December 2011: Book Reviews

China

On China by Henry Kissinger.

Allen Lane, ISBN 978-1846143465, £30

For more than 20 years after the Communist Revolution in 1949, China and most of the western world had no diplomats in each others’ capitals and no direct way to communicate. Then, in July 1971, Henry Kissinger arrived secretly in Beijing on a mission which quickly led to the reopening of relations between China and the West and changed the course of post-war history. For the past 40 years, Kissinger has maintained close relations with successive generations of Chinese leaders, and has probably been more intimately connected with China at the highest level than any other western figure. This book distils his unique experience and long study of the ‘Middle Kingdom’, examining China’s history from the classical era to the present day, and explaining why it has taken the extraordinary course that it has.

 

The book concentrates on the decades since 1949, presenting brilliantly drawn portraits of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and other Chinese leaders, and reproducing verbatim Kissinger’s conversations with each of them. But Kissinger’s eye rarely leaves the long continuum of Chinese history: he describes the essence of China’s approach to diplomacy, strategy and negotiation, and the remarkable ways in which Communist-era statesmen have drawn on methods honed over millennia. At the end of the book, Kissinger reflects on these attitudes for our own era of economic interdependence and an uncertain future. On China is written with authority, accessibility and with many wider reflections on statecraft and diplomacy distilled from years of experience. At a moment when the rest of the world is thinking about China more than ever before, this timely book offers insights that no other can.

 

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra Vogel

Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0674055445, £29.95

Perhaps no one in the 20th century had a greater long-term impact on world history than Deng Xiaoping. And no scholar of contemporary East Asian history and culture is better qualified than Ezra Vogel to disentangle the many contradictions embodied in the life and legacy of China’s boldest strategist. Once described by Mao Zedong as a ‘needle inside a ball of cotton,’ Deng was the pragmatic yet disciplined driving force behind China’s radical transformation in the late 20th century.  He confronted the damage wrought by the Cultural Revolution, dissolved Mao’s cult of personality, and loosened the economic and social policies that had stunted China’s growth. Obsessed with modernisation and technology, Deng opened trade relations with the West that lifted hundreds of millions of his countrymen out of poverty. Yet at the same time he answered to his authoritarian roots, most notably when he ordered the crackdown in June 1989 at Tiananmen Square. Deng’s youthful commitment to the Communist Party was cemented in Paris in the early 1920s, among a group of Chinese student-workers that also included Zhou Enlai. Deng returned home in 1927 to join the Chinese Revolution on the ground floor. In the 50 years of his tumultuous rise to power, he endured accusations, purges, and even exile before becoming China’s preeminent leader from 1978 to 1989 and again in 1992. When he reached the top, Deng saw an opportunity to creatively destroy much of the economic system he had helped build for five decades as a loyal follower of Mao – and he did not hesitate.

 

National Museum of China by Lu Zhangshen

Scala, ISBN 978-1857596540, £39.95

The reopening of the National Museum of China on the east side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing last October was by far and away the most significant event in the museum world in 2011. The interior of the original building, one of 10 famous architectural landmarks built in 1959 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Revolution, has been completely redesigned. The famous facade has been retained. The new museum will combine the original national collection of the Museum of Chinese History with that of the Museum of the Chinese Revolution. It therefore tells the entire history of Chinese civilisation, from Yuanmou man (1,700,000 years old) through the overthrow of the last dynasty in 1911 to the Revolution of 1949 and then the founding of the People’s Republic. The collection of historical objects is of the highest and most comprehensive nature – giving a complete history of Chinese art and culture. The modern collection comprises a fascinating selection of objects, documents charts, models and paintings to illustrate the rise of modern China.

 

Chinese Ceramics: From the Paleolithic Period to the Qing Dynasty

Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300112788, £60

This catalogue is a comprehensive historical review of Chinese ceramics covering newly excavated discoveries from the Paleolithic era thousands of years ago to the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911. Throughout China’s history there has been an ongoing practice of invention and innovation in the forms, materials, decorations, and functions of ceramics made in China, both for the domestic market and for its ever-growing trade with foreign markets. The creation of ceramic ware holds a special and very important place among the many arts and inventions that characterise Chinese culture, society, and civilisation. The product of a 10-year collaboration among eminent American, Chinese, and Japanese scholars, the volume offers a new perspective in interpreting the oldest and one of the most admired Chinese art forms, from its technological aspects to its aesthetic value. The volume includes a chapter on Chinese export ceramics that delves into Chinese trade activities and ceramic wares made for export as well as a chapter about the authenticity of Chinese ceramics, discussing issues related to connoisseurship of this Chinese art. As author He Li writes, ‘Despite the rich variety of Chinese ceramics around the world, no fully illustrated, photographed survey of a complete history has been attempted in English’.

 

The RA Collection of Chinese Ceramics: A Collector’s Vision by Maria Antonia Pinto de Matos

Jorge Welsh Books, ISBN 9780955743238 (Eng), £900. In three volumes; Portuguese and English editions

The most important new reference book on Chinese export porcelain to have been published for many years reveals for the first time comprehensive details of what is probably the world’s best private collection of pieces intended primarily for the European market. The RA Collection has been assembled over the past 30 years by a collector who has combined a passion for Chinese export porcelain with an insistence on quality, beauty, rarity and historical relevance. The result is a collection of rare works including 52 which are the only ones of their type yet recorded, 49 of which only one or two other examples are known and far more of the earliest pieces exported to Portugal during the 16th and early 17th centuries than can be found in any museum. There are more than 900 illustrations and the 1200 pages include, amongst others, specialist chapters on earthenware, stoneware, porcelain of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, works with Western shapes and decoration and armorial Chinese export porcelain.

 

Chinese Export Ceramics by Rose Kerr, Louise E Mengoni and Ming Wilson

V&A Publishing, ISBN 978-1851776320, £30

This new book tells the story of Chinese ceramics exported to Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia from the 14th to the 19th century. The book has been created to accompany the collections held by the V&A in their recently opened Ceramics Galleries. There are over 200 pieces illustrated in the book to show the extraordinary range of styles and decorative motifs that appear on Chinese export porcelain.

 

Provenance by Roy Davids and Dominic Jellinek Roy Davids, 

ISBN 978-0957014800, £200

This 500-page double-column book is a major and timely new resource for the provenance of Chinese ceramics in Britain and America. It contains 1,064 biographies of collectors, dealers and scholars from Queen Mary II (1662-1694), many up to two pages long, few without more than half a dozen lines. It also has a 40-page introduction which is the fullest account to date tracing ceramic contacts in context between China and Britain and America from the 16th to the 21st century, with sections on fakes, the psychology of collecting, a long dissertation on Export  v. Domestic wares, and facts about China essential to an understanding of Chinese ceramics. At the end of the book there are a number of appendices, including collectors’ labels, details of auction sales with pieces from the Summer Palace and a list of sales in America 1869-1942.

 

Symbols on Chinese Porcelain: 10,000 Times Happiness by Eva Strober

Arnoldsche, ISBN 978-3897903500, £49.50

This book explores the meaning of the hidden and symbolic language of auspicious signs. By ‘reading’ the meaning of the design, a process of interaction takes place between the viewer and the object, a most important element of appreciation of art in traditional China. This book presents about 80 pieces of Chinese porcelain (12th-18th centuries) from the Keramiekmuseum Princessehof, the National Ceramic Museum of the Netherlands and the Ottema-Kingma Foundation. It will be the first time that a collection of Chinese ceramics is interpreted by explaining the ‘hidden’ auspicious meaning of their decorations. This is destined to become a reference work for years to come, introducing the most important and interesting pieces from the Princessehof collection and at the same time serving as a handbook for Chinese symbolism and iconography.

 

Ancestral Realms of the Naxi: Quentin Roosevelt’s China edited by Christine Mathieu and Cindy Ho

Arnoldsche, ISBN 9783897903432, £35

The Naxi people is an ethnic minority native to southwest China, whose culture in the 20th century has become almost extinct. At the intersection of the advanced Tibetan civilisation in the West and the Chinese in the East, the Naxi developed not only their own language, but also their own pictographic script, a rich mythology and their own religion complete with diverse rituals. Their religion, which preserves their faith in preternatural deities and their dominion, contains elements from Lamaism, Buddhism and Taoism. The most individual cultural achievement of the Naxi is their unique pictographic writing, which is used exclusively for religious worship. The knowledge and practice of this writing belongs to the Dongba, a kind of priest, and also doctors with magical powers, scholars, artisans and artists. Their scroll paintings, instruments and other ceremonial objects show a close connection with artworks from Tibet, India and China. This book offers a comprehensive introduction to the unique art, culture and religion of the Naxi through outstanding artefacts collected on his travels in 1939 by Quentin Roosevelt, the grandson of the American president Theodore Roosevelt: funeral scroll paintings of the Dongba, ceremonial banners and paintings (thangkas), painted ceremonial wooden slats symbolising gods and spirits (k’o byus), pictographic script, ceremonial objects such as musical instruments, crowns, swords and sceptres as well as a ceremonial altar. The book provides articles on the art of the Dongba, their calligraphy and language, and essays on Naxi history, culture and society as well as on the unique place and significance of Dongba art in Asia.

 

Manuscripts and Travellers by Van Schaik and Galambos De Gruyter

ISBN 978-3110225648, £99.50

This study is based on a Sino-Tibetan manuscript from the late 960s, carried by a Chinese pilgrim through the Hexi corridor on his way from Wutaishan to India. Included is a series of Tibetan letters of introduction that functioned as a passport as the monk stopped in monasteries on his way. The manuscript is a unique contemporary testimony of the large pilgrimage movement known from historical sources. It also provides evidence for the high degree of ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity in Western China during this period.

 

Mission to China: Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit Encounter with the East by Mary Laven

Faber and Faber, ISBN 978-0571225170, £17.99

In the 16th century, the vast and sophisticated empire of China lay almost entirely unknown to Western travellers. As global trade expanded, this land of reputedly boundless wealth, pale-faced women, and indecipherable tongues began to feed the fantasies of European merchants and adventurers. The Catholic Church, meanwhile, saw in this great people millions of souls who would be damned unless the Christian message could be brought to them. In this book, Mary Laven tells the extraordinary story of the first Jesuit mission to China. Confronting enormous challenges, the Italian priest Matteo Ricci and a tiny handful of learned companions gained permission from the notoriously xenophobic Wanli emperor to settle in the fabled Forbidden City. Living among eunuchs and mandarins, wearing the clothes of Confucian scholars, Ricci and his associates strove to master the language and culture of their hosts. At the same time, they energetically preached the virtues of Western art and science. In Mission to China, Mary Laven brings this remote world vividly to life.

