Thursday, June 30, 2011

On Researching The Dulang Washer


PAUL CALLAN talks to ERIC FORBES about the kind of research he undertook while writing his début novel, The Dulang Washer

“AS THE STORY REVEALS, Batu Gajah was the staging post for newly arrived Chinese immigrants in Perak’s Kinta Valley, while the principal mining town of the time was Gopeng. Miners were paid every six months in arrear and it is a fact that as payday approached, mine owners did indeed reduce the cost of opium and time spent with the whores in order to encourage spending, resulting in miners being left with little or no money, necessitating them having to sign on for further periods of employment. Thus the miners became economic slaves to the mines.

“It is a little known fact (not referred to in the novel) that over a period of nearly a hundred years, a great many Chinese men died in the mines. Death was caused by the harsh conditions and one of the curses of the mines was beriberi (meaning ‘I can’t, I can’t’, usually muttered in response to a miner’s inability to swallow food when struck down by the disease), brought on by the lack of a proper diet, as well as other dreadful diseases, most notably malaria. I researched the cause and effect of both diseases, as well as dengue fever, before I wrote about them.

“Taxes on opium, a drug miners were encouraged to indulge in, and which repressed the appetite and caused much addiction, was the second highest earner of revenue (after tin) in Perak for the government of the day—the British. (It would be fair to say that, historically, the British have a lot to answer for when it comes to drug addiction worldwide!) It should not be forgotten that Hong Kong was ceded to the British after they fought two wars with China to force the importation of opium there. As with the diseases, I also researched the impact of opium addiction and actually met an opium addict in Kuala Lumpur. I spent several hours with him learning all I could to help me write on the topic.

“It is true, as the story reveals, that Hakka women were the one race of Chinese who never bound their feet for reasons explained in the story—the women had to tend the fields while their men were defending their villages, or were off in distant lands working to provide for their families. In the period in which the story is set, and for centuries before, Hakka men were taught pugilism and self-defence, largely because of their need to defend their villages. According to my research, no Hakka man would allow a Hakka woman to work in the whorehouses; they would not abuse their women in such fashion. In the story I refer to, a Hakka folk song about the tree and the vine and such a folk song does exist. The customs described at the funeral of Siew Lan are all based on research. Hakka men greet callers on their knees and the pak kim (candle money) that enabled Hun Yee to open his own mine is but another of the customs. Interestingly, among prominent Hakka are the late Deng Xiaoping, the reformer who led China towards a market economy, and Singapore’s very own Lee Kuan Yew.

“It is a fact that Malays, usually farmers, augmented their income by working in the mines and it is from an elderly Malay gentleman, sadly now passed away, that I learnt about mixing serai wangi (citronella) and coconut oil to fend off mosquitoes. The storyline about the meal Aisha cooked for the washerwomen—wild chicken cooked in spicy coconut gravy—came from the same source. The old gentleman gave me the recipe.

“As the story shows, Tamils played their part in the development of the tin industry by operating the transport system. It is noteworthy that the Tamil language does not use ‘foul’ words, succumbing instead to such derisory terms as ‘smelly donkey’!

“Papan town, also referred to in the story, still exists today, and although now badly dilapidated, it does retain the very wide street I wrote about. Batu Gajah does have a church called St. Joseph’s, but I took poetic licence by claiming it was being built at the time Hun Yee visited the town. Different schools of thought place its construction somewhere around the 1880s.

“In the epilogue, I wrote that the skull is the last of the bones cleansed by the monk and this and the custom of burying the bones of the dead seven years after death at the ancestral burying place is all based on research.

“Interestingly, in a small museum in Ipoh there can be found today a replica of a tin mine; it is about the size of a small room. Approaching Ipoh from the north, if one takes the first exit off the highway and drive towards St. Michael’s Institution, on the left-hand side, just before the police station, is the museum. That replica mine—along with a vast amount of written material on tin mining in the 18th and 19th centuries—was the inspiration for the fictional mine I created for the novel.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Dulang Washer


MALAYA, 1890 ... in the tin-mining camps of Perak’s Kinta Valley, only the strongest and bravest survive ... and the strongest and bravest of them all is Aisha, the beautiful solitary dulang washer who labours to support two families.

Fook Sin, the mine’s treacherous, thieving proprietor, sees Aisha as his ultimate prize: the most desirable object he can add to his secret hoard of treasures.

Hun Yee, an ambitious young Hakka Chinese miner, shakes off the opium addiction that has insulated him from the harshness of his daily struggle and strives to win Aisha’s approval by starting a mine of his own.

But for Donald Redfern, overseer and the only European in the camp, Aisha comes to represent something even more important. The human contact she offers in the language lessons she gives him, and the small gestures of compassion she shows to the isolated, homesick man, fuel his dangerous obsession.

Meanwhile, Aisha herself is harbouring a secret. When events at the mine move towards their shocking conclusion, she is forced to re-examine her life. Confronted with the love of a man prepared to turn his back on his country for her, will she finally seize her chance at happiness?

PAUL CALLAN was born in Dublin, Ireland. His love of storytelling was fuelled while attending Chanel College in North Dublin. As a young man in London, he abandoned his first attempt at becoming a novelist in pursuit of a business career. After marrying his Malaysian wife, he visited Malaysia for many years, and fell in love with the country and its people. He now divides his time between his homes in Kuala Lumpur and London. The Dulang Washer is his first novel.

AUGUST 2011 | FICTION | 5.15 x 7.75 | 388pp | ORIGINAL PAPERBACK | 9789675997556

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In Search of the Monkey Temple

TOM SYKES takes in the sights, smells and sounds of the oldest living city in the world, Varanasi, which sits on the banks of the Ganges river

“IF YOU DO one thing in Varanasi, visit the Monkey Temple.” The advice rings in my ears as the door of the train opens on to the loud, bright, smoky platform of Varanasi Junction.

I join a trickle of foreign tourists heading for the exit, their dreadlocks and T-shirts an amusing counterpoint to the smart side-partings of the porters milling around them. Avoiding the touts offering me “the best room”, “the best meal”, “the best woman”, I hop into a rickshaw and we hightail it to the Old City.

The approach to the ghats (ceremonial stairs) is a maze of alleys peopled as much by animals as humans. For every sadhu (holy man) in dusty make-up or monk in orange, there’s a giant cow blocking the way, or a sheep foraging some food or a goat asleep in a doorway. I’ve been to bigger Indian cities than Varanasi and none of them can boast this range of wildlife! I notice that the doors along the alleys are hung with baskets of offerings and pictures of Hindu deities. I guess these must be temples and shrines.

