebold
(Little, Brown and Co., 304pp)

YOU WON’T COME ACROSS many opening lines that grab your attention quicker and more effectively than the one in Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon (2007): “When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.”

But then, this is the author whose début, the best-selling The Lovely Bones (2002), offered this opener: “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

That The Lovely Bones had more substance to offer than a shocking beginning was amply demonstrated by the critical and popular acclaim that kept it on best-seller lists for years after its publication in 2002. Can Sebold’s sophomore effort, surely written under the pressure of “great expectations,” compare to The Lovely Bones?

Well, anything compared to that highly disturbing novel would be subdued, even The Almost Moon’s tale of matricide. But, by any other standard, this is a terrifying literary ride.

Everything moves fast in this novel: After Helen Knightly’s confession, the subsequent events unfold in a span of just 24 hours.

It is no easy feat to engage and sustain a reader’s interest with minimal change in space and venue (suburban Phoenixville, a place “frozen in time” as Jake, Helen’s ex-husband, puts it), but Sebold’s deft handling of flashbacks and fluid timelines provides a sense of movement while infusing Helen’s fragmentary childhood memories with the urgency of the present.

The flashbacks contrast her mother’s callousness and disdain towards her with the loving relationship Helen has with her father as they share the burden of coping with the mother’s fragility and consequent agoraphobia.

As Helen grows up wondering if she hates her mother, her father tries to comfort her by using the analogy of the moon to describe the woman who is the bane of their existence: the “almost moon or a not-quite moon. The rest is hiding just out of view, but there’s only one moon, so we follow it in the sky. We plan our lives based on its rhythm and tides.”

Helen’s father is a symbol of strength and stability to her; it never occurs to her that he too could possess weaknesses or experience sorrow—until he commits suicide.

Emotionally abandoned by a mother who did not know how to love and physically abandoned by a father who did, Helen grows up to become a hardened woman with troubled relationships. She says, “Knightlys never called for help, and Corbins, my mother’s blood, would rather use forks to stab out their throats. We dealt with things in private. We cut off our fingers and feet—our hands, our legs, and our lives—but we did not, no matter what, ask for help. Need was like a weed, a virus, a mold. Once you admitted to it, it spread and ruled.”

It doesn’t take a psychologist to predict that Helen’s confused and damaging relationships with her parents may ultimately ruin her own marital relationship as well. Her ex-husband Jake, however, remains a symbol of strength and reliance for her—not unlike the role played by her father—but unwittingly becomes an accomplice in her efforts to cover up the crime she has committed.

Sebold’s laconic prose echoes a combination of satirical novelist Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club, the basis for the cult movie) and the late Raymond Carver, famed for his short, succinct stories. There are even hints of Ernest Hemingway’s masculine brevity.

Her crisp and incisive writing has the reader accepting the most outrageous situations as normal, doing so by muting, yet still maintaining, the horror of the moment. She takes us to a place that can best be described as having a terrifying calm, and it’s a comfortable place to be in while savouring this novel.

Sebold also has a knack for successfully combining the idyllic with the horrific: kindly, middle-aged women killing in a halcyon setting or spending “sweaty summer afternoons in their bedrooms, daydreaming of cutting their mother up into little pieces and mailing them to parts unknown.”

The flashbacks Sebold handles so adroitly throughout the book are more than mere literary techniques. They might seem to exist to provide a necessary justification for Helen’s actions—after all, one does not just up and kill one’s mother in a quiet suburban neighbourhood. But make no mistake, Helen Knightly does not ask for sympathy or understanding for her actions.

Her childhood memories simply provide the missing pieces of the puzzle and show that we are all connected in one way or another, that our actions, no matter how insignificant they may seem to us, do matter, and that, ultimately, we have to be accountable to one another.

In the midst of all the terror, Sebold effectively inserts Helen’s philosophical musings that prompt the reader to consider the greyness in between moments when morality and reality clash, that nothing is ever black and white in life—not marriage, not family and certainly not murder.