 

The Power of the Reflected Image: Ancient Chinese Bronze Mirrors from the 6th  Century BC to the 10th Century AD by Marcello Pacini
ISBN 978889041612. In Italian and English. For more information, mp@marcellopacini.org

This is a catalogue of a personal collection of bronze mirrors from ancient China. Originally used as ritual implements in the various religions practised at the start of the Bronze Age, these objects have maintained their role as go-betweens between the world of the afterlife, or at least with the world of magic, for over a millennia. This catalogue aims to present and illustrate the development of these bronze mirrors and to highlight certain examples to explore their meanings, iconography and the general background and evolution of Chinese society.

 

Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants 2006-2009 by Ai Weiwei, translated by Lee Ambrozy

MIT, ISBN 978-0262015219, £17.95

In 2006, even though he could barely type, China’s most famous artist started blogging. For more than three years, Ai Weiwei turned out a steady stream of scathing social commentary, criticism of government policy, thoughts on art and architecture, and autobiographical writings. He wrote about the Sichuan earthquake (and posted a list of the schoolchildren who died because of the government’s ‘tofu-dregs engineering’), reminisced about Andy Warhol and the East Village art scene, described the irony of being investigated for fraud by the Ministry of Public Security, made a modest proposal for tax collection. Then, on 1 June, 2009, Chinese authorities shut down the blog. This book offers a collection of Ai’s notorious online writings translated into English – the most complete, public documentation of the original Chinese blog available in any language.

 

The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China by Julia Lovell

Picador, ISBN 978-0330457477, £20

In October 1839, a few months after the Chinese Imperial Commissioner, Lin Zexu, dispatched a confident note to his emperor, a cabinet meeting in Windsor voted to fight Britain’s first Opium War (1839-42) with China. The conflict turned out to be rich in tragicomedy: in bureaucratic fumblings, military missteps, political opportunism and collaboration. Yet over the past 170 years, this strange tale of misunderstanding, incompetence and compromise has become the founding myth of modern Chinese nationalism: the start of China’s heroic struggle against a Western conspiracy to destroy the country with opium and gunboat diplomacy.

 

Beginning with the dramas of the war itself, Julia Lovell explores its causes and consequences and, through this larger narrative, interweaves the curious stories of opium’s promoters and attackers. The Opium War is both the story of modern China – starting from this first conflict with the West – and an analysis of the country’s contemporary self-image. It explores how China’s national myths mould its interactions with the outside world, how public memory is spun to serve the present; and how delusion and prejudice have bedevilled its relationship with the modern West.

 

Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China by Jianying Zha
The New Press, ISBN 978595586209, £18.99

China is one of the world’s most rapidly changing cultural and economic landscapes which is being transformed from the inside by a new generation of savvy and inspired individuals. Zha collects nuanced and sharply etched profiles of these movers and shakers, capturing both the concrete detail and the epic dimension of life in the world’s fastest growing economy through a vivid cast of characters. Deeply engaging, lucid and poignant, Zha’s insightful insider-outsider portraits offer a view of China that few have seen outside of the country.

 

The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds: A Tale Of Espionage, The Silk Road And The Rise Of Modern China by Eric Enno Tamm. Perseus Oto, Counterpoint, IBSN 978-1582437347, £17.99

Tracing the unforgiving and ragged path travelled one century earlier by Baron Gustaf Mannerheim during his two-year, clandestine journey to investigate the last-gasp reforms of late Qing dynasty China, Eric Enno Tamm’s The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds is a sweeping journey through the patchwork quilt of cultures and contending histories that is the gray area between Central and East Asia. Having been charged by Czar Nicholas II to secretly enter China and divine the military potential of the Qing shortly after Russia’s unexpected and humiliating defeat at the hands of the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Mannerheim’s journey was one that began with an image of an inscrutable and vast China and one that ultimately ended with a comprehensive chronicle of everything, from education reform to foreign investment, that would shape China’s interactions with the world as well as its modernisation in the twilight
of the Qing dynasty.

 

The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire 1832-1914 by Robert Bickers Allen Lane

ISBN 978-0713997491, £30

In the early 19th-century China remained almost untouched by Britain and other European powers – ferocious laws forbade all trade with the West outside one tiny area of Canton. Anyone teaching a European to speak Chinese was executed. But as new technology began to unbalance the relationship, foreigners gathered like wolves around the weakening Qing Empire. Would the Chinese suffer the fate of much of the rest of the world, carved into pieces by the Europeans? Or could they adapt rapidly enough to maintain their independence? Humiliated by military disaster, racked by rebellions that cost millions of lives and ultimately invaded during the Boxer Rebellion by thousands of foreign soldiers, it looked as though the colonial Scramble for Africa was about to be followed by the Scramble for China.

 

This new book tells this epic story both from the European (mainly British) point of view and the Chinese. The degradation of China in this period is crucially important to understanding China today whose government and people are steeped in stories of this terrible time and never wish to appear weak again. The Scramble for China is both highly original and brilliantly written – it re-imagines these encounters between two equally arrogant and scornful civilisations, whether from the point of view of a Chinese governor or a British soldier.

 

Blooming in the Shadows: Unofficial Chinese Art 1974-1985 

China Institute, ISBN 9780977405473, US$30

In the last decade, contemporary Chinese art has taken the art world by storm through heralded museum exhibitions, well-read publications, and heavily attended art auctions. However, despite all this attention, few exhibitions have asked the question of how – against the background of 35 years of Socialist Realism – this internationally-oriented artwork appeared and why it captured the attention of the international art market. The work of three unofficial Chinese art groups who worked in this vein are introduced:  the Wuming (No Names), the Xingxing (Stars), and the Caocao (Grass Society) – all of which arose following the end of the Cultural Revolution and helped launch the avant-garde movement in China. These artists pursued creatively diverse paths to personal artistic freedom under the harsh political circumstances of the time. The catalogue also examine work produced by these three significant groups of young artists in the critical decade after the end of the Cultural Revolution leading up the Communist party’s 1985 decision to allow modern artistic practices.

 

Cloisonné: Chinese Enamels from the Ming and Qing Dynasties edited by Beatrice Quette

Yale University of Press, ISBN 978-0300167207, £50

The technique of applying brilliant enamel ornament to metalwork, known as cloisonné, reached its peak in China from the 14th century onwards. This well-illustrated survey, which accompanies an exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center, places these remarkable pieces in their context with a survey of the historical, political and sociological milieu in China during the period. Research recently undertaken in China and published here for the first time has resulted in the redating of a number of objects with significant implications for the overview of Chinese cloisonné production. Shapes, functions, pattern, and symbolism in cloisonné objects are all examined and explored. And the final section of the book reviews the impact of developments in China on later production in Europe, as well as the acquisition of cloisonné pieces by the major American museums and private collectors at the beginning of the 20th century.

 

China’s Holy Mountain by Christoph Baumer

IB Tauris, ISBN 978-1848857001, £25

Rising from Shanxi Province like a three-dimensional mandala, the soaring peaks of Wutai Shan (Five-terrace Mountain) have inspired pilgrims and travellers for almost two millennia. A striking terrain of towering emerald forests, wraith-like mists and crenellated ridges, this consecrated and secluded site is said to be the spiritual home of Wenshu Pusa, Bodhisattva of Wisdom. It is one of the most venerable and important Buddhist sanctuaries in China, yet still remains relatively little known in the West. Christoph Baumer has travelled extensively in the Wutai Shan region, and here offers the first comprehensive account of the cradle of Chinese Buddhism.

 

In his remarkable new travelogue, 300 luminous photographs capture the unique spirituality of the 60 monasteries which straddle the complex. Charting festivals, rituals, pilgrimages and the daily life of the monks, abbots and abbesses, China’s Holy Mountain is both a splendid introduction to the history of Buddhism in East Asia and an evocative and beautifully illustrated gazetteer of the monasteries and sacred artefacts themselves.

 

Multiple Impressions: Contemporary Chinese Woodblock Prints by Xiaobing Tang, Shang Hui and Anne Farrer

University of Michigan Press, ISBN 978-1930561144, £16.99

Multiple Impressions examines works by 40 leading printmakers from contemporary China, highlighting the extraordinary innovations, in both technique and conception, which have transformed this long-established art form in recent years. It includes works by such artists as Xu Bing, Kang Ning, Song Yuanwen, Chen Qi, He Kun, and Fang Limin, as well as many other accomplished printmakers. Essays by noted scholars place contemporary printmaking in its complex art historical and cultural contexts, discuss the relationship between printmaking and contemporary art, and interpret new work by the internationally prominent artist Xu Bing. The book explores three key themes in printmaking today: ‘Landscapes Old and New’  illustrates the variety of techniques and visual idioms contemporary printmakers draw on to create expressive and fantastic landscapes; ‘Fellow Citizens’ turns to the human figure; and ‘Layered Abstractions’  focuses on works that showcase the distinct visual effects and pictorial language that underscore the process of making a print.

 

Sheying: Shades of China 1850-1900 by Clark Worswick and Maria Santoyo

TurnerPhoto, ISBN 978-8475068046, £37.95

Photography was first introduced to the Chinese by a wave of foreign, mostly European, photographers who settled on the Chinese coast in the early 1860s. They – and their first Chinese successors – have left a limited yet extraordinary visual record of China on the eve of the tumultuous 20th-century. This book includes photographs by the pre-eminent European photographers of China: John Thomson, Milton Miller, and Antonio Beato. The exhibit also includes the work of some of the first Chinese photographers, including Hing Tung, Afong Lai, PunLun, and Sze Yuen Ming. The images are in the pictoralist style, but the subject matter varies, embracing everything from prisoners in cangues to opium smokers to actors in elaborate costumes, as well as landscapes and portraits of dignitaries.

 

Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art by Gao Minglu

MIT Press, ISBN 978-0262014946, £29.95

To the extent that Chinese contemporary art has become a global phenomenon, it is largely through the groundbreaking exhibitions curated by Gao Minglu: China/Avant-Garde (Beijing, 1989), Inside Out: New Chinese Art (Asia Society, New York, 1998), and The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 2005) among them. As the first Chinese writer to articulate a distinctively Chinese avant-gardism and modernity – one not defined by Western chronology or formalism – Gao Minglu is largely responsible for the visibility of Chinese art in the global art scene today. Contemporary Chinese artists tend to navigate between extremes, either embracing or rejecting a rich classical tradition. Indeed, for Chinese artists, the term ‘modernity’ refers not to a new epoch or aesthetic but to a new nation – modernity inextricably connects politics to art. It is this notion of ‘total modernity’ that forms the foundation of the Chinese avant-garde aesthetic, and of this book. Gao examines the many ways Chinese artists engaged with this intrinsic total modernity, including the ‘85 Movement, political pop, cynical realism, apartment art, maximalism, and the museum age, encompassing the emergence of local art museums and organisations as well as such major events as the Shanghai Biennial. He describes the inner logic of the Chinese context while locating the art within the framework of a worldwide avant-garde, and the Chinese avant-garde’s embrace of a modernity that unifies politics, aesthetics, and social life, blurring the boundaries between abstraction, conception, and representation.