I have no idea where I’m going. Somehow I end up on one of the ghats leading down to the argent waters of the Ganges. Long, eyelash-shaped rowing boats drift between devotees diving in, washing themselves and laughing like they’re having the time of their lives. I worry about them; I’ve read that it’s very polluted but they believe that bathing here will purify their souls.

To my left is a huge fire tended by men wearing loincloths. I lift my camera but am politely told not to take a photo by a chai wallah (tea seller). He tells me that this is the Manikarnika Ghat (cremation ghat) and that this fire must never go out. He offers me a claypot of tea. Much as I love the milky, sweet, spicy brew, I politely decline. I buy a bottle of mango soda instead.

I make my way along the ghats, past the blazing parasols, the men in loincloths standing on one foot with their hands clasped together, the groups of washerwomen thrashing their clothes against the steps. Here, the soft morning sun rays dance across the waters, the temples and shrines hugging the shoreline are drenched in a golden hue and the air is filled with the delicate fragrance of incense along with the soft chants of soul-stirring hymns and age-old mantras.

Behind me, the skyline is surrealistically varied: onion domes of mosques, the scarlet bell towers of modest Hindu temples, carved Jain pillars, Mughal turrets of faded khaki, gigantic statues of the Buddha. Three thousand years of architecture compacted together, overlapping even. I’ve been in Varanasi half an hour and already I understand its matchless appeal.

A sect of young men all dressed in the same blue smocks with bricks on their heads stop in front of me. I am naturally suspicious. One of them asks me for alms. I hand over some rupees and ask for directions to the Monkey Temple. He tells me that I need to head back through the maze.

I get hopelessly lost again. After asking for more directions, I find myself on a driveway swarming with monkeys which all, for some reason, have red rears. There are lots of monkeys here, so maybe I’m close to the Monkey Temple, I reasoned.

A few minutes later, I am standing at a tall fence patrolled by dozens of grumpy-looking policemen with submachine guns. They are frisking visitors, confiscating their bags, cameras and mobile phones. As if that isn’t enough, there’s also a man-sized X-ray machine that all-comers must pass through. I can’t see anything of the temple itself over the fence, but there is the faint noise of singing. I can’t see the point of such zeal. Or perhaps this is a post-9/11 policy?

After the ethereal pleasures of the ghats, I am put off by this distinctly un-spiritual spectacle. I turn round and head back up the driveway. I return to the ghats—eventually—and spend the rest of my day here, watching the sun go down and the worshippers singing and dancing and the beacons and fires come alive.

The Ghats of Varanasi
One of the prime attractions of this ancient living city is undoubtedly the ghats or ceremonial stairs along the west banks of the Ganges which offers a breathtaking experience. Here, you come face to face with the physical, metaphysical and supernatural. There are about 81 such ghats, huge rectangular stairs that lead to the river. To truly enjoy and experience the beauty, rich customs, traditions and mysticism of this holy city, take a leisurely stroll, mingle with the local or better yet, take a slow boat ride on the Ganges. Some of the popular ghats are:

DASASWAMEDH GHAT is one of the oldest and the main bathing ghat which attracts thousands of pilgrims, salvation seekers and tourists.

MANIKARNIKA GHAT or “jewelled earring” is one of the oldest and perhaps the most sacred ghat. This is a cremation area where the mortal remains are “entrusted” to the flames, followed by prayers for the soul to rest in eternal peace. Hindus believe that anyone cremated here will attain moksha or salvation.

ASSI GHAT is where pilgrims bathe before paying homage to Lord Shiva, who takes the form of a huge lingam situated under a peepal tree.

TULSI GHAT is named in honour of Tulsi Das, a 16th-century poet who spent many years here composing the epic Ram Charit Manas. There is a temple on this ghat dedicated to Lord Rama.

PANCH GANGA GHAT is believed to be the place where five rivers are said to meet. The Alamgir Mosque, built by Mogul ruler Aurangzeb, is located here.

MAN MANDIR GHAT, built in the 18th century by the Maharajah of Jaipur, is noted for its splendid observatory which is outfitted with a number of elaborate window casings.

Reproduced from the April-June 2011 issue of Quill magazine

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Mile-high Club and Other Airline Legends

Former air stewardess YVONNE LEE debunks and, in some cases, confirms popular myths about her former profession, writes ALEXANDRA WONG

MY FIRST MEETING with Yvonne Lee took place at an MPH bookshop, aptly enough. A former airline stewardess who had scored a best-seller with her first foray into writing, The Sky Is Crazy, she obviously made perfect interview bait for me, a then-aspiring journalist.

Yet I didn’t bother to introduce myself, all for the pettiest of reasons. When I was 19, an air-stewardess friend told me I would never make it as one because of my Plain Jane looks. I never forgave nor forgot that slight.

Raking in her porcelain complexion and pin-up looks from a safe distance, I was certain Lee would turn out to be similarly catty, and scrupulously avoided her at subsequent author events, until a mutual acquaintance played inadvertent matchmaker.

“Yvonne Lee would like a second opinion about her upcoming manuscript. Would you like to have a go at it?” he asked.

I pushed aside my personal prejudices. Business was, after all, business.

To my surprise, she came across as genuinely down-to-earth in email, but still, I was taken aback at our first meeting—she wanted to personally pass me a copy of her freshly printed second book, Vanity Drive. “I thought you might enjoy them since you like to write about food,” she said with a smile that was as warm as her gift of curry puffs.

At our second meeting, she confessed, “I feel that I’m so boring compared to my sister [songstress Janet Lee]. I hardly go out except to run errands and pick up my kids. My life revolves around my kids and my husband only. So I told myself this year, I will accept all invitations to tea from my girlfriends!” she laughed ruefully.

I had a lump in my throat when she shared how she gave RM100—about half of her writing fee—to an old beggar she wrote about for a local daily. This was leagues apart from the image of the high-tea trawling, designer-goods toting tai-tai I had imagined her to be.

She surprised me again with her cheerful yet tongue-in-cheek takes on her former profession as a trolley dolly, which she chronicles in her new book, Madness Aboard!