Book courtesy of MPH Distributors
Review first published in StarMag, Sunday Star, on November 18, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Love in the Time of Cholera (1988)

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

JAVIER BARDEM in various scenes from Love in the Time of Cholera (2007), a film directed by Mike Newell and based on Gabriel García Márquez’s 1988 masterpiece of magical realism [wonderfully translated from the Spanish, El amor en los tiempos del cólera (1985), by Edith Grossman], a heartbreaking story about the strangeness and power of this thing we call love in all its varieties and guises and the nobility of unrequited love.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Awang Goneng ... Growing Up in Trengganu (Monsoon Press, 2007)

I ENJOY READING MEMOIRS, especially childhood memoirs, stories of days gone by, and Awang Goneng’s Growing Up in Trengganu (Monsoon Press, 2007) had me gripped with his wonderful stories growing up in the northern state of the Malay peninsula. Awang Goneng is of course the nom de plume of Malaysian journalist Wan A. Hulaimi who lives in the United Kingdom, but his heart and soul is obviously still in Trengganu.

Through a collection of memories retold in glorious colour, Awang Goneng evokes the pleasures of a kampung childhood in Trengganu. Sultans, sweetmeat sellers and shopkeepers all act as springboards as you meander through the state’s colourful history, and by the end of this memoir you will have painlessly mastered the ‘Trengganuspeak’ that foils even fellow Malaysians.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Preeta SAMARASAN's Début Novel

Preeta Samarasan
(Fourth Estate, June 2, 2008)

“A MAGICAL, EXUBERANT tragic-comic vision of postcolonial Malaysia reminiscent of Rushdie and Roy. In prose of acrobatic grace, Samarasan conjures a vibrant portrait, by turns intimate and sweeping, of characters and a country coming of age. The début of a significant, and thrilling, new talent.” Peter Ho Davies, Man Booker Prize-longlisted author of The Welsh Girl (2007)

FIRST, we had Beth Yahp with The Crocodile Fury (1992) and Rani Manicka with The Rice Mother (2002) and Touching Earth (2004), then we had Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng with The Harmony Silk Factory (2005) and The Gift of Rain (2007) respectively. Now we have a new literary voice on the horizon: Preeta Samarasan, with her first novel, Evening Is the Whole Day (June 2008).

When a rubber-plantation servant girl is dismissed for an unnamed crime from the prosperous Rajasekharan family’s home, six-year-old Aasha begins to realise that mystery shrouds the event. This is their third loss in a matter of weeks: Paati, the family’s ageing grandmother, has died under mysterious circumstances, and Uma, their golden child, has escaped to Columbia University with no plans to return. As the novel gradually moves backward in time to tell the story of the years leading up to these events, we learn how the Rajasekharan family came to occupy the Big House, and how Oxford-educated Appa, the family patriarch, courted Amma, the humble girl-next-door, and what happened to Appa’s big dreams for his family and his country. Along the way, we begin to uncover the answers to the many questions that haunt this damaged family: What was Chellam’s unforgivable crime? Why did Uma become so withdrawn in the months before she left home? How and why did Paati die? What did six-year-old Aasha see? And most pressingly for Aasha, why is Amma, her mother, so angry at Appa, her father?

Circling through years of family history to arrive at the moment of Uma’s definitive departure―stranding her worshipful younger sister in a family, and a country, slowly going to pieces―Evening Is the Whole Day illuminates in heartbreaking detail the family’s layers of secrets and lies, while exposing the sordid underbelly of postcolonial Malaysia itself.

Preeta Samarasan was born and raised in Malaysia and moved to the U.S. for her high-school education. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where an early version of this novel won the Hopwood Novel Award. She recently won the Asian American Writer’s Workshop short-story award. She lives in France.