 

JAPAN AND KOREA

 

Namban Commissions: The Portuguese in Modern Age Japan

This catalogue accompanied the exhibition in Lisbon to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Trade signed by Portugal and Japan. This important exhibition of furniture, textiles, arms and painting dating from the second half of the 16th century to 1640 drew objects from the museum’s holdings, as well as other museums and private collections. Namban works of art grew out of the contact between the local inhabitants and the first Europeans to reach Japan. Known as Namban-jin, or southern barbarians, the Portuguese who landed on the island of Tanegashima circa 1543 were, together with the Spanish and the Italians, the first foreigners to establish a presence on Japanese soil. The synergy of this contact can be seen in the objects made both for the Japanese domestic and Western market.

Published by Museo do Oriente,  Lisbon.  Portuguese and English versions available, for more information visit www.museudooriente.pt.

 

Dreams and Diversions: Essays on Japanese Woodblock Prints

San Diego Museum of Art, ISBN 978-0937108475, £35

With the advent of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, art became accessible to Japan’s burgeoning merchant classes. Though a uniquely Japanese art form, the prints reveal interests in celebrity, fashion, entertainment, and travel that have a universal human appeal, regardless of time or place. Dreams and Diversions celebrates Japanese woodblock prints with a collection of 10 original essays by an international team of scholars. They draw attention to the unique and longstanding relationship between the port city of San Diego, its collectors, and the nation of Japan. The essays not only advance the field of art history with new research and discussions of rare prints but also tell engaging stories for all readers interested in Japanese art and culture from the 17th to the early 20th centuries.

 

Korean Buncheong Ceramics by Soyoung Lee

Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300155167, £35

Bold, sophisticated, engaging, and startlingly modern, Buncheong ceramics emerged as a distinct Korean art form in the 15th and 16th centuries, only to be eclipsed on its native ground for more than 400 years by the overwhelming demand for porcelain. Elements from the Buncheong idiom were later revived in Japan, where its spare yet sensual aesthetic was much admired and where descendants of Korean potters lived and worked. This innovative study features 60 masterpieces from the renowned Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, as well as objects from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and presents current scholarship on Buncheong’s history, manufacture, use, and overall significance. ‘Modern Tradition’ illustrates why this historical art form continues to resonate with contemporary Japanese ceramicists and Korean artists as they reclaim an ancient national tradition.

 

Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity organised by Alexandra Munroe, with contributions by Tatehata Akira, Reiko Tomii, Mika Yoshitake, and Nancy Lim

Guggenheim Museum, ISBN 9780892074181, US$49.95

The first North American museum retrospective devoted to artist, philosopher, and poet Lee Ufan (b. 1936, Korea), Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity charts Lee’s creation of a visual, conceptual, and theoretical language that has radicalised and expanded the possibilities for sculpture and painting. Deeply versed in modern philosophy, Lee is an influential writer on aesthetics and contemporary art and is recognised as the key theorist of Mono-ha, an antiformalist, materials-based art movement that developed in Tokyo in the late 1960s.

Now having been active for more than 40 years in Korea, Japan, and Europe, Lee is internationally acclaimed for an innovative body of Post-Minimalist work that promotes process, materials and the experiential engagement of viewer and site. Lee emphasises the relational structure through which things reveal their existence, eschewing objective form for a spatial dynamic that induces us to encounter the bare existence of what is actually before us, to focus on what he calls ‘the world as it is’.

 

SOUTH AND WEST ASIA, HIMALAYAS

 

Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100-1900 by John Guy and Jorrit Britschqi

Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300175820, £30

Traditionally, Indian paintings have been classified according to regional styles or dynastic periods, with an emphasis on subject matter and narrative content. This fascinating publication counters the long-held view of the anonymity of Indian art, emphasising the combined tools of connoisseurship and inscription evidence to reveal the identities of individual artists and their oeuvres through an analysis of style. Enchanting colour illustrations highlight over 100 works spanning eight centuries. The introduction outlines the origins of early Indian painting in the first millennium, which set the scene for the development of the art of the book. The chapters that follow examine manuscript painting as it developed from palm leaf to paper; the Sultanate and North Indian Hindu tradition; the Mughal school under the patronage of emperors; Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan; the renaissance of the Hindu courts from 1650 to 1730; the later styles of the Punjab Hill and Rajasthani courts; Company School painting; and, the coming of photography. Each chapter features a summary of the period and biographical essays of specific artists followed by a selection of their works. The forty most eminent painters chosen are among the greatest in the history of Indian painting. Each could lay claim to the honorific bestowed by emperors on their favourite painters: Nadirai-i-zaman, ‘the wonder of the age’.

 

Mughal and Deccani Paintings: The Eva and Konrad Seitz Collection of Indian Miniatures by John Seyller, edited by Konrad Seitz

Museum Rietberg, ISBN 978-3907077481, £42

The collection of Konrad and Eva Seitz is one of the most important private collections of Indian paintings in Europe. Accompanying an exhibition at The Museum Rietberg, this catalogue of 60 works provides an excellent survey of Indian painting from 1575-1850 in two of the most important production areas of painting: at the court of the north Indian Mughal rulers and at the ateliers in the Deccan further south, an area of Indian painting which has hitherto received far less attention. The works present a wide variety of styles and themes and invite for close examination. The Mughals had a profound influence on the politics and culture of northern India for some 300 years, and this only ended in 1858 when the last Mughal emperor was sent into exile by the British colonial government. During this period the country was politically reunited for the first time since the early Indian kingdoms. When the Mughals first came to power in northern India, they brought with them a rich artistic tradition from their Persian roots. Emperor Akbar (r.1556-1605) established painting workshops at his court for which he recruited not only artists who were of Persian origin or Muslims but also Indian painters with their own traditions. Although the workshops were scaled down under Akbar’s successors Jahangir (r. 1605 1627) and Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658), the artistic skills of the painters and the Mughal style continued to develop and reached a point of exquisite perfection. The naturalistic style of the painting and the impressive portraits of nobles and rulers reflect not only the artists’ mastery of detailed observation but also their endeavour to create historical records for posterity. Apart from these secular, courtly themes, mythological and European motifs testify to the imperial splendour of the Mughal period and the artistic openness of the painters. The composition of the collection vividly illustrates the thematic diversity of Mughal painting from its beginnings to the end of this period. The exhibition also shows how painting flourished at the same time in the Deccan region further south, a subject to which little attention has been devoted until now. The principalities, which emerged from the Delhi sultanate, remained independent for a long time. In their own workshops, a very distinct style emerged which initially was very different from that of Mughal courts but later also integrated elements from Mughal painting. The paintings are characterised especially by their vivid colour palette and idealised representations. A lyrical evocation of atmosphere and emotion can be found in portraits of rulers and scenes from everyday life at court, and especially in the ragamalas, paintings that relate to Indian musical forms.

 

Sultans of the South: Arts of India’s Deccan Courts, 1323-1687

Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300175875, £35

Between the 14th and the 17th centuries, the Deccan plateau of south-central India was home to a series of important and highly cultured Muslim courts. Subtly blending elements from Iran, West Asia, southern India, and northern India, the arts produced under these sultanates are markedly different from those of the rest of India and especially from those produced under Mughal patronage. This publication, a result of a 2008 symposium held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, investigates the unique output of the Deccan in the fields of painting, literature, architecture, arms, textiles, and carpets. Special features of the book are the illustration of all 34 paintings from a 16th-century copy of the poem the Pem Nem, images of several paintings and textiles that have only recently been discovered or identified, and new photographs of the Ibrahim Rauza monument in Bijapur, with a full transcription and translation of the tomb’s inscriptions.

 

Sentiment and Self: Richard Blechynden’s Calcutta Diaries, 1791-1822

OUP India, ISBN 978-0198075110, £30

Richard Blechynden was a surveyor, architect, and builder in early colonial Bengal. This volume, and its companion, use 80 volumes of his diaries and other archival material along with anecdotes, extracts, and stories to recreate histories of everyday life. While Sentiment and Self explores issues like interactions between Europeans and Indians, race and tolerance, this volume focuses on the position of women, especially concubines, or bibis, and their sexual and emotional relationships; the social milieu of the early empire; dynamics of household; contexts for cross-cultural contact and misunderstanding; the complexities of class, culture, and race; and the overlapping public and private life. It examines the domestic life, personal sensibilities, and private and public persona of the main diarist, Richard Blechynden.

 

India: A Portrait by Patrick French

Allen Lane, ISBN 978184614214, £25

One of this century’s greatest surprises has been the economic and social revolution in India. A country long characterised by such adjectives as ‘timeless’, ‘spiritual’ and ‘backward’ is now viewed through a new set of clichés: ‘hi-tech’, ‘materialistic’, ‘go-getting’. But what is the real nature of this rapid change, and what are its roots?

Examining the cultural foundations that made India’s accelerated transformation from socialist economy to capitalist powerhouse possible, French creates a vivid, surprising picture of what it is like to live at a time when millions have pulled themselves free of poverty – with fortunes made almost overnight
– but where violence, corruption and caste prejudice have equally been given new outlets. He delves into Indian society and politics, including the personal story of one of the most powerful women in the world, Sonia Gandhi. And he travels the country’s regions to show how Nehru’s vision of a democratic, secular India has continued to attempt – in the face of conflict and setbacks – to hold this vast, implacably diverse nation together. In this book, French has spoken to everyone from the nation’s political leadership to Maoist revolutionaries and mafia dons, from chained quarry workers to self-made billionaire entrepreneurs and technological innovators. The result is a richly detailed, wide-ranging and hugely rewarding portrait of India.

 

India: The Road Ahead by Mark Tully

Rider, ISBN 978-1846041617, £18.99

The sequel to No Full Stops in India, this new book draws on his extensive travels through India. As former chief of bureau for the BBC in India, Mark Tully draws upon a lifetime’s knowledge of this most diverse of countries to consider an emerging superpower at a pivotal moment in history. Twenty years after No Full Stops in India, Tully once again travels the length and breadth of the country to discover how the ending of the economic controls which once stifled development has affected the sub-continent. What qualities does India possess today which will secure her central place on the world stage? And which traits might hinder her? Does rapid progress always come at a price?

Today, India is likely to become one of the major economies of the 21st century. But there are many unanswered questions about the sustainability of such growth and its effect on the stability of the nation. Tully considers whether the changes have had any impact on the poor and marginalised, and how the development of the country’s creaking infrastructure can be speeded up to match its huge advances in technology and industry. With a gift for finding the human stories behind the headlines, he looks at the pressing concerns of different areas of life such as governance, business, spirituality and ecology. In revealing interviews with captains of industry and subsistence farmers, politicians and untouchables, spiritual leaders and bandits, Mark Tully captures the voices of the nation.