An air stewardess once remarked that when she says that she works as cabin crew or an air hostess, people assume she’s a bimbo. Do you know of any air stewardess with a high IQ who decided to become an air stewardess? There are numerous successful former stewardesses who are doing very well in various fields. I know of some former cabin crew who are big names. There is a male Member of Parliament, hotel general manager, news anchors and business people in various industries. But, no thanks to the misconceptions that fly girls are bimbos, very few of these famous people want to admit that they were former stewardesses, except for some singers, models, ex-beauty queens and actresses.

Lee makes no apology for being an ex-hostie. She is in fact milking her past experiences in the sky and smiling all the way to the bank!

Air stewardesses lead glamorous lives. Fact or fiction?
Oh yes, we wine and dine in Paris, have breakfast in London and shop in New York. But the truth is, due to minimum stay or even short turn-around flights, we are more likely to be seen grabbing a brown bag takeaway at Burger King in London or shout for “McFish” in Paris.

Have you ever had a gag order, or a plea or threat from an ex-colleague not to tell all?
Whaddya mean put a gag to my tell-all? They’re practically begging and bribing me to tell the world about their ‘suffering’. These unsung heroes in the sky need someone to tell their tales of woe. My book is like payback, from those in this industry to the nasty passengers. I’m hailed as their voice, to disseminate the truth and pains the cabin crew usually goes through in order to bring chicken and beef onto their laps!

Did you get propositioned a lot during your heyday? What’s the most outrageous proposal you’ve ever received or heard of?
I wonder if you’ve heard about this ex-stewardess from Singapore who wrote about the hijinks from her flying days. According to her, after more than a decade with the airline, she had received about 20 propositions. Me? I’ve lost count, if you consider ‘propositions’ from Ah Kow, Ah Tu and Ah Beng passengers flattering at all. But if you’re talking about invitations from the ‘count-worthy’ ones, those with the looks of Justin Bieber, the abs of a bodybuilder and a bank account of a hot entrepreneur, well ...

Give us the deebs on the mile-high club. Does it still happen these days and are you a member of this club?
Oh no, I’m not going to be a spoiler. You have got to read The Sky is Crazy and Madness Aboard! to find out. Anyway, I’m afraid to disappoint those passengers with voyeuristic intentions. The number of participants attempting to join the Mile-high Club (MHC) has taken a big dip, no thanks to the emergence of low-cost airlines. A low-cost flight means crammed seats and full-house flights, resulting in lower libido for passengers who had earlier planned to be anointed to the MHC. As for me, I was a member many times over—in my dreams!

Let’s talk about the daily minutiae. Do you brush your teeth on overnight flights? How do you keep your breath fresh all the time? How come your mascara and eyeliner never run? Do you wear special shoes? We mere mortals can’t possibly stand in heels for hours!
We were trained how to remain supermodel-like in appearance after a 10-hour flight, when most passengers would have looked like a typhoon had swept through them. The secret: Use a good long-lasting base for foundation, use powder paper to blot away oiliness every hour, replenish fading lipstick on lips, spritz face with mineral water regularly to avoid dehydration on a long flight as the cabin air is very dry, dab on the perfume when freshening up, brush teeth after meals, use breath freshener and never forget to plaster on a smile! Stewardesses always wear a good pair of tights (those specially made for flight attendants) as it provides better support while making the legs look good when the sarong slit flips.

Someone has terrible BO, flatulence or continually burps on a long-haul flight. The passenger (in the window seat section) next to this person is practically crying for help. How do you handle this situation diplomatically?
I read, not too long ago, that one can be booted out of a flight for being smelly. On February 6 last year, an Air Canada Jazz flight from Charlottetown created news when it off-loaded a passenger because he had bad BO. I suppose that’s a wise move—better to upset one passenger than the whole planeload! But, I had worked at a time when the passengers were always right. I took it as part and parcel of the job. You can imagine how I felt when on a KL-London flight, a passenger who had woken up from his sleep, pulled me to his seat and spoke to me with the foulest breath. Since then, I learnt to rub Vicks into my nostrils every time I had to do an overnight flight. Most passengers use the morning juice offered by the cabin crew as their mouthwash.

How is it that all air stewards or stewardesses have the magical ability to fit all their belongings into one small cabin bag?
We practise mix and match, making us pros at clothing and pros at packing for travel. Anyway, we are allowed one check-in baggage. Those hard-cased Delsey or Samsonite luggage that cabin crews usually use are so sturdy one doubts they can be detonated!

Reproduced from the April-June 2011 issue of Quill magazine

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Conversations with the Giants of Asia

Renowned American columnist and author TOM PLATE shares with VIMALA SENEVIRATNE his views on the subjects of the “Giants of Asia” series


WHEN THOMAS GORDON PLATE, or Tom Plate as he prefers to be called, began working on his “Giants of Asia” series, he knew he would not please many people, including his readers. But that does not trouble him. “It comes with the territory,” says the bespectacled Plate as he leans back on the plush sofa at his hotel suite. “I let the chips fall where they may. It’s not a traditional political biography with a million words and a thousand footnotes and a dozen hidden axes to grind. The book is based on conversations between two people—me and, in this case, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.”

The author of Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad, the second volume in the “Giants of Asia” series, was in Kuala Lumpur recently to launch his book which offers a “riveting look into Malaysia’s most famous prime minister and his often controversial views and policies”. “He is someone you either love or hate, but you cannot ignore him,” says the 66-year-old well-known American journalist, university professor and internationally syndicated columnist whose column on Asia has been in leading newspapers and magazines worldwide (Washington Post, Time, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, and London’s Daily Mail) for more than 15 years. Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad is based on four interview sessions with the former prime minister.

Plate’s interest in the Asia Pacific region began in the 1990s when he took up a job offer at the Los Angeles Times after spending decades as a journalist in New York. “Asia is the rising geopolitical centre of power and we have China leading the pack. There are individuals such as Lee Kuan Yew, the Minister Mentor of Singapore, and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who have created waves, taking their respective countries to greater heights,” says Plate who readily admits that he is not an expert or authority on issues related to politics or economics of the Asian countries, although he has been to these countries dozens of times. “The positive outcome is that I am more sensitive to Asia’s trends and personalities,” says the bubbly professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he lectures on Media Ethics and on Asian Media. He is also the director of the Pacific Perspectives Media Centre in Beverley Hills, a non-profit organisation that syndicates high-end op-eds.