“Rich, quirky and colourful, Evening Is the Whole Day captures not just the sense of a family struggling to deal with its past, but the crazy uncertainty of a country coming to terms with itself. Often funny, sometimes sad, never predictable, this is a novel that announces a unique talent.” Tash Aw, the author of The Harmony Silk Factory

“A wonderfully engaging novel, poignant yet comical, about the contradictions and hazards inherent in a modern, postcolonial world.” M.G. Vassanji, author of The In-Between World of Vikram Lall

Thursday, November 15, 2007

2007 National Book Award Winners

DENIS JOHNSON’s Tree of Smoke (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007), a novel about the Vietnam War, took the 2007 National Book Award for Fiction on November 14, 2007. For nonfiction, New York Times reporter Tim Weiner won the prize for Legacy of Ashes: The History of the C.I.A. (Doubleday). The prize for young people’s literature was awarded to Sherman Alexie for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown & Company), the autobiographical story of a 14-year-old Spokane Indian who leaves his poor reservation school and moves to a wealthy, all-white school. Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass won the award for poetry for Time and Materials (Ecco/HarperCollins). A special Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters was awarded to essayist and novelist Joan Didion who won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005 for The Year of Magical Thinking.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wena POON's Début Collection of Stories

Wena Poon
(MPH Group Publishing, December 2007)

“TRAVEL BROADENS THE MIND, but emigration often carries with it the dilemmas of dislocation. It is often a question of knowing when to leave and when to return. Wena Poon’s stories dissect this question delicately, ironically, wickedly. Hers is a voice that should be heard: its wry mirth bubbles beneath culture clashes, runs between the hidden agenda of generations and genders, washes over the quotidian clangour of transculturation. These stories are a classic mixture of city and jungle. Poon rattles the familial cage with wit and vigour.” Brian Castro, author of Shanghai Dancing (2003) and The Garden Book (2005)

“A COMMENDABLE DÉBUT, refreshingly unpretentious and heartfelt. Wena Poon’s writing is confident and deft, and she doesn’t resort to fashionable and intrusive postmodern gimmicks. As a result, her stories are so much more effective and powerful.” Tan Twan Eng, Man Booker Prize-longlisted author of The Gift of Rain (2007)

WENA POON’s stories are both delicate and explosive. In Lions in Winter she writes about people at the margins of our lives, people who are so because we fail to invite them closer. Here they insist on the invitation and each new encounter is a revelation.” Brian Leung, author of Lost Men (2007) and World Famous Love Acts (2004)

WENA POON’s frank, refreshing stories bravely reject the pat stereotypes of Asia so common in the West. Asia desperately needs more narratives like hers to cancel out all the foolish, precious exoticism, pagodas and bound feet and concubines everywhere. Instead, she gives us complex characters negotiating urban realities. Her characters wrestle with dislocation, hybrid identities, tradition and modernity, and ultimately demonstrate, as the best literature always does, that so much of the human experience is universal, whatever its geographic and cultural particularities.” Preeta Samarasan, author of Evening Is the Whole Day (2008)

“READING THIS BOOK was like attending a family reunion at which each of my warped, wacky, flawed relatives took turns to drag skeletons out of closets and regale me with anecdotes that were by turns funny, dramatic, thought-provoking or tragic.” Alexandra Wong, in The Sunday Star

“REFRESHINGLY DIRECT, absorbing from each opening paragraph. I thoroughly enjoyed Wena Poons storytelling.Lansell Taudevin

IN THIS COLLECTION of eleven insightful stories, Wena Poon examines the quiet lives of displaced Singaporeans living abroad and in Singapore who are often torn between two worlds in their search for an imaginary homeland.

The model student who breaks his parents’ hearts when he drops out of medical school to study fashion design in London.

The shampoo girl who leaves Singapore for the hustle and bustle of New York’s Chinatown.

The schoolteacher whose anxiety about white people cripples his dream retirement in Toronto.

The mother who dreams of an old world amidst changing landscapes.

And an unlikely Singaporean family in Nevada cut off from the rest of the world by an obsessive patriarch.

Poon’s portraits of various lives share a common, constant yearning to belong in a place made foreign whether by time or space. Occasionally humorous, but always with compassion, she captures the rich inner lives of individuals who form part of the kaleidoscopic modern history of Asian migration in their quest for modern lives.

Wena Poon left Singapore as a teenager and has lived in Hong Kong and the U.S. Her fiction, poetry and nonfiction have been widely anthologised and published in the U.S., Europe and Asia. She read literature and law at Harvard University and currently lives in San Francisco, California.