 

Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle with India by Joseph Lelyveld

Knopf, ISBN 978-0307269584, US$28.95

A highly original, stirring book on Mahatma Gandhi that deepens our sense of his achievements and disappointments – his success in seizing India’s imagination and shaping its independence struggle as a mass movement, his recognition late in life that few of his followers paid more than lip service to his ambitious goals of social justice for the country’s minorities, outcasts, and rural poor.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Lelyveld shows in vivid, unmatched detail how Gandhi’s sense of mission, social values, and philosophy of nonviolent resistance were shaped on another subcontinent –during two decades in South Africa – and then tested by an India that quickly learned to revere him as a Mahatma, or ‘Great Soul’, while following him only a small part of the way to the social transformation he envisioned. The man himself emerges as one of history’s most remarkable self-creations, a prosperous lawyer who became an ascetic in a loincloth wholly dedicated to political and social action. Lelyveld leads us step-by-step through the heroic, and tragic, last months of this selfless leader’s long campaign when his nonviolent efforts culminated in the partition of India, the creation of Pakistan, and a bloodbath of ethnic cleansing that ended only with his own assassination.

 

India and its politicians were ready to place Gandhi on a pedestal as ‘Father of the Nation’, but were less inclined to embrace his teachings. Muslim support, crucial in his rise to leadership, soon waned, and the oppressed untouchables – for whom Gandhi spoke to Hindus as a whole – produced their own leaders. Here is a vital, brilliant reconsideration of Gandhi’s extraordinary struggles on two continents, of his fierce but, finally, unfulfilled hopes, and of his ever-evolving legacy, which more than six decades after his death still ensures his place as India’s social conscience – and not just India’s.

 

The Sacred India Book by Amit Pasricha

Constable, ISBN 978-1780331249, £100. To see Amit’s images on line go to www.panoramas.in

Spirituality is the shining thread that runs through every motif of the rich and complex tapestry that is India. It is not only worship in temple, mosque or church, in gurudwara or agiary, that defines the faith of Indians – it is their ordinary, everyday kind of spirituality that serves as an axis, balancing the temporal with the eternal. The Sacred India Book seizes and distils this ephemeral quality often described as ‘the Spirit of India’. Amit Pasricha seeks out meditative moments and momentous ones, exalted moments and exultant ones – the eternal quality of a weathered cross overlooking a windswept beach, the ecstatically outstretched hands of Holi celebrants at Vrindavan, the quiet faith of a women as she ties a piece of coloured thread on the latticed screen of a shrine. His photographs lay before the viewer the colourful, intricate mosaic of Indian religion, spirituality, ritual and tradition: images of religious art such as the living, writhing energy of unfinished idols in a potter’s shed in Kolkata; the making of religious music a Buddhists chant from atop icy mountains; the richness of religious traditions in the pristine precision of a Parsi ritual.

 

The Elegant Image Bronzes from the Indian Subcontinent in the Siddharth K. Bhansali Collection by Pratapaditya Pal

Marg, ISBN 9789380581071, US$68

This book is published in association with the New Orleans Museum of Art and  provides a comprehensive discussion of metal sculptures from the Indian subcontinent. Although the objects reflect the personal taste of the collector, they cover the entire subcontinent and span 15 centuries of the Common Era, a few being even older. They represent Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain deities, providing a rich array of the diverse figures of the three major religions of ancient India. Primarily an art-historical publication, in discussing these bronzes the author has juxtaposed matters of style, iconography, and chronology with his own personal aesthetic. The catalogue should appeal to students of South Asian art history, collectors, and connoisseurs of bronzes from the region, as well as the general reader.

 

Mughal Architecture & Gardens by George Michell and Amit Pasricha

Antique Collectors’ Club, ISBN 978-1851496709, £45

Mughal Architecture & Gardens gives an insight into what is undoubtedly one of the most impressive groups of monuments and gardens ever to be ascribed to a single royal lineage. Innovative and inspirational, these 16th and 17th century constructions demonstrate the staggering wealth and power of those responsible for their creation, notably the emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Mughal architecture is a remarkable hybrid that fuses building forms and decorative schemes from Iran and Central Asia with long-established Indian practice. The most famous examples are the Red Fort in Delhi and Taj Mahal in Agra. This illustrated book outlines the history of Mughal architecture and gardens, from stylistic developments under different emperors, to the geometric origins of Mughal design and decoration. Now the gardens are mostly lost, but Michell carefully depicts how they would have been; their structures and layouts, the favoured varieties of colourful flowers and scented plants, and the laborious but innovative methods sometimes used to create running water in areas without natural springs and streams. The author gives particular attention to the major monuments and gardens in the imperial centres of Mughal power, namely Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Lahore.

 

 

Nagaland: a Journey to India’s Forgotten Frontier by Jonathan Glancey

Faber & Faber, ISBN 978-0571221486, £17.99

Landlocked, almost inaccessible to foreigners, Nagaland has been fighting a secret, often brutal war for independence for more than half a century. Portrayed either as a land of ruthless guerrillas or exotic natives, Nagaland is in fact a complex and divided region, with an incredible history. The breathtaking Naga hills take us to the offices of Adolf Hitler and Emperor Hirohito, via well-meaning colonialists and anthropologists, and one of the most important battles of the Second World War. The third generation of his family to be seduced by Nagaland, Jonathan Glancey tries to reconcile his childhood idealism with the reality he finds there, and explores his family ties to the region. Through his ancestral history, extensive travels beyond the tourist zone, and through the voices of the Nagas he meets, he tells the true story of this forgotten land.

 

Monsoon Traders: The Maritime World of the East India Company by Huw Bowen, Robert J Blyth and John McAleer

Scala Publishers, ISBN 978-1857596755, £35

The East India Company grew from an Elizabethan trading venture to control half of global trade, leading directly to the British Raj in India and establishing British commercial and imperial interests in China and South East Asia. Monsoon Traders tells the story of the Company over three centuries, covering its origins, the maritime experience, encounters with indigenous peoples, goods traded, wealth created, technology, shipbuilding, conflict and conquest, piracy, rebellion and empire. The book is illustrated throughout with images from the National Maritime Museum in London, which has an important but hitherto under-researched collection of objects relating to the Company, including fine art, objets d’art, maps, charts, navigational instruments, ship models and weapons. Together with expert texts by three leading historians in the field, these combine to tell the story of the East India Company’s encounter with the Indian Ocean and the effects this had on both Asian and British societies, people and politics. Monsoon Traders is published to coincide with the opening of a new permanent Asian gallery at the National Maritime Museum.

 

Vishnu: Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior by Joan Cummins

Brooklyn Museum, ISBN 978-1935677086, US$40

In conjunction with the exhibition, this catalogue features a wealth of paintings, sculptures and ritual objects that were made in India between the 4th and 20th centuries. The artworks provide a survey of Hindu art styles as well as an examination of the Vaishnaya (Vishnu-worshiping) tradition. The catalogue reveals the complexity of Vishnu’s character as he assumes new forms, known as avatars, in order to save the earth from various dangers and interact with the divine.

 

Pattern and Ornaments in the Arts of India by Henry Wilson

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500515822, £32

The visual exploration of India’s decorative genius presented here focuses on architecture forts, palaces, havelis or mansions, tombs, temple and mosques. It concentrates on northwest India, which has an exceptionally rich seam of ornamented architecture forts and palaces of Rajput and Mughal princes, mansions of Gujarati merchants, and much more. Three elements are essential to the evolution of this ornamentation in carved stone, wood, plaster both moulded and painted, and glass (both coloured and mirrored): the natural world, the materials themselves, and the many hundreds of thousands of artists and craftsmen who have created this generous abundance of work. Henry Wilson examines all in his introductory texts, and displays the results in his remarkable photographs and stencil-like drawings.

 

The Last Harvest: Paintings of Ranindranath Tagore

Mapin, ISBN 978-3897903050, US$65

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is beloved by Indians as a poet and writer, and recognised around the world as the first non-European to be awarded a Nobel Prize for literature. Yet few outside India know that he was also a highly regarded visual artist, whose drawings and paintings were shown in Europe beginning in the 1930s. Marking the 150th anniversary of the year of Tagore’s birth, this exhibition comprises more than 60 works on paper, drawn from three collections in India, many of which have never been seen in the United States. This exhibition provides US.audiences with a unique opportunity to appreciate Tagore’s substantial artistic legacy.

 

Something Old, Something New Rabindranath Tagore: 150th Birth Anniversary Volume edited by Pratapaditya Pal

Marg, ISBN 978-93-80581-05-7, US$68

In 1961, to celebrate the birth centenary of the Nobel-Laureate Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), an entire issue of Marg magazine was devoted to an article on the painter Tagore by its then editor Mulk Raj Anand. This volume presents that pathbreaking essay along with two others from the Marg archives and nine new ones in a potpourri of the old and the new, as a 150th anniversary tribute in a new millennium to the brightest luminary of the 20th century Indian sky.  The new essays cover a wide range of subjects – Tagore’s philosophy and poetry, drama, dance, and painting, offering fresh insights into the personality and creativity of Rabindranath Tagore who contributed so much to the cultural and spiritual consciousness of the unfragmented subcontinent.

 

Textiles and Dress of Gujarat by Eiluned Edwards

V&A Publishing, ISBN 978-1851776450, £35

The textiles and dress of Gujarat in northwestern India are acclaimed for their design and craftsmanship. The sophisticated weaves, dyeing techniques, intricate embroideries, vibrant motifs and embellished dress, and the communities to which many of these are unique, have all been the subjects of extensive documentation. Textiles and dress play a central role in the construction of a visual identity of Gujarat and its people. This book examines the ‘social life’ of Gujarat’s textiles, tracing the historical journey of cloth and dress up to the present day. It looks closely at dyed and painted textiles, and embroidery, and locates their place in culture, trade and commerce, and the role of entrepreneurship in the survival of these handmade textiles.

 

The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara by Adriana G. Proser

Asia Society, ISBN, US$60

Asia Society Museum presents an exhibition of spectacular Buddhist sculptures, architectural reliefs and works of gold and bronze from the Gandhara region of Pakistan, most never exhibited before in the United States. The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara reveals the complex cultural influences – from Scytho-Parthian to Greco-Roman traditions – that fed the extraordinary artistic production of this region from the 1st century BC through 5th century.
 This fully illustrated catalogue is published by Asia Society in association with the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik in Bonn, Germany. The book includes essays by scholars Christian Luczanits and Michael Jansen.

 

Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven

Chatto & Windus, ISBN 978-0701183806, £12.99

In the past decade Pakistan has emerged as a country of immense importance. Large, heavily populated, strategically placed between Iran, Afghanistan and India, Pakistan has since its creation just over 60 years ago been pulled in several different, irreconcilable directions. In the wake of Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons, Osama Bin Laden’s presence in its unpoliceable border areas, its shelter of the Afghan Taliban, and the spread of terrorist attacks by groups based in Pakistan to London, Bombay and New York, there is a clear need to understand this remarkable and highly contradictory place. Far from seeing Pakistan as the failed state often portrayed in the media, Lieven’s extraordinary new book instead treats it as a viable and coherent state that, within limits and by the standards of its own region rather than the West, does work. Lieven argues strongly against US actions that would risk destroying that state in the illusory search for victory in Afghanistan.