The author of seven books, including Confessions of an American Media Man, Understanding Doomsday: A Guide to the Arms Race for Hawks, Doves and People and Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew, Plate was inspired by Milovan Djilas who, in 1961, published Conversations with Stalin, a book based on his meetings with the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin during World War II. “I was toying with the idea of starting a series with the ‘Giants of Asia’ when [book publisher] Marshall Cavendish got in touch with me and suggested that I do a book on Lee Kuan Yew. That was a perfect opportunity to feature six of the movers and shakers in this region.”

Why six? It’s a manageable figure, he says, flashing a megawatt smile. Plate started out as a “scholarship boy” at Amherst, where he and future best-selling author Aaron Latham (Urban Cowboy) published Where the Boys Are, a guide to dating in the Ivy League. “It sold out. Latham invested in mutual funds while I bought a sports car,” says Plate, who is now working on the third book in the “Giants of Asia” series. It is on Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand.

“The interviews have been done and as soon as I get back home, I will have to write it out. The book is expected to be released in June.” The father of a 23-year-old college graduate daughter politely declines to name the remaining three “Giants of Asia”. What about women in the region who have created positive waves? Will they be featured in his “Giants of Asia” series? “Aung San Suu Kyi and Sonia Gandhi are two dynamic and powerful women,” is all he is willing to say. Plate, who has interviewed scores of people, including famous statesmen, counts Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Junichiro Koizumi among his favourite interview subjects. And what about the worst? “There are a handful of the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ll keep it for the next series of books,” he says in jest.

His inspirational figures tend to be people in the literary field. “No politicians. Let’s see ... Graham Greene, Oscar Wilde, Ian Fleming and W. Somerset Maugham. I also enjoy works of composers such as Stravinsky, Mahler and Barber,” says Plate, who is currently reading Eric Ambler’s State of Siege which was first published in 1956. “It’s an interesting take on the postcolonial world.”

When he is not busy at the computer writing articles or working on the “Giants of Asia” series, he spends time at home with his wife of 31 years and their three pedigree cats. He also pursues his other passion—photography. “Journalism and photography go hand in hand. It’s all about creating or composing things. One deals with words, the other with images.”

When time permits, he races down the Pacific coast in his sporty BMW. “There’s nothing like feeling the wind in your face as you zip down the Pacific coast in your sporty Beemer,” he says, laughing.

Reproduced from the April-June 2011 issue of Quill magazine

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Comma Press’s New Showcase Anthology Wants Your Stories!

THIS YEAR’S anthology will have a purely structural theme, namely THE REVEAL. It will focus on the importance of endings to the short story tradition, the ‘dropping into place’ of a second, hidden, and unexpected story, revelation or (unresolved) image at the close—one that sheds new light on everything that’s preceded it.

Let’s briefly pause here, to make a distinction between the reveal and the twist. A twist ending brings in new plot elements that haven’t been adequately foreshadowed, and takes the story off in a ‘surprise’ direction, e.g. “I woke up and it was all a dream” (and the many hoary permutations of this). It’s unearned, a cop-out, a cheat, a swiz. We’re not looking for that, thanks.

The author of a reveal story, on the other hand, carefully weaves the ingredients of their surprise ending into the preceding sections of the story, so when the revelation comes, you say, ‘Of course! How did I not see that?’ The ending has been carefully foreshadowed, yet because of the author’s misdirection it still comes as a surprise.

The careful balancing of these two elements—foreshadowing and misdirection—are key to the success of a reveal story. Too much foreshadowing, and the reader will see the end coming a mile off. Too little, and it will feel like a deux ex machina.

1. Stories must be between 2,000 and 8,000 words. Most stories come in at around 3,000 to 6,000 words. No more than two stories can be submitted by any author, although submissions can be replaced by later stories.
2. Stories must be emailed as pre-Vista word doc attachments (‘.doc’) or rich text files (‘.rtf’) and NOT vista or Windows 7 word docs (‘.docx’). These stories should be emailed to two addresses: and, with a short cover note. This cover note should be in the body of the email (i.e., not an attachment) and should contain: (i) your full contact details; (ii) a brief outline of previous publications; (iii) relevant mention of any writer or story that the submission piece might be in the style of, owe something to, or be inspired by; (iv) an entry code (if you’ve not entered before) (see points 5 to 7 below).
3. A hard copy of the story (double spaced, printed on one side of A4) should also be sent to: Jim Hinks, 34 Wellington Grove, Stockport SK2 6SL
Hard copies will not be returned.
4. Your full postal and email address must appear on the manuscript itself.
5. Writers who have previously submitted to past Comma projects (Bracket, Parenthesis or Brace) qualify to submit for this new project FREE OF CHARGE.
6. Writers who have submitted stories before the 11 January 2011 have already qualified to enter FREE OF CHARGE.
7. Any writer submitting a new story AFTER 11 January 2011 must either pay an entry fee of £10 for up to two stories (made payable to ‘Comma Press’). Alternatively, you can enter a new story for FREE if you have previously purchased a Comma book. To claim this free entry, either quote the PayPal purchase order number in the cover note (this will be in the email that you received when you bought online), or, if you bought the book from a shop, tell us the name of the book and the THIRD PERSON mentioned in the special ‘thank you’ list at the back.
8. Deadline for submission is 1st July 2011.
9. The editor’s decision is final and they will not be obliged to enter into a discussion about each individual decision.
10. The editors retain the right to delay publication or postpone the deadline until enough stories of sufficiently high quality have been found.

Comma Press
314 Chorlton Mill, 3 Cambridge Street, Manchester M1 5BZ

Sleuthing Across Southeast Asia

Lawyer-turned-author SHAMINI FLINT, creator of Inspector Singh, talks to NICK WALKER about the books that are putting the Asian region on the crime fiction map

THE BOOKSTORES and bestseller lists have long been packed with world-weary Caucasian detectives who wrestle with mysterious homicides as well as with their own depressing family issues—flinty-eyed cops like Peter James’ Roy Grace, Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, to mention just three globally megaselling protagonists.

Inspector Singh of the Singapore Police Force is an altogether more exotic loner. And yet he’s reassuringly familiar. This Sikh crime-buster is flawed, stubborn, and ultimately always nails the bad guys, though often at a price to his mixed reputation with his superiors. To use the patois of Southeast Asia: same same, but different. In any event, he’s a welcome addition to the crime-fiction genre for reasons of diversity.