Cover design by Kenny Mah

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

MPH Breakfast Club at MPH Bangsar Village II


THE 10th MPH Breakfast Club for LitBloggers on Saturday, November 24, 2007, will feature Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng, whose first novel, The Gift of Rain (Myrmidon Press, 2007), was released in March 2007 and was longlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, as well as novelist D. Devika Bai, a retired schoolteacher who has published her first novel, The Flight of the Swans (Monsoon Books, 2005).

Tan Twan Eng and D. Devika Bai will be introduced by Eric Forbes. Janet Tay will be facilitating the session.

Date November 24, 2007 (Saturday)
Time 11.00a.m.-12.30p.m.
Venue MPH Bangsar Village II, Lot 2F-1 (2nd Floor), Bangsar Village II, No. 2, Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Phone (603) 2287 3600

Food and refreshments will be served
All lovers of literature are most welcome

There will be no Breakfast Club for LitBloggers in December 2007


The 11th MPH Breakfast Club for LitBloggers on Saturday, January 26, 2008, will be featuring the Malaysian Prince of Darkness, Tunku Halim, whose collection of ghostly tales, 44 Cemetery Road: The Best of Tunku Halim (MPH Publishing, May 2007), was published in May 2007. Touted as Malaysia’s very own Stephen King, Halim, who is equally adept at both fiction and nonfiction, has another collection of new and selected stories out, Gravedigger’s Kiss: More of Tunku Halim (MPH Publishing, October 2007).

Dark City (Midnight Press, 2006) author Xeus is back with Dark City 2 (Midnight Press, 2008), this time as the editor of a brand-new collection of more stories that exposes the murkiness that lurks beneath life’s apparent ordinariness. Besides doing editorial duties for this collection, I believe she has a story or two tucked into it as well. There are stories by Lydia Teh, Tunku Halim, John Ling, Bissme S., Jennifer Wan, Chua Kok Yee and a host of others as well.

Eric Forbes will be introducing Tunku Halim and Xeus while Janet Tay will be moderating the session.

MPH Bangsar Village II is at Lot 2F-1 (2nd Floor), Bangsar Village II, No. 2, Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Phone (603) 2287 3600

Monday, November 12, 2007

New York, New York

FEW CITIES IN THE WORLD can rival the energy and vibrancy of New York. Everyone loves New York in one way or another. It is in many ways the capital of the planet. Two new, wonderful collections of journalism by reporters for The New York Times, Dan Barry and Joseph Berger, illuminate everyday life in the five boroughs in the city that never sleeps.

1. City Lights: Stories About New York (St. Martin’s Press, October 2007) / Dan Barry
2. The World in a City: Traveling the Globe Through the Neighborhoods of the New New York (Ballantine Books, September 2007) / Joseph Berger

Sunday, November 11, 2007

First Winner of the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize

Hong Kong, November 10, 2007: A panel of three internationally acclaimed authors and experienced literary judges named Jiang Rong winner of the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel Wolf Totem.

Adrienne Clarkson, Chair of the judges for the inaugural prize praised Wolf Totem: “A panoramic novel of life on the Mongolian grasslands during the Cultural Revolution, this masterly work is also a passionate argument about the complex interrelationship between nomads and settlers, animals and human beings, nature and culture. The slowly developing narrative is rendered in vivid detail and has a powerful cumulative effect. A book like no other. Memorable.”

Wolf Totem has been translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman MAILER Dies

ONE OF THE TOWERING GIANTS of American literature of the 20th century has passed on. Norman Mailer, 84, the author of such books as The Naked and the Dead (1948) and other novels, reportage, biographies and works of nonfiction, has died. The New York Times critic Orville Prescott called it “the most impressive novel about the Second World War that I have ever read.” Twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Armies of the Night (1968) and The Executioner’s Song (1979), his magnum opus, the brash and often outspoken writer was a dominant presence in the American literary landscape for almost sixty years.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Mailer developed a form of journalism that melded actual events, autobiography and political commentary with the creative richness of the novel (what we today refer to as the “nonfiction novel”) as a result of which his works have often aroused controversy, both for their stylish nonconformity and his brash views of American life.