This work is based on a profound and sophisticated analysis of Pakistan’s history and its social, religious and political structures. Lieven has interviewed hundreds of Pakistanis at every level of society, from leading politicians and soldiers to village mullahs and rickshaw drivers. In particular, his examination of the roots of popular sympathy for the Taliban in Pakistan draws on the testimony of people whose views are rarely consulted by Western analysts.

 

To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron

Chatto & Windus, ISBN 978-0701183806, £12.99

In his new book, Colin Thubron travels to Tibet, and takes the pilgrimage route to Kailas, the most sacred of the world’s mountains, holy to one fifth of the earth’s people, but rarely visited by Westerners. Buddhists and Hindus have ritually circled the mountain for centuries, but its steepest slopes are sacrosanct and no one has ever climbed to the summit. Thubron made the expedition shortly after his mother’s death, and his hike through a challenging terrain of rocks, lakes and remote monasteries is perhaps one of his most personal and poetic books to date.

 

Married to Bhutan by Linda Leaming

Hay House Inc, ISBN 9781401928469, US$14.95

As one of the few Americans to have lived in Bhutan, Linda Leaming offers a rare glimpse at the peaceful mountain kingdom so many have only dreamed of. For over 10 years, Leaming has lived and taught in the capital, Thimphu, where there are fewer than 100,000 people and no traffic lights. The Bhutanese way of life – quieter, slower, and more tranquil – can seem daunting to most Westerners, consumed with time, dates, speed, and efficiency. In Bhutan, people rarely check their email and take their time answering their telephones. But, as Leaming shows us, a little patience – over a cup of warm tea and friendly conversation – can help soothe the most distressed mind and soul.

 

Nepal Nostalgia and Modernity edited by Deepak Shimkhada

Marg, ISBN 978-93-80581-08-8, US$68

When we speak of the arts of Nepal, we refer to the Kathmandu Valley, rich in art and culture. This tiny valley was and still is the hub of Nepal where 2,000 years of history have been frozen in time. Today, Nepal is a modern nation, conflating traditional as well as modern features that are uniquely ‘Nepali’ in character.

The style of art called Nepali is primarily produced by the Newars, the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley, who shaped it since mediaeval times. This volume celebrates various artistic expressions of the Newars and other ethnic groups. It brings together works of scholars from diverse fields to provide an eclectic view of Nepal’s art, culture, and religion. Evocative visuals combine with insightful essays in this portrait of modern Nepal with its connections to the past.

 

Sacred & Secular: The Piccus CollectionOf Tibetan Rugs
by Robert P. Piccus

Serindia Publications, ISBN 978-1-932476-55-2, US$65

Rugs have been woven and used in Tibet for centuries, but until recent years, have been ignored by collectors and scholars alike because available examples were generally brightly coloured, chemically dyed, clearly modern commercial production of little aesthetic appeal. This situation changed in the mid-1980s when the Chinese authorities began to allow tourism and foreign visitors discovered early, naturally dyed examples that had not been seen in the West. The collection demonstrates the genuine aesthetic sense and cultural achievements of the unknown Tibetan weavers who produced these masterpieces. The book tells the story of the rugs’ collection, the individuals involved and the evolution of scholarship in this field. The book is divided into design categories, including Tigers and Leopards, Dragons, Tantric, Geometrics, Medallions, Warp Face Backs, and Nomadic, among others. It also includes technical information and a visual glossary that will be useful for collectors and designers alike.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

 

Khmer Bronzes: New Interpretations of the Past, by Emma C Bunker and Douglas Latchford

Art Media Resources, ISBN 978-1588861115, US$110

This book explores the ways in which the Indic gods appeared on the Khmer sacred landscape, together with new bronze-casting techniques adapted by Khmer artisan metalworkers. These techniques enabled the production of large-scale bronzes in anthropomorphic form to fulfill the sacred requirements of the newly arrived beliefs. Examining the econographic, stylistic, and technical features of Khmer imagery in light of many new interpretations of the historical past, the authors seek to provide new understanding of the sacred bronze imagery. This has long been overshadowed by scholarly emphasis on temples and sandstone imagery.

 

Gods of Angkor: Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia by Paul Jett

University of Washington Press, ISBN 978-0295990422, £27.99

A remarkable group of seven bronze figures was unearthed in Kampong Cham province, Cambodia, in 2006. These 6th- and 7th-century Buddhist sculptures, two of which were Chinese, ultimately were acquired by the National Museum of Cambodia. There they became one of the first projects of the institution’s Metal Conservation Laboratory, created with the assistance of the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Gods of Angkor celebrates not only the collaborative efforts of the Cambodian and US museums to restore and interpret these important images, but also the accomplishments of Khmer bronze casters from the 4th century BC to the 14th century. The authors decipher the makeup and meaning of bronze figural images, ritual vessels and other objects, placing them in the context of Southeast Asian life and worship from prehistoric times through the pre-Angkorian and Angkorian eras. Together, the bronzes reveal vivid details of the significance of this important medium within Khmer culture and of the artistic and religious interactions of the Khmer with their neighbours.

 

Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance

Asian Art Museum San Francisco, ISBN 978-0939117550, US$35

‘Bali is not harmonious, homogenous, and static. It is, and has long been, the home of many competing strands of thought and many different ways of being Balinese,’ Balinese scholar Degung Santikarma has written. ‘It is an ever-changing mosaic, shifting its design to meet new ideas imported from outside, whether they be the old Chinese pis bolong coins used in offerings or the Harley Davidsons and heavy metal that make up today’s youth culture.’ This catalogue explores elements of the cultural lives of the Balinese, focusing on the intersections of art, ritual, and performance. With close examination of 130 exceptional objects drawn from international museum collections, the authors shed light on the ways that art, ritual, and performance intersect within the seamless fabric of Balinese life.

 

Inside the Puppet Box by Felicia Katz-Harris

University of Washington Press, ISBN 978-0295990743, £31

Indonesian wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performance is one of the oldest and greatest story telling traditions in the world and lies close to the heart of Javanese culture. These flat puppets, made from water buffalo hide, are elaborately decorated and perforated to cast spectacular shadows when used in performance. Performances are usually based on classical literature with contemporary issues incorporated into particular scenes, and are always accompanied by a gamelan orchestra. Wayang kulit is a highly refined art form that has been performed in Java for hundreds of years.

An art of and for the people, wayang kulit remains a popular and significant form of cultural expression to this day. This book explores various aspects of Central Javanese wayang kulit and describes a collection of gold and bronze leaf Surakarta-style wayang kulit including over 200 wayang characters. Each character is identified by name and briefly introduced.

 

What’s What in a Wat by Carol Stratton

Silkworm Books, ISBN 978-9749511992, £11.99

As you walk through a Thai temple, a host of unfamiliar objects, shapes and patterns tug at you from every direction. This handy and lucid guidebook will help you distinguish what is what. It takes you through a representative Thai Buddhist temple, guiding you from structure to structure and element to element, explaining the function and purpose of each, and the symbolism behind the forms. A Thai wat can be a place of bewildering beauty, but this illustrated companion will help you focus your eyes and identify what you see. Tourists and residents, novices and scholars will gain a clearer sense of what a wat is and the role it plays today in the lives of Thai people.

 

Ramayana in Focus: Visual and Performing Arts of Asia by Gauri Parimoo Krishnan

ACM Singapore, ISBN 978-9810859718, £35

The Ramayana, the ancient Sanskrit epic from India, is generally believed to surpass other works of world literature in its popularity. For more than 2000 years the Ramayana – the tale of prince Rama’s life and exploits – has spread across the world and inspired many retellings. This book brings together 20 essays that cover a wide range of topics, including literary, visual, and performing arts.

 

Indonesian Eye: Contemporary Indonesian Art edited by Serenella Ciclitiira and Eun Young Kim

Skira, ISBN 978-8857210759, £39.95

A complete survey of Indonesian contemporary art. Indonesian Eye presents the most exciting works by emerging Indonesian artists in the most exhaustive way and comprehensively discusses their distinguishing characteristics differentiated from other contemporary art in Asia and the Western world. As an illustrated study, the book features 75 up-and-coming artists and five essays to explain vibrant and dynamic art scene in Indonesia as a  relatively undiscovered area of Asian contemporary arts. Four pages are given to each artist to allow the reader to explore these young artists works, which have never been seen outside Indonesia. Each artist’s section has a brief descriptive text on the artist and his/her work.

 

Thai Taxi Talismans by Dale Konstanz

River Books, ISBN 9786167339085, US$30

This book features close-up shots of statuettes of the Buddha, monks, and Hindu gods and goddesses in Bangkok cabs, as well as yan drawings by monks on taxi ceilings,  phuang malai flower offerings hanging from rearview mirrors, pictures of the Royal Family displayed on dashboards, and other lucky charms that Thai cabbies rely on to protect them, to generate luck, and to conjure up customers and cold hard cash. Other photographs focus on interior spaces of the cabs and views of taxi drivers within the confines of their work environment.

 

Beneath the winds: Masterpieces of Southeast Asian art from the Art Gallery of South Australia by James Bennett

Art Gallery of South Australia, ISBN 978 1 921668 07 4, AUS$59.95

This new publication features 100 masterpieces of Southeast Asian art, encompassing stone and wooden sculpture, textiles, ceramics, gold and silver work, and paintings, from the Art Gallery’s collection. The works cover 2,000 years from prehistoric times until the 20th century and originate from Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Philippines. They document the extraordinarily rich and diverse heritage of Southeast Asian art ranging in styles from ancient Javanese stone statues, extravagant Balinese carvings, Islamic decorative arts and gold Buddhist images. Beneath the winds is a major new contribution to the field of Southeast Asian art publication and intended both for general readers and scholars/students in the field.

 

CENTRAL ASIA

 

Cables from Kabul by Sherard Cowper-Coles

HarperPress, ISBN 978-0007432011, £25

A frank and honest memoir by Britain’s former ambassador to Kabul which provides a unique, high-level insight into Western policy in Afghanistan. For three years, from 2007 until 2010, Sherard Cowper-Coles was on the diplomatic frontline in Kabul as the West’s mission in Afghanistan sank deeper into crisis. First as British Ambassador and, later, as the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative, he witnessed at first hand a struggle that by the time he left was swallowing billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money a year, and had already cost the lives of more than 2,000 coalition troops, including nearly 350 British soldiers, as well as tens of thousands of Afghans, in and out of uniform.

 

In Cables from Kabul he offers a ringside seat in this unfolding drama in a high-octane narrative that transports the reader from the backstreets of Kabul and fly-blown villages of the Helmand Valley to the corridors of power in London and Washington. Packed with colourful portraits of major political and diplomatic players such as President Karzai and the US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, the book gives a rich flavour of embassy life in one of the most dangerous places on earth. As Our Man in Kabul, nobody is better placed to tell this story. Powerful, witty and astonishingly frank, Cables from Kabul explains how we got into the quagmire of Afghanistan, and how we can get out of it.