Like the more formulaic creations, Singh’s a sympathetic maverick. And as with many of his ilk, he has problems with self-control. But in a neat narrative twist, his wife provides an entertaining foil to the gentle turbaned giant. And so it’s hard not to warm to the scruffy, paunchy and profusely sweaty cop.

Addicted to curry—especially when cooked by the headstrong Mrs Singh—he also has a fondness for beer and cigarettes that runs counter to his Sikh faith. But the inspector lives by his own rules. And is driven by a powerful thirst for justice. He’s also shrewder than his dishevelled appearance might suggest, as many of the perps in the books learn to their cost.

How did this remarkably original fellow who crisscrosses Asia in pursuit of nefarious individuals originally come about? His creator, Malaysian lawyer-turned-author Shamini Flint, explains. “Inspector Singh is a composite character, as all characters are, but he does borrow strongly from family members. That old-fashioned conservatism comes from my extended family. And from my background as a lawyer he got his moral compass. I’ve known people in the legal profession hell-bent on pursing justice, and who don’t count the cost when a principle has to be upheld. They form the backbone of the inspector. And part of him is me too; recently I realised that his slightly ‘dipsy’ tone is actually me. So it gradually transpired that me and the ‘fat man’ have quite a lot in common,” the slender author says.

Three well-received instalments of the Inspector Singh series have already been published, and, unusually for this genre, the detective’s house-proud wife is a major supporting character as well as a supportive one. Could this be her own mother who hails from India’s Kerala state? “She is my mother! Oh my God—oh dear!—I’m so glad she didn’t hear that! It’s actually not my mother to be fair, although there are definitely elements of her in Mrs Singh. My mother’s actually quite a rebel, a point she made by marrying so far out of her Kerala community (to a Tamil man from Sri Lanka). Mrs Singh is also all my aunts. My father has four sisters, and she’s all of them. They’re wonderful, they have so much pride in their people and their bloodlines and their children and the education of those children and their homes. And at the end of the day, all very kind-hearted.”

Today residing in Singapore, with two young children and her husband, one of many English expats who works in Singapore’s financial sector, the 40-year-old Flint is well qualified to depict the diverse casts and settings she presents in the Inspector Singh series. “I am Malaysian—born in Penang, and grew up in and studied in various parts of the country. I left only when the time came for me to go to university, when I went to the UK, so I think of myself as Malaysian. As for my parentage, I’m half-Sri Lankan Tamil and half-Indian from the west coast, The God of Small Things part of the state, Kerala.

Cross-cultural issues are keenly observed in the Inspector Singh books, in large part because of the author’s geographically disparate background. “It’s hard for people who are not from the subcontinent to understand, but my parents were as foreign to each other, and their families were as foreign to each other, as if one of them had gone off to marry an American or an Inuit. There’s been a lot of conflict in my cultural identity.

“My mother and father’s extended families came from such different ethnic groups that they never really took to each other. And so I’ve come to be comfortable with my uncomfortable identity. Compounding this, my father was a major in the Malaysian Air Force, so there again I was in a very small minority—the offspring of an Indian serviceman. Most of my father’s peers’ children were Malay.

“After he left the air force we moved to the city, where I was going to schools that were predominantly Chinese, again somewhat isolating. Looking back, I can see that one of the reasons I look at life fairly cynically and with a beady eye is because of this feeling of being an outsider most of my life. And now I’m a foreigner living in Singapore and married to an Englishman. I still haven’t found my home. As a Malaysian it’s hard to feel that Singapore is home.”

Because of the nature of her father’s work, Flint’s family moved around a lot within Malaysia, and spent “a few defining years in Kuantan, a town on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, a glorified fishing village, which actually features quite a lot in my children’s books.”

Flint was already an acclaimed and commercially successful writer of children’s books, often based on environmental themes, before she turned her hand to crime fiction three years ago.

As a writer of multiple genres, Flint is furiously disciplined, thanks, she reasons, to her previous occupation. “I don’t really think of myself as a writer, I think of myself as an ex-lawyer who happens to be writing, so what I try to bring to my writing is a professional day-to-day routine, like a lawyer or doctor, someone with a rigid full-time job. So I wake up, get the kids off to school, drag myself over to the computer with my coffee, deal with a few emails, and then I get down to it, and I don’t come back for air until a quick lunch, and then I carry on until the kids come back from school at about 2:30pm. Then I spend time with them till bedtime, and then, if I have the energy, I try and get a couple more hours done in the evening.

“The lawyer in me finds it much easier to edit an existing document than to create a new one, so I’d much rather overwrite and let some rubbish sneak in and then take it out, than to wait for the perfect sentence, or perfect idea to come—because I would not recognise it even if it happened that way.”

Aside from retaining the work habits of a legal eagle, Flint is still attached to the profession, as is revealed in her storylines, but which she is able to present as engaging and accessible to non-legal minds. “If Inspector Singh hadn’t taken off I would have gone back to law right now. I love the profession.”

Readers note that the Inspector Singh books have a cosy, old-school feel to them, and the source of this is the kind of books Flint herself enjoys. “I read a lot of crime novels, and my greatest fondness is for the more thoughtful, English-style whodunits. Books by Ruth Rendell, Peter Robinson, P.D. James and Ian Rankin, rather than trigger-happy, shoot-’em-up American-style crime, or heavily forensic-based crime. I’ve always enjoyed reading the more cerebral and structured whodunits that have lots of interaction between characters, and time for a little bit of humour and reflection.”

In an age when it seems crime writers try to outdo each other with ever-higher body-counts and increasingly graphic violence, Flint finds herself being pulled in the other direction. “I find many current crime writers today too dark. I don’t like crime for crime’s sake, I don’t like violence against women for the sake of it, I haven’t had a woman murdered yet [in the Inspector Singh books]—I struggle to go there— although I have had a women murderer.”

With an ever-so-slightly challenging tone, she adds: “I don’t mind women taking matters into their own hands and killing people, I just don’t like them being subjected to gratuitous violence!”

Then she adopts a more philosophical voice. “I don’t want to write bleak books about unpleasant people doing unpleasant things while an unpleasant cop chases after them—I like to think there’s a redemptive quality in humanity, and I want that captured in my books. So the Inspector Singh novels are about bad people doing good things and good people doing bad things, rather than about pure nastiness, like a lot of contemporary crime.”