Mailer once declared that he wanted to “alter the nerves and marrow” of the world with his books and to “change the consciousness” of our times. He believed that a successsful novel is one that is capable of changing the nature of people’s thinking.

In The Castle in the Forest (2007), his first major work in over a decade, Mailer offers what may be his consummate literary endeavour. He was working on a sequel at the time of his death. His latest and last book was published in October 2007: On God: An Uncommon Conversation (with Michael Lennon) (Random House, 2007), which takes the form of a conversation with fellow writer Lennon exploring the nature of Mailer’s typically idiosyncratic belief in God.

Norman Mailer will be sorely missed.

Friday, November 09, 2007


MORE BOOKS from MPH Distributors to be given away to readers of this blog.

1. Lust, Caution (Anchor Books, 2007) / Eileen Chang Paperback
2. End Games (Faber & Faber, 2007) / Michael Dibdin: The Last Aurelio Zen novel; the author Michael Dibdin died in early 2007. Advance reading copy 
3. Julius Winsome (Faber & Faber, June 2007) / Gerard Donovan: From the author of Schopenhauer’s Telescope comes a novel of love, solitude, grief and violence. Advance reading copy
4. The Ministry of Special Cases (Faber & Faber, 2007) / Nathan Englander Advance reading copy
5. The Importance of Being Kennedy (Harper, March 2008) / Laurie Graham: a bittersweet comedy about America’s royal family. Advance reading copy

Answer five simple questions on contemporary fiction, and if you’re one of the FIRST FIVE to get them all right, a book is yours. (Just tell me which book you prefer and your second choice as well.) Each person is allowed only one entry. Oh, yes, the contest is limited to those I can pass the books to by hand. So tell me where you are writing from. Happy Googling!

Email your answers to
Results will be announced on Monday, November 19, 2007

1. “I woke up in a bargemen’s lodging house above a cluster of masts and determined to stay another day in this marvellous town.” This is a quote from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel book, A Time of Gifts (1977). Which European city is he referring to?
2. We all know that Kiran Desai is the youngest woman ever to win the Booker Prize for Fiction since its inception in 1969. But who is the youngest ever winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction?
3. The spiritual home of second-hand books in the United Kingdom.
4. He beat Seamus Heaney for the 2006 Forward Poetry Prize with his third collection, Swithering (2006).
5. John Grisham’s new legal thriller which will be released on January 29, 2008.

All books courtesy of MPH Distributors

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Richard RUSSO ... Bridge of Sighs (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Urban Odysseys: KL Stories

Call for Submissions

MPH GROUP PUBLISHING is pleased to announce an open call for submissions of short fiction and creative non-fiction for an anthology tentatively entitled Urban Odysseys: Stories About Kuala Lumpur. We aim to publish the anthology in 2008, depending on the number of submissions that we receive.

The theme of the anthology will focus on life in the city, specifically Kuala Lumpur, with writings that show images of the new juxtaposed against the old, urban living with contrasting bright lights and shadowy realities and other short fiction or creative non-fiction which best encapsulate the spirit of the national capital. This is not a travel book but an anthology of literary writings about the city.

Stories must be original, between 3,000 and 5,000 words, and must not have been previously published. We invite submissions from both emerging and established writers. Stories for children are not eligible for this compilation. Manuscripts must be edited, typed double-spaced with 12pt font and e-mailed to Please include your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. You may submit as many pieces as you wish. Faxed or handwritten submissions will not be entertained and manuscripts will not be returned. We will contact you only if your piece has been selected for inclusion in the compilation. Writers whose submissions are selected will be expected to work with the editors to fine tune their stories.