 

Turkmen Jewellery by Layla S Dibna

Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300124040, £45

The Turkmen people of Central Asia and Iran are revered for their carpets and textiles. Less well known, but equally stunning, is the extraordinary silver jewellery created by Turkmen tribal craftsmen and urban silversmiths throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. This catalogue presents nearly two hundred pieces in glorious detail, ranging from crowns and headdresses to armbands and rings, and featuring accents of carnelian, turquoise, and other stones. Characterised by elegant form, geometric shapes, and delicate openwork, Turkmen jewellery has typically been viewed through an ethnographic rather than an aesthetic lens. By highlighting these objects, which come from one of the most significant private collections of Turkmen ornaments in the world, and placing them in the larger context of Islamic art, this groundbreaking publication elevates the vibrant, monumental pieces from folk art to fine art.

 

ISLAMIC WORLD

 

Wonder, Image, & Cosmos in Medieval Islam by Persis Berlekamp

Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300170603, £45

This original book untangles fundamental confusions about historical relationships among Islam, representational images, and philosophy. Closely examining some of the most meaningful and best preserved premodern illustrated manuscripts of Islamic cosmographies, Persis Berlekamp refutes the assertion often made by other historians of mediaeval Islamic art that, while representational images did exist, they did not serve religious purposes. The author focuses on widely disseminated Islamic images of the wonders of creation, ranging from angels to human-snatching birds, and argues that these illustrated manuscripts aimed to induce wonder at God’s creation, as was their stated purpose. She tracks the various ways that images advanced that purpose in the genre’s formative milieu – the century and a half following the Mongol conquest of the Islamic East in 1258. Delving into social history and into philosophical ideas relevant to manuscript and image production, Berlekamp shows that philosophy occupied an established, if controversial, position within Islam.

 

Masterpieces From The Department Of Islamic Art In The Metropolitan Museum Of Art Edited by Maryam D. Ekhtiar, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Najat Haidar

Metropolitan Museum of Art, ISBN 978-0300175851, US$45

This expansive book reveals the great diversity and range of art of the Arab lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and later South Asia. Published to coincide with the historic reopening of the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum’s Islamic Art Department, it presents nearly 300 masterpieces from one of the finest collections in the world. The works range chronologically from the origins of Islam in the 7th century through the 19th century, and geographically from as far west as Spain and Morocco to as far east as India. Outstanding miniature paintings and illuminated manuscripts, ceramics, textiles, carpets, glass, and metalwork reflect the mutual influence of artistic practice in the sacred and secular realms. Many of these beautiful objects display the rich traditions of calligraphy, vegetal ornament (the arabesque), and geometric patterning that distinguish the arts of the Islamic world.

 

Sacred Script: Muhaqqaq in Islamic Calligraphy by Nassar Mansour

IB Taurus, ISBN 9781848854390, £59.50

Arabic calligraphy is at once an expression of piety, aesthetic sensibility and artistic discipline. Muhaqqaq was an early term which captured care, clarity and meticulousness in calligraphy. It was associated with the making of manuscripts of the Qur’an – a sacred task and one which helped to give the new Islamic order both identity and coherence. Muhaqqaq emerged in the 11th century as the name for one of six classical scripts. This is the first book devoted entirely to muhaqqaq tradition. Nassar Mansour, himself a highly respected calligrapher, here traces the development of muhaqqaq. His book also presents examples of his own work in muhaqqaq which demonstrates the enduring value of this script for today. This is an invaluable and beautifully executed reference work on Islamic calligraphy, which will attract art historians and practitioners alike.

 

An Illustrated History of Islamic Art & Design: An Expert Introduction to Islamic Art, from Calligraphy, Tiles, Costumes and Carpets to Pottery, Woodcarvings and Metalwork by Moya Carey

Southwater, ISBN 978-1780190334, £8.99

This book introduces Islamic art by using examples of calligraphy, tiles, costumes and carpets to pottery, woodcarvings and metalwork. It includes an insightful study of the history of some of the most spectacular artistic achievements of the Islamic world. It features a wide range of artistry, from Umayyad coins, wood carving and lustreware to Kashan pottery, Indian carpets and Mughal painting. Expert text describes the technical and stylistic attributes, and places the artefacts in the cultural context of their time and place. It is illustrated with over 250 colour photographs and fine-art paintings. It is supplemented with an index of the world’s greatest museum-collections of Islamic art today. The Islamic world has created a wealth of art treasures and this book explores that rich heritage. The diversity of decorative Islamic artforms is simply breathtaking, extending from the formal splendour of Arabic calligraphy of the early Qur’ans and the beautiful Fatimid woodcarvings of 12th- and 13th-century Egypt to the elegant Ottoman carpets woven in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the exquisite produced by potters in Islamic Spain in the 15th century.

 

The Arabs by Eugene  Rogan

Penguin, ISBN 978-0141024691, £12.99

The author has written an authoritative new history of the Arabs in the modern world. Starting with the Ottoman conquests in the 16th century, this landmark book follows the story of the Arabs through the era of European imperialism and the Superpower rivalries of the Cold War, to the present age of unipolar American power. Drawing on the writings and eyewitness accounts of those who lived through the tumultuous years of Arab history, The Arabs balances different voices – politicians, intellectuals, students, men and women, poets and novelists, famous, infamous and the completely unknown – to give a rich, complex sense of life over nearly five centuries.

 

Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, edited by Reza Aslan

WW Norton, ISBN 978-0393065855, £25

A landmark literary event, this groundbreaking work spans a century of literature by the region’s best writers-from the famed Arab poet Khalil Gibran to the Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk – all of them bound together, not by borders and nationalities, but by a common experience of colonial domination and western imperialism. As best-selling author Reza Aslan writes, the mesmerising prose of the Middle East-Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu-has been virtually excluded from the canon available to English readers. Under the umbrella of Words Without Borders, Aslan has assembled this extraordinary collection of short stories, memoirs, essays and poems, featuring both contemporary and historical works, with many of the selections newly appearing in English.

 

Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts by Linda Komaroff

Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300171105, £45

The giving of gifts both delights the recipient and pleases the giver. Practised in all societies, gift exchange has a history as long as humanity. This gloriously illustrated catalogue is the first investigation of gift-giving and its impact on the development of art in the Islamic world. Presenting some 240 rare and costly works of art associated with gift exchanges among the courts of Islam, Byzantium, Western Europe, and Eastern Asia, the book provides a wide-ranging view of Islamic art and culture from the 8th through the 19th centuries. At courts across the Islamic world, gift-giving often served as a nexus of art and diplomacy, religion, and interpersonal relations. The book examines the complex interplay between artistic production and gift-based patronage through numerous examples of deluxe, aesthetically pleasing objects either commissioned or repurposed as gifts. Tracing the unique histories of selected artworks, the book also explores how the exchange of luxury objects played a central role in the circulation, emulation, and assimilation of artistic forms within and beyond the Islamic world.

 

And Diverse Are Their Hues: Color in Islamic Art and Culture edited by Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair

Yale University Press, ISBN 978-030017572, £45

Produced for the biennial Hamad Bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art, this book brings together a team of Islamic scholars to discuss the applications and implications of colour in Islamic cultures from mediaeval to modern times, and from Central Asia to Spain and beyond. They look at art, architecture, literature, philosophy, mysticism, optics, and conservation studies. The Qu’ran uses the phrase ‘and diverse are their hues’ to describe the glorious chromatic variety of God’s creation. Colour has always been an important signifier in Islamic art, and it uses have encompassed the practical as well as the mystical and poetic. This volume is the first to analyse the use of colour in Islamic art and architecture from a range of artistic and cultural perspectives.

 

Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North

Penguin Classics, ISBN 978-0140455076, £12.99

In 922, an Arab envoy from Baghdad named Ibn Fadlan encountered a party of Viking traders on the upper reaches of the Volga River. In his subsequent report on his mission he gave a meticulous and astonishingly objective description of Viking customs, dress, table manners, religion and sexual practices, as well as the only eyewitness account ever written of a Viking ship cremation. Between the 9th and 14th centuries, Arab travellers such as Ibn Fadlan journeyed widely and frequently into the far north, crossing territories that now include Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Their fascinating accounts describe how the numerous tribes and peoples they encountered traded furs, paid tribute and waged wars. This new translation offers an illuminating insight into the world of the Arab geographers, and the mediaeval lands of the far north.

 

Karama! Journeys Through the Arab Spring  by Johnny West

Heron Books, ISBN 978-0857389947, £8.99

Johnny West has lived in this area for the past decade and speaks fluent Arabic, and so has the skills and ability to talk to everyone from security guards to revolutionaries: from families of protestors, some of whom have been killed, to oil workers, cafe owners, lawyers, barbers and clerics. Travelling on public buses, visiting families, hanging out in shops and cafes, he brings out for all of us what made ordinary people erupt, what happened to them during those days and now, what their hopes, fears and dreams are, how they see us in the West, how each country is different but how they see themselves as part of a joint Arab culture, before Islamists. The author’s long experience in the area enables him to set all this in context, while never losing the vividness of a travel book or the characters of a novel. This is not a political treatise but a journey of discovery – of people, of places, of life under extraordinary circumstances.

 

Abdulnasser Gharem Art of Survival  by Henry Hemming

Booth Clibborn Editions, ISBN 978-1861543240, £30

This book takes readers on a physical and conceptual journey into Gharem’s world. The story begins with a recent Christie’s Auction in Dubai and the sale of Message/Messenger, which made Gharem the world record breaking living Arab artist and also earned him the label ‘the Rock Star of Arab Art’. From the hectic glamour of the international art world, Hemming then travels with Gharem deep into Saudi society and landscape: to Aseer, Jizan, Jeddah, Riyadh and eventually back to Gharem’s home tribe in Sadra-Eyt, recounting the artist’s break from tradition as well as the stories and inspirations behind key works.

 

The tale of Gharem’s creative journey is not the familiar plod of evolving artistic practice, safe within the hermetic confines of a studio. It couldn’t be more different. The story of this man takes us to the very heart of what it is to stand against the tide, to innovate, to do so fearlessly in the streets and amongst the people; and precisely what happens when an artist positions himself both at the heart of society and at the margins.

 

FICTION

 

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

J Murray, ISBN 978-0719568985, £20

In September 1838 a storm blows up on the Indian Ocean and the Ibis, a ship carrying a consignment of convicts and indentured labourers from Calcutta to Mauritius, is caught up in the whirlwind. When the seas settle, five men have disappeared – two lascars, two convicts and one of the passengers. Did the same storm upend the fortunes of those aboard the Anahita, an opium carrier heading towards Canton? And what fate befell those aboard the Redruth, a sturdy two-masted brig heading East out of Cornwall? Was it the storm that altered their course or were the destinies of these passengers at the mercy of even more powerful forces?