The next minute her inner writer-for-youngsters speaks. “I have small children, and also a lot of my children’s books deal with improving matters in the world, so I wouldn’t be comfortable—I mean my girl is eight and in a few years she might be reading my adult books, so I’m kind of mindful of that.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not painting the world blacker than it already is.”

Flint’s warm and old-school storytelling has a burgeoning following. A large number of translation rights have now been sold for the Inspector Singh franchise, including, most recently, Serbian and Polish.

Almost three years after it was first published, the first Inspector Singh book—Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder—has come out in the United States, and book two—Inspector Singh Investigates: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul—is coming out there in 2011. “Getting Inspector Singh into the US this year was a big breakthrough,” Flint says, large brown eyes shining as if she can’t believe this has actually come about.

The franchise is selling particularly well in India and Australia, and, as Flint puts it, “other natural Commonwealth markets for English-language books.”

As for Singh’s own thoughts on why she’s succeeded so well with Inspector Singh: “I think what Singh has, which is unusual is the contemporary setting. So much fiction set in Asia is from way back when, you know, colonial, the Raj, the Second World War, the Japanese Occupation, the 1970s. But ordinary people live in the present. Readers can connect with this time more than with any other.”

The next Inspector Singh mystery is set in Cambodia and will hit bookstores in April 2011. Flint is currently toiling on her most ambitious Singh novel yet. “I’m struggling with ‘Singh India’—79,500 words thus far and no ending in sight. If I do finish it—and sometimes I do have my doubts—it will be way over the traditional Inspector Singh word count. I’m going to have to edit it down soon, come what may.”

The Inspector Singh story is even more remarkable than one might assume. Book Three in the series—Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy—was self-published before being picked up by British literary giant Little, Brown, who asked her, in 2007, to rework it substantially as the third book in the series and get started on the debut Inspector Singh novel.

With a mischievous smile, she says: “I can’t wait till I write a crime novel that’s really rubbish and get away with it, because that means I’ve truly made it.” Words said half-in-jest by the writer who has delivered the first world-famous fictional sleuth from Southeast Asia, a man of subcontinental colour and a deceptively shambolic demeanour.

NICK WALKER is the author of Living Landscapes, Vistas of the Dragon and Sand & Light: Elements of Islamic Architecture. He lives in Singapore.

Reproduced from the April-June 2011 issue of Quill magazine

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Hampstead Novel ... and Its Discontents

TOM SYKES takes a look at the Hampstead novel

WHILE LIVING IN MANILA, I befriended a young academic at the University of the Philippines who loved the Hampstead novel. In an ironic inversion of orientalism, he found it exotic to read about a privileged class of people living in a cold Northern country very different to his own. I told him I didn’t like the genre myself and that I’d rather read books by writers from his continent.

The Western literary establishment would seem to agree with me: over the past 30 years, a large number of prizes, publishing contracts and teaching posts have been awarded to Asians or Asian diasporas (Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami, Amy Tan, Bharati Mukherjee, etc.). My academic friend scowled at me. “Slums, palm trees, earthquakes, famines? I don’t want to read about that stuff!” We both laughed.

So what precisely is the Hampstead novel? Although many examples of the genre are set in this plush north London suburb, many aren’t. It might be more useful then to look at the Hampstead novel as less a geo-literary definition in the sense of “Irish drama” or “Malaysian poetry” than as a more generalised movement that emerged in the 1950s to explore English bourgeois preoccupations in a realist, seriocomic style.

These were stories of a Cambridge ingénue who falls pregnant by clip-voiced BBC newsreaders, a working-class lecturer who tries to climb the academic ladder by wooing an heiress, and a musically-talented young woman who becomes the mistress of a tycoon. They spoke to a homogenous, white, middle-class, conservative readership in an era before multiculturalism, feminism and the permissive society. Early classics include Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (1954), Margaret Drabble’s The Millstone (1965) and Margaret Forster’s Georgy Girl (1965). More recently, authors ranging from Ian McEwan to Fay Weldon and Melvyn Bragg to Zoë Heller have been tarred with the Hampstead brush.

Some critics claim that the Hampstead novel died in the 1980s when British society had changed radically and the non-white authors mentioned above were bursting onto the scene. Others—particularly speculative and postmodernist writers—have argued that the Hampstead novel has not only survived but manoeuvred itself into a hegemonic position that snobbishly tries to rise above all genres. Iain Banks, whose career can be divided down the middle between dark imaginative thrillers set in contemporary Britain and political space operas, castigates the Hampstead novel for believing that “We’re top dog, we’re not a genre, we’re the main thing”. Others may call this genre ‘the mainstream’ or ‘English literary fiction’.

There is a strong regional flavour to much of Banks’s work—he even published Raw Spirit, a non-fiction account of his tour of the whiskey distilleries of Scotland—which is at odds with the metropolitan parochialism of the Hampstead novel. Instead of Oxbridge graduates, hot-air balloonists and forgetful aristocrats, Banks brings us a Gonzo journalist pursuing a moralistic serial killer around Edinburgh, a Luddite cult in the wilds of Stirlingshire and a sadistic teenager trapped on a remote Scottish island. Far from the restrained domestic drama of, say, Joanna Trollope, Banks’s novels tend to open like this: “It was the day my grandmother exploded” (The Crow Road, 1992).

A similar audacity animates the fiction of Will Self, much of which takes place in north London, although this is a surreal ‘Twilight Zone’ north London where the familiar and the dreary co-exist with the surreal and the macabre. The Book of Dave (2006) concerns a London taxi driver who records his bigoted views on modern life in a book which later becomes the holy bible of a future civilisation. In How the Dead Live (2000), the afterlife is revealed to be a lacklustre neighbourhood in Dalston. Great Apes (1997) re-imagines polite, artsy-fartsy London invaded by chimpanzees who have reversed social roles with human beings.

These works indirectly satirise the Hampstead novel, deconstructing its assumptions and conventions with a savagely black humour. Self’s demotic interest in the drugs, violence and language of the street counterpoints the class-centrism of much “Bookerfare”—his narrative spaces tend to look more like sordid back alleys than leafy avenues.

Self also draws on a number of left-field ideas—from French critical theory to the radical psychiatry of Thomas Szasz—to upset the social and psychological stability of the Hampstead novel which tends to treat its reader in a reassuring, welcoming way, summed up by Alan Bennett in The History Boys (2004) thus: “The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.” In stark contrast, there is a strong aspect of estrangement to Self’s oeuvre: “I don’t write fiction for people to identify with and I don’t write a picture of the world they can recognise. I write to astonish people.”