Deadline: 31 January 2008
Payment: A small flat fee and two copies of the anthology

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Elizabeth HAY wins the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize for Fiction

ELIZABETH HAY has won the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize for Fiction for her third novel, Late Nights on Air (McClelland & Stewart, 2007), beating literary heavyweights and former Giller Prize winners Michael Ondaatje and M.G. Vassanji. The former radio journalist won the highest Canadian literary honour, the Canadian equivalent to the British Man Booker Prize, for a novel about a group of eccentrics working in a Canadian radio station in the 1970s.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize is probably the leading Canadian prize for fiction and certainly the one with the most hoopla and dollars attached. Both novels and short-story collections are eligible for this prize. Ondaatje has won the Giller Prize once before while Vassanji has won it twice before. Ondaatje won in 2000 for Anil’s Ghost; Vassanji won in 1994 for The Book of Secrets and in 2003 for The In-Between World of Vikram Lall. Competing for the prestigious prize this year are the following authors and their novels:

1. Late Nights on Air (McClelland & Stewart, 2007) / Elizabeth Hay
2. Divisadero (McClelland & Stewart, 2007) / Michael Ondaatje
3. A Secret Between Us (trans. from the French by Donald Winkler) (Douglas & McIntyre, 2007) / Daniel Poliquin
4. The Assassin’s Song (Doubleday Canada, 2007) / M.G. Vassanji
5. Effigy (Random House Canada, 2007) / Alissa York

Monday, November 05, 2007

November 2007 Highlights

1. Scapegallows (Virago, 2007) / Carol Birch
2. The Silver Swan (Picador, 2007) / Benjamin Black
3. The Persimmon Tree (Viking/Penguin Australia, 2007) / Bryce Courtenay
4. Tipperary (Random House, 2007) / Frank Delaney
5. The Hearts of Horses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007) / Molly Gloss
6. Someone Knows My Name (W.W. Norton, 2007) / Lawrence Hill
7. The Quiet Girl (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007) / Peter Høeg (trans. from the Danish by Nadia Christensen)
8. The Lost Dog (Allen & Unwin, 2007) / Michelle de Kretser
9. The Rowing Lesson (Soho Press, 2007) / Anne Landsman
10. Landscape of Farewell (Allen & Unwin, 2007) / Alex Miller
11. Last Night at the Lobster (Viking, 2007) / Stewart O’Nan
12. Absolution (Pegasus, 2007) / Caro Ramsay
13. The Lost Highway (Doubleday Canada, 2007) / David Adams Richards
14. The Journal of Dora Damage (Bloomsbury, 2007) / Belinda Starling
15. Where Three Roads Meet: The Myth of Oedipus (Canongate, 2007) / Salley Vickers

First Novels
1. The Moon Opera (trans. from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin) (Telegram Books, 2007) / Bi Feiyu

1. The New Granta Book of the American Short Story (Granta, 2007) / Richard Ford (ed.)
2. The People on Privilege Hill (Chatto & Windus, 2007) / Jane Gardam
3. Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black and Other Stories (Bloomsbury/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007) / Nadine Gordimer
4. The Book of Other People (Hamish Hamilton, 2007) / Zadie Smith (ed.)

1. Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2007) / John Ashbery
2. Pessimism for Beginners (Carcanet Press, 2007) / Sophie Hannah
3. Public Dream (Picador, 2007) / Frances Leviston
4. Crocodiles and Obelisks (Faber & Faber, 2007) / Jamie McKendrick

1. Charm City: A Walk Through Baltimore (Crown Journeys/Crown Publishers, 2007) / Madison Smartt Bell
2. Classics for Pleasure (Harcourt, 2007 / Michael Dirda
3. Modernism: The Lure of Heresy, From Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond (W.W. Norton, 2007) / Peter Gay
4. Letters of Ted Hughes (ed. Christopher Reid) (Faber & Faber, 2007) / Ted Hughes
5. My Family and Other Saints (University of Chicago Press, 2007) / Kirin Narayan
6. The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street (Allen Lane, 2007) / Charles Nicholl
7. Henry James: The Mature Master (Random House, 2007) / Sheldon M. Novick
8. John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand (Atlantic, 2007) / Richard Reeves
9. A Life of Picasso: Volume III: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932 (Alfred A. Knopf/Jonathan Cape, 2007) / John Richardson
10. The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W.G. Sebald (Seven Stories, 2007) / Lynne Sharon Shwarz (ed.)
11. Touch and Go: A Memoir (The New Press, 2007) / Studs Terkel