On the grand scale of an historical epic, River of Smoke follows its storm-tossed characters to the crowded harbours of China.  There, despite efforts of the emperor to stop them, ships from Europe and India exchange their cargoes of opium for boxes of tea, silk, porcelain and silver. Among them are Bahram Modi, a wealthy Parsi opium merchant out of Bombay, his estranged half-Chinese son Ah Fatt, the orphaned Paulette and a motley collection of others whose pursuit of romance, riches and a legendary rare flower have thrown together.  All struggle to cope with their losses – and for some, unimaginable freedoms –  in the alleys and crowded waterways of 19th-century Canton.

 

Please Look After Mother by Kyung-sook Shin, translated by Chi-Young Kim

Weidenfeld & Nicholson, ISBN 978-0297860730, £12.99

Please Look After Mother is the story of So-nyo, a wife and mother, who has lived a life of sacrifice and compromise. In the past she suffered a stroke, leaving her vulnerable and often confused. Now, travelling from the Korean countryside to the Seoul of her grown-up children, So-nyo is separated from her husband when the doors close on a packed train. As her children and husband search the streets, they recall So-nyo’s life, and all they have left unsaid. Through their piercing voices, we begin to discover the desires, heartaches, and secrets she harboured within. And as the mystery of her disappearance unravels, we uncover a larger mystery, that of all mothers and children: how affection, exasperation, hope and guilt add up to love. Compassionate, redemptive and beautifully written, this book will reconnect you to the story of your own family, and to the forgotten sacrifices that lie at its heart.

 

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Faber, ISBN 978-0571241323, £20

Habibi, based on a Middle Eastern fable, tells the story of Dodola, who escapes being sold into slavery and rescues an abandoned baby she names Zam. They live in isolation in an old boat in the desert. As they age their relationship shifts from mother and son, to brother and sister and eventually lovers. In the meantime however Dodola is forced to prostitute herself to desert traders in order to provide for Zam. When he seeks an alternative means of income Dodola is captured by the Sultan and Zam is forced into a quest to try and rescue her.

At heart Habibi is, like Blankets, a profound love story, but it also functions as a parable about the environment and the state of the world. Set in the place where Christianity and Islam began, it explores the fundamental connection between these religions, and also the relationship between the first and the third world and the increasingly important battle for the earth’s resources.

 

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1408822296, £11.99

Nineteen-year-old Joy Louie has run away from her home in 1950s America to start a new life in China. Idealistic and unafraid, she believes that Chairman Mao is on the side of the people, despite what her family keeps telling her. How can she trust them, when she has just learned that her parents have lied to her for her whole life, that her mother Pearl is really her aunt and that her real father is a famous artist who has been living in China all these years? Joy arrives in Green Dragon Village, where families live in crowded, windowless huts and eke out a meagre existence from the red soil. And where a handsome young comrade catches her eye… Meanwhile, Pearl returns to China to bring her daughter home – if she can. For Mao has launched his Great Leap Forward, and each passing season brings ever greater hardship to cities and rural communes alike. Joy must rely on her skill as a painter and Pearl must use her contacts from her decadent childhood in 1930s Shanghai to find a way to safety, and a chance of joy for them both.

 

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif

Jonathan Cape, ISBN 978-0224082051, £12.99

The patients of the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments are looking for a miracle, and Alice Bhatti is looking for a job. Alice is a candidate for the position of junior nurse, grade 4. It is only a few weeks since her release from Borstal. She has returned to her childhood home in the French Colony, where her father, recently retired from his position as chief janitor, continues as part-time healer, and full-time headache for the local church. It seems she has inherited some of his gift.With guidance from the working nurse’s manual, and some tricks she picked up in prison, Alice brings succour to the thousands of patients littering the hospital’s corridors and concrete courtyard. In the process she attracts the attention of a lovesick patient, Teddy Bunt, apprentice to the nefarious ‘Gentleman Squad’ of the Karachi police. They fall in love; Teddy with sudden violence, Alice with cautious optimism. Their love is unexpected, but the consequences are not.

 

Pearl of China by Anchee Min

Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1408809792, £7.99

In the small southern town of Chin-kiang, two young girls from very different worlds collide and become inseparable companions. Willow is hardened by poverty and fearful for her future; Pearl is the daughter of a Christian missionary who desperately wishes she was Chinese too. Neither could have foreseen the transformation of the little American girl embarrassed by her blonde hair into the Nobel Prize-winning writer and one of China’s modern heroines, Pearl S. Buck. When the country erupts in civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, Pearl and Willow are brutally reminded of their differences. Pearl’s family is forced to flee the country and Willow is punished for her loyalty to her ‘cultural imperialist’ friend. And yet, in the face of everything that threatens to tear them apart, the paths of these two women remain intimately entwined.

 

A Lovesong for India by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Little, Brown, ISBN 978-1408703540, £13.99

Taking us from a sweltering Indian rooftop at night to the marble halls of an ageing Bollywood star’s palace, this is a new collection of short stories from Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. A wedding is planned between two innocents at a crumbling mansion of a grand Hudson Valley estate, while among the white-socked convent girls of post-colonial New Delhi a mixed-race couple contemplate their son’s alienation and the failure of hope. A young English girl infiltrates Fifth Avenue theatrical royalty and a lovely Broadway starlet exacts a clever, protracted revenge against her nemesis. Speaking of mortality and family rivalry, of the transfer of power from old to young, of love and the loss of innocence.

 

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

Harvill Secker, ISBN 978-1846554070 , £20 (books 1 and 2). Book 3 978-1846554056, £14.99

Inspired by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1Q84 is a magnificent and fully-imagined work of fiction – both a thriller and a moving love-story. It is a world from which the reader emerges stunned and altered. In Japan, Books One and Two were published on the same day with Book Three following a year later. All three books were received with huge excitement and became instant bestsellers. The UK publication reflects the pattern of the original publication with Books One and Two being released in one volume and Book Three following in a separate edition.

 

Serious Men by Manu Joseph

J Murray, ISBN 978-1848543089, £7.99

Ayyan Mani is a man born to greater things, which wouldn’t surprise his neighbours in the vast tenement building in which he lives, where to be sober and employed practically makes a man a legend. 

He works as an assistant at the Institute of Theory and Research, where he studies with amusement and envy the public battles and private love affairs of the squabbling scientists. But when an opportunity for betterment presents itself in the form of his ‘gifted’  ten-year-old son Adi, father and son embark on an outrageous ruse that will have far-reaching consequences . . .

Manu Joseph’s archly comic debut is a tale of a man’s attempt to elevate himself and his family above the banality of ordinary existence.

 

City Of Veils by Zoe Ferraris

Abacus, ISBN 978-0349122137, £7.99

The crime: one scalding afternoon, the mutilated body of a young woman, half naked beneath her burqa, is discovered on a Saudi beach; soon afterwards a Western woman’s husband vanishes without trace. The place: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the ‘City of Veils’. A city of narrow streets and closed shutters, where nothing is what it seems;and the Empty Quarter – one of the most beautiful, yet unforgiving deserts on earth. The people: Miriam Walker, alone in an alien culture, desperate to find her missing husband. Katya, a forensic scientist battling the prejudices of a society full of sexual, religious and moral contradictions; and Nayir, devout Muslim, desert guide, amateur sleuth – the man she loves.

 

Custody by Manju Kapur

Faber, ISBN 978-0571274024,  £12.99

When Shagun leaves Raman for another man, a bitter legal battle ensues. The custody of their two young children is thrown into question and Shagun must decide what price she will pay for freedom … Meanwhile, Ishita, a failed marriage behind her, finds another chance at happiness with Raman. But when the courts threaten the security of her new family, she decides to fight for it – whatever the cost. From prize-winning author Manju Kapur, Custody is an intimate portrait of marriages that disintegrate and intertwine, with heart-rending consequences.

 

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai

Chatto & Windus, ISBN 978-070118620, £12.99

A triptych of novellas make up Anita Desai’s new book. Set in modern India, but where history still casts a long shadow, the stories move beyond the cities to places still haunted by the past, and to characters who are, each in their own way, masters of self-effacement.

 

In ‘The Museum of Final Journeys’ an unnamed government official is called upon to inspect a faded mansion of forgotten treasures, each sent home by the absent, itinerant master. As he is taken through the estate, wondering whether to save these precious relics, he reaches the final – greatest – gift of all, looming out of the shadows. In ‘Translator, Translated’, middle-aged Prema meets her successful publisher friend Tara at a school reunion. Tara hires her as a translator, but Prema, buoyed by her work and the sense of purpose it brings, begins deliberately to blur the line between writer and translator, and in so doing risks unravelling her desires and achievements. The final story is of Ravi, living hermit-like in the burnt-out shell of his family home high up in the Himalayan mountains. He cultivates not only silence and solitude but a secret hidden away in the woods, concealed from sight. When a film crew from Delhi intrudes upon his seclusion, it compels him to withdraw even further until he magically and elusively disappears…

 

Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga

Atlantic Books, ISBN 978-1848875166, £17.99

Ask any Bombay wallah about Vishram Society – Tower A of the Vishram Co-operative Housing Society – and you will be told that it is unimpeachably pukka. Despite its location close to the airport, under the flight path of 747s and bordered by slums, it has been pukka for some 50 years. But Bombay has changed in half a century – not least its name – and the world in which Tower A was first built is giving way to a new city; a Mumbai of development and new money; of wealthy Indians returning with fortunes made abroad. When real estate developer Dharmen Shah offers to buy out the residents of Vishram Society, planning to use the site to build a luxury apartment complex, his offer is more than generous. Initially, though, not everyone wants to leave; many of the residents have lived in Vishram for years, many of them are no longer young. But none can benefit from the offer unless all agree to sell. As tensions rise among the once civil neighbours, one by one those who oppose the offer give way to the majority, until only one man stands in Shah’s way: Masterji, a retired schoolteacher, once the most respected man in the building. A suspense-filled story of money and power, luxury and deprivation; a rich tapestry peopled by unforgettable characters, not least of which is Bombay itself.

 

The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

Canongate, ISBN 978-1847679734, £16.99

In the dying days of a brutal civil war, Sohail Haque stumbles upon an abandoned building. Inside, he finds a young woman whose story will haunt him for a lifetime to come… Almost a decade later, Sohail’s sister Maya returns home after a long absence to find her beloved brother transformed. While Maya has stuck to her revolutionary ideals, Sohail has shunned his old life to become a charismatic religious leader. And when Sohail decides to send his son to madrasa, the conflict between them comes to a devastating climax. Set in Bangladesh at a time when religious fundamentalism is on the rise, The Good Muslim is an epic story about faith, family and the long shadow of war.