Advocates of the Hampstead novel argue that its quotidian settings and narrative linearity necessarily offer a more “realistic” representation of the world than the writings of Self, Banks and others. But is that really true? Verisimilitude doesn’t depend on the literary mode you choose to work in. For example, we can all think of science fiction novels set in invented worlds (1984, Brave New World) that are nonetheless incisive allegories of real-world politics and morality. Conversely, there are plenty of naturalist novels located in present-day Britain or Malaysia that are highly escapist or naive. As China Mieville, author of Perdido Street Station, asserts, “Hampstead novels [are] about the internal bickerings of middle-class families who seem hermetically sealed off from wider social conflicts. Just because those books pretend to be about ‘the real world’ doesn’t mean they reverberate in it with more integrity.”

So, however you want to define the Hampstead novel, whether you’re a fan of it or not, there’s no denying its influence on modern British letters. This genre of “middle-class orgasms, delicatessen food and high thought”, as the critic John Sutherland describes it, has and may always have its disciples and its discontents.

Reproduced from the April-June 2011 issue of Quill magazine

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Problems with Passion

While writing a romance novel, ELLEN WHYTE discovers that describing intimacy isn’t as easy as she thought

IT’S A NO-BRAINER that romance stories revolve around passion. Once you’ve settled on a plot that involves mutual-attraction-must-overcome-obstacle, unrequitted-passion-gets-a-break, or hate-at-first-sight-turns-to-love, you have to decide on how you’re going to handle the canoodling.

When I started writing Blackmail Bride, I wasn’t sure if I should do the Jane Austen thing and keep the hot stuff confined to a few bold looks and some awkward yet terribly significant silences, or whether I should emulate Jackie Collins and let it all hang out in graphic detail.

I was open to either option. Being of a practical turn of mind, I decided to go for what was more popular. I conducted my own beer poll by asking a few dozen friends which they preferred. Much to my surprise those who said they are not regular romance readers confided that they skip sex scenes. Those who are self-confessed romance addicts told me that details are a must. However, the caveat was that the scenes must be part of the story, in character, and tasteful.

Clearly there was no choice here: I wanted Blackmail Bride to appeal to romance fans, which meant I’d have to get down and dirty. In a classy way, of course.

As I had my story all mapped out, I thought adding in some sexy stuff wouldn’t be too difficult. I settled down to write and in the middle of the second chapter, on page 23 to be exact, landed my heroine Lucy in bed with Jack, the hero. Getting her there was a piece of cake, but once she was in the right position (pardon the pun), the scene froze.

To my horror my writing fell completely to pieces.

The first effort came out like a scene from Pamela, Samuel Richardson’s 18th-century heroine who finds herself totally helpless after her wicked noble boss takes away her shoes. After falling about laughing at the absurdity of it, I rewrote the scene and ended up with something that read like second section of the Kama Sutra, the bit that describes 64 types of sexual acts in an “insert slot A into tab B” style.

As Lucy and Jack were clearly having a problem, I decided it was research time. I picked out a dozen of my favourite romances, and leafed through them all. I then had to put them all back on the shelf because my taste runs to Austen, Daphne du Maurier, William Makepeace Thackeray and other classic writers. While they were masters at hinting about bedroom antics, severe censorship laws forbade them to go any further than the odd mention of a heaving bosom or a flushed look.

My romance-loving pals gave me a list of the authors they think handle sex well, and with that in hand I took myself off to a second-hand book fair, and treated myself to a massive haul of contemporary romance tales. And my, oh my, what a mixed bag it was!

On the principle that mass sales must offer a wealth of knowledge and information, I started with an armful of Mills & Boon novels. I was lucky that my first read was a jolly tale from Australia that had plenty of zip and a fun heroine. The second and the third stories were a huge disappointment. They lacked plot, characterisation, and even decent writing. How on earth that rubbish ever got published is beyond me. To my relief, the other half a dozen stories were competently written.

I then read a smorgasbord of stories from various publishers ranging from contemporary to paranormal, and from historical to erotic. Some of the tales were excellent, some were instantly forgettable, and others were absolutely awful. However, as quality wasn’t the issue at hand, I skipped lightly through the plots and concentrated on the ‘dirty’ bits.

My study was certainly an eye-opener. At one end of the scale were the authors who got stuck in exactly the same way I had but hadn’t bothered to try and overcome it. At the other were those who had a wonderful talent for smut.

It took me a while to realise that the middle ground was somewhat familiar. After some time I realised that style of passion emulated the classic tale by D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I have never liked Lawrence very much, but having revisited him, there’s no denying that he was an absolute whiz at passion! Take the first time in chapter six when the lady of the house accidentally comes across the gamekeeper having a wash: “He was naked to the hips, his velveteen breeches slipping down over his slender loins. And his white slim back was curved over a big bowl of soapy water, in which he ducked his head, shaking his head with a queer, quick little motion, lifting his slender white arms, and pressing the soapy water from his ears, quick, subtle as a weasel playing with water, and utterly alone.”

Deciding that this hot stuff was the goods, I had a good read about the affairs of the lady and her servant, and then sat down to get Lucy out of her frozen state and into Jack’s arms where she belonged. How well I succeeded is for you to tell me. What I can say is that learning to write rumpty-tumpty scenes has been terrific fun. On the next rainy afternoon when you’re bored, have a go at penning such scenes. I’m telling you, it’s an eye-opener of a learning curve.

Ellen Whyte’s Blackmail Bride is available at Ellen used her mother’s name “Normanda Whyte” because it sounds more romantic for a romance novel.

Reproduced from the April-June issue of Quill magazine

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

June 2011 Highlights

1. Last Man in Tower (Atlantic, 2011) / Aravind Adiga
2. Untold Story (Scribner, 2011) / Monica Ali
3. The Twisted Thread (Voice/Hyperion, 2011) / Charlotte Bacon
4. The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress (Little, Brown, 2011) / Beryl Bainbridge
5. My American Unhappiness (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) / Dean Bakopoulos
6. The Storm at the Door (Random House, 2011) / Stefan Merrill Block
7. A Summer of Drowning (Jonathan Cape, 2011) / John Burnside
8. Daisy Buchanan’s Daughter (Paycock Press, 2011) / Tom Carson
9. The Astral (Doubleday, 2011) / Kate Christensen
10. To the Island (Granta Books, 2011) / Meaghan Delahunt

11. The Absent Sea (trans. from the Spanish by Leland H. Chambers) (McPherson & Company, 2011) / Carlos Franz
12. Blue Monday (Michael Joseph, 2011) / Nicci French
13. River of Smoke (John Murray, 2011) / Amitav Ghosh
14. Chosen (Tindal Street Press, 2011) / Lesley Glaister
15. A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion (Scribner, 2011) / Ron Hansen
16. An Evil Eye (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Jason Goodwin
17. The Stranger’s Child (Picador, 2011) / Alan Hollinghurst
18. Dead Man’s Grip (Macmillan, 2011) / Peter James
19. Everything I Found On the Beach (Parthian Books, 2011) / Cynan Jones
20. The Sick Rose (Hodder & Stoughton, 2011) / Erin Kelly

21. The Possessions of Doctor Forrest (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Richard T. Kelly
22. The Life (Allen & Unwin, 2011) / Michael Knox
23. The Ridge (Little, Brown, 2011) / Michael Koryta
24. The Hidden Child [trans. from the Swedish, Tyskungen (2007), by Tiina Nunnally] (Harper/HarperCollins, 2011) / Camilla Läckberg
25. Afterwards (Piatkus Books, 2011) / Rosamund Lupton
26. Break the Skin (Crown, 2011) / Lee Martin
27. The Girl in the Blue Beret (Random House, 2011) / Bobby Ann Mason
28. To Be Sung Underwater (Little, Brown, 2011) / Tom McNeal
29. Pure (Sceptre, 2011) / Andrew Miller
30. Then (Jonathan Cape, 2011) / Julie Myerson

31. It Had to Be You (Harper, 2011) / David Nobbs
32. Mr Fox (Picador, 2011) / Helen Oyeyemi
33. Foreign Bodies (Atlantic Books, 2011) / Cynthia Ozick
34. State of Wonder (Harper/HarperCollins, 2011) / Ann Patchett
35. The Summer of the Bear (Atlantic Monthly/Grove/Atlantic, 2011) / Bella Pollen
36. Waterline (Viking, 2011) / Ross Raisin
37. Tigerlily’s Orchids (Scribner/Simon & Schuster, 2011) / Ruth Rendell
38. The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes (Dutton Adult, 2011) / Marcus Sakey
39. There But For The (Hamish Hamilton, 2011) / Ali Smith
40. The Book Lover’s Tale (Doubleday, 2011) / Ivo Stourton

41. Maine (Knopf Doubleday, 2011) / J. Courtney Sullivan
42. Wish You Were Here (Picador, 2011) / Graham Swift
43. Derby Day (Chatto & Windus, 2011) / D.J. Taylor
44. The Warsaw Anagrams (Overlook, 2011) / Richard Zimler

First Novels
1. The Upright Piano Player (Nan A. Talese, 2011) / David Abbott
2. Leela’s Book (Harvill Secker, 2011) / Alice Albinia
3. Daughters of the Revolution (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) / Carolyn Cooke
4. Half Blood Blues (Serpent’s Tail, 2011) / Esi Edugyan
5. The American Heiress (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) / Daisy Goodwin
6. Alice Bliss (Penguin USA, 2011) / Laura Harrington
7. Ten Thousand Saints (Ecco Press/HarperCollins Publishers, 2011) / Eleanor Henderson
8. Chinaman (Jonathan Cape, 2011) / Shehan Karunatilaka
9. Sister (Crown Publishing, 2011) / Rosamund Lupton
10. Partitions (Metropolitan/Henry Holt, 2011) / Amit Majmudar

11. The Last Hundred Days (Seren, 2011) / Patrick McGuinness
12. A Book for All and None (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011) / Clare Morgan
13. Bright’s Passage (Random House, 2011) / Josh Ritter
14. Conscience (Penguin USA, 2011) / Louisa Thomas
15. Before I Go to Sleep (Harper, 2011) / S.J. Watson
16. Bed (Canongate Books, 2011) / David Whitehouse
17. Down from Cascom Mountain (Bloomsbury, 2011) / Ann Joslin Williams
18. The Beginners (Riverhead, 2011) / Rebecca Wolff

1. The Meagre Tarmac (Biblioasis, 2011) / Clark Blaise
2. A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: The Collected Stories (Penguin Classics, 2011) / Margaret Drabble
3. This Is Not Your City (Sarabande Books, 2011) / Caitlin Horrocks
4. East of the West: A Country in Stories (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011) / Miroslav Penkov
5. American Masculine (Graywolf, 2011) / Shann Ray
6. Ladies and Gentleman (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) / Adam Ross
7. Naked Summer (Press 53, 2011) / Andrew Scott

1. Here and Now (W.W. Norton, 2011) / Stephen Dunn
2. The Last Usable Hour (Copper Canyon Press, 2011) / Deborah Landau
3. Heaven and Earth (Story Line Press, 2011) / Amit Majmudar
4. Southern Barbarians (Giramondo Publishing, 2011) / John Mateer
5. Farmers Cross (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Bernard O’Donoghue

1. The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights (Verso Books, 2011) / Robin Blackburn
2. Dogfish Memory: A Memoir (Countryman Press, 2011) / Joseph A. Dane
3. The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India (Viking, 2011) / Siddhartha Deb
4. India: A Portrait (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) / Patrick French
5. Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) / John Gimlette
6. Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1954-2008 (W.W. Norton, 2011) / Nadine Gordimer
7. Thoughts Without Cigarettes: A Memoir (Penguin USA, 2011) / Oscar Hijuelos
8. A Pilgrim in Spain (Continuum, 2011) / Christopher Howse
9. Rome (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011) / Robert Hughes
10. Love: A Secret History (Yale University Press, 2011) / Simon May

11. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Versoo, 2011) / Owen Jones
12. Color Me English: Migration and Belonging Before and After 9/11 (New Press, 2011) / Caryl Phillips
13. Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America (W.W. Norton, 2011) / David S. Reynolds
14. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading (Harper, 2011) / Nina Sankovitch
15. Machiavelli: A Biography (Simon & Schuster, 2011) / Miles J. Unger
16. Dante in Love (Atlantic Books, 2011) / A.N. Wilson
17. Second Reading: Notable and Neglected Books Revisited (Europa Editions, 2011) / Jonathan Yardley
18. The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness (Allen Lane, 2011) / Lila Azam Zanganeh