 

Anatomy of A Disappearance  by Hisham Matar

Viking, ISBN 978-0670916511, £16.99

Nuri is a young boy when his mother dies. It seems that nothing will fill the emptiness that her strange death leaves behind in the Cairo apartment he shares with his father. Until Mona. When Nuri first sees Mona, sitting in her bright yellow swimsuit by the pool of the Magda Marina holiday resort, the rest of the world vanishes. But it is Nuri’s father with whom Mona falls in love and who she will eventually marry. And their happiness consumes Nuri to the point where he longs to get his father out of the way. However, Nuri will soon regret what he wished for. And, as he and his stepmother’s world is shattered by events beyond their control, they both begin to realise how little they really knew about the man they loved.

 

The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung, translated by Michael S Duke

Doubleday, ISBN 978-0385619189, £12.99

Beijing, sometime in the near future: a month has gone missing from official records. No one has any memory of it, and no one can care less. Except for a small circle of friends, who will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of the sinister cheerfulness and amnesia that has possessed the Chinese nation. When they kidnap a high-ranking official and force him to reveal all, what they learn – not only about their leaders, but also about their own people – stuns them to the core. It is a message that will rock the world … Terrifying methods of cunning, deception and terror are unveiled by the truth-seekers in this thriller-expose of the Communist Party’s stranglehold on China today.

 

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

John Murray, ISBN 978-1848545557, £12.99

When the Taliban took control of Kabul, Kamila Sidiqi and all the women of Kabul saw their lives transformed. Overnight, they were banned from schools and offices and even forbidden from leaving their front doors on their own. The economy collapsed and young men left the city in search of work and security. Desperate to help her family and support her five brothers and sisters at home, Kamila began sewing clothes in her living room. Little did she know that the tailoring business she started to help her siblings would be the beginning of a dressmaking business that would create jobs and hope for one hundred neighbourhood women and would come to mean the difference between starvation and survival for hundreds of families like her own.

 

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

Hamish Hamilton, ISBN 978-0241145425, £12.99

‘The mullah left the fort with the boy walking beside him and the little puppy, who had been with his new owner less than a month, trotting behind.’ The boy, known as Tor Baz, the wandering falcon – journeys between tribes. Where does he come from, and what is his story? He meets men who fight under different flags, and women who risk everything if they break their society’s code of honour. Set in the decades before the rise of the Taliban, Jamil Ahmad’s debut takes us to the essence of human life in the forbidden areas where the borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet. The media today speak often about ‘the tribal areas’ – a remote region; a hotbed of conspiracies, drone attacks and conflict. Now, for the first time, this traditional, honour-bound culture is revealed from the inside.

 

Jamil Ahmad is seventy-eight years old and has spent long years among the peoples of the frontier. In The Wandering Falcon, he describes a world of custom and cruelty, of love and gentleness, of hardship and survival, a fragile, unforgiving world that is changing as modern forces make themselves known.

MISCELLANEOUS

 

Lucknow Boy: A Memoire by Vinod Mehta

Penguin Books India, ISBN 9780670085293, Rs499

By any reckoning, this is an extraordinary story. Mehta grew up as an army brat from a Punjabi refugee family, in the Lucknow in the 1950s—an experience that turned him into an unflagging ‘pseudo secularist’. Leaving home with a BA third-class degree, he experimented with a string of jobs, including that of a factory hand in suburban Britain, before  accepting an offer to edit Debonair, a journal best known for featuring naked women. The next three decades saw Mehta becoming one of India’s most widely read and influential editors, as he launched a number of successful new publications, from the now legendary Sunday Observer to the weekly newsmagazine, Outlook.

This candid memoir, with its ringside view of many of the major events of our times, brims over with wit, wisdom, scandal and gossip. Mehta recounts with zest how he was wooed and then summarily sacked by sundry media proprietors when their much-vaunted respect for editorial freedom broke down in the face of political pressures.  There are riveting accounts of his encounters with personalities from the worlds of politics, business, films and the media. There are masterly pen-portraits of personalities ranging from Shobhaa De to V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and Sonia Gandhi.

 

The Flamboyant Mr Chinnery: An English Artist in India and China by Patrick Conner

River Books, ISBN 978-6167339122, £15

At his best, George Chinnery was a splendid artist. For a living he painted portraits of swaggering lieutenants, hoary governors and their beribboned wives, American sea captains, and Chinese and Parsi merchants. George Chinnery immersed himself in these Asian cultures and his drawings and watercolours of local people and their daily activities are regarded by many as his most compelling work: crowded market scenes, fishermen landing on the beach, blacksmiths working at their bellows, gamblers playing in the street, boat-people making makeshift shelters, junks at anchor on a calm evening. This catalogue accompanies an exhibition, the first of Chinnery’s work in London for over 50 years, comprises some 100 works showing Chinnery’s range, from oils and watercolours to landscapes and portraits, with a special emphasis on his vivid and deceptively simple watercolours, and his fluent drawings of the people going about their everyday lives. Also included are a group of his self-portraits, presenting ‘the ugliest man on the China coast’, as he regarded himself, at varying ages and in contrasting states of mind. Over 100 paintings and drawings are reproduced in outstanding quality and show his work to the best advantage. The book also places his work in context and includes works by his contemporaries.

 

Contemporary Art in Asia edited by Melissa Chiu and Benjamin Genocchio

MIT Press, ISBN 978-0262516235, £22.95

In 2008, Asia stormed the citadel of the New-York art world when two major museums presented retrospectives of Asian contemporary artists: Cai Guo-Qiang at the Guggenheim Museum and Takashi Murakami at the Brooklyn Museum. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, a painting by Zeng Fanzhi sold for US$9.5 million, setting a new world auction record for Chinese contemporary art. The Western art world is still coming to grips with the challenge: it is all about Asia now. This book is the first anthology of critical writings to map the shift in both the nature and the reception of Asian art over the past 20 years. Offering texts by leading figures in the field (mostly Asian), and including more than 50 illustrations in colour and black and white, it covers developments in East Asia (including China, Korea, and Japan), South Asia (including India and Pakistan), and Southeast Asia (including Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand). Together, the 23 texts posit a historical and pan-Asian response to the question, ‘What is Asian contemporary art?’ Considering such topics as Asian modernism (‘productive mistranslation’ of the European original), Asian Cubism, and the curating, collecting, and criticism of Asian contemporary art, this book promises to be a foundational reference for many years to come.

 

Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia by Thant Myint-U

Faber, ISBN 978-0571239634, £20

Where China Meets India is a vivid, searching, and timely book about a remote region that is suddenly becoming a geopolitical centre of the world. It is a very timely book about a region that is suddenly becoming a geopolitical centre of the world – and where the regime seems to be softening its tight grip.

 

In the Footsteps of Augustine Henry by Seamus O’Brien

Garden Art Press, ISBN 78-1870673730 , £40

Augustine Henry is one of the most famous of the pioneering plant hunters to have travelled to China during the latter part of the 19th century, playing a key role in establishing the basis for our present knowledge of the Chinese flora. His account of the destruction of great tracts of China’s forests prompted later plant hunters like E. H. Wilson, George Forrest, Frank Kingdon Ward and William Purdom to venture to China in the name of plant exploration and introduction. In the Footsteps of Augustine Henry tells the fascinating story of his life and work and documents the expeditions undertaken by a dedicated team of botanists and horticulturists in the 1990s to revisit Henry’s routes, many of which were in danger of being flooded with the installation of the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River.

 

Disordered World: Setting a New Course for the Twenty-First Century by Amin Maalouf

Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1408815984, £20

In this exploration of the post-9/11 world, leading Lebanese novelist and intellectual Amin Maalouf sets out to understand how we have arrived at such disorder. He explores three different but related aspects of disorder: intellectual (manifested in an unleashing of statements on identity that allow no possibility of peaceful co-existence or debate), economic and financial (that is exhausting the earth’s resources), and climatic (the result of turning a blind eye to the consequences of rampant industrialisation). Instead of seeing the current disorder of the post-9/11 world as ‘a clash of civilisations’ Maalouf sees it as the ‘exhaustion of two civilisations’, a period in which humanity has reached its threshold of ‘moral incompetence’. Islam and the West have theoretical coherence, he says, but in practice each betrays its true ideals: the West is unfaithful to its own enlightenment values, which has discredited it in the eyes of the people to whom it has introduced democracy by force; while Islam finds itself condemned to a headlong rush into radicalism. These symmetrical disorders are only some of the elements in a global disorder that requires humanity as a whole to take responsibility for its future and face up to the urgent tasks such as climate change and the global financial crisis that threaten us all.

 

Geek Nation: How Indian Science is Taking Over the World by Angela Saini

Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 978-1444710144, £20

India: it is a nation of geeks, swots and nerds. Almost one in five of all medical and dental staff in the UK is of Indian origin, and one in six employed scientists with science or engineering doctorates in the US is Asian. By the turn of the millennium, there were even claims that a third of all engineers in Silicon Valley were of Indian origin, with Indians running 750 of its tech companies.  At the dawn of this scientific revolution, Geek Nation is a journey to meet the inventors, engineers and young scientists helping to give birth to the world’s next scientific superpower – a nation built not on conquest, oil or minerals, but on the scientific ingenuity of its people. Angela Saini explains how ancient science is giving way to new, and how the technology of the wealthy is being passing on to the poor. Delving inside the psyche of India’s science-hungry citizens, she explores the reason why the government of the most religious country on earth has put its faith in science and technology. Through first-hand reportage and analysis, the book explains what this means for the rest of the world, and how a spiritual nation squares its soul with hard rationality.

 

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

Jonathan Cape, ISBN 978-0224093613, £16.99

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England – a ‘castle that was to cross the sea’. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly ‘Cat’s Table’ with an eccentric group of grown-ups and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys become involved in the worlds and stories of the adults around them, tumbling from one adventure and delicious discovery to another, ‘bursting all over the place like freed mercury’. And at night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner – his crime and fate a galvanising mystery that will haunt them forever. As the narrative moves between the decks and holds of the ship and the boy’s adult years, it tells a spellbinding story about the difference between the magical openness of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding – about a lifelong journey that began unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage, when all on board were ‘free of the realities of the earth’.

 

A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle That Shaped the Middle East by James Barr

Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-1847374530, £25

In 1916, in the middle of the First World War, two men secretly agreed to divide the Middle East between them. Sir Mark Sykes was a visionary politician; Francois Georges-Picot a diplomat with a grudge. The deal they struck, which was designed to relieve tensions that threatened to engulf the Entente Cordiale, drew a line in the sand from the Mediterranean to the Persian frontier. Territory north of that stark line would go to France; land south of it, to Britain. Against the odds their pact survived the war to form the basis for the post-war division of the region into five new countries Britain and France would rule. The creation of Britain’s ‘mandates’ of Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq, and France’s in Lebanon and Syria, made the two powers uneasy neighbours for the following 30 years.

 

Through a stellar cast of politicians, diplomats, spies and soldiers, including T. E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, A Line in the Sand vividly tells the story of the short but crucial era when Britain and France ruled the Middle East. It explains exactly how the old antagonism between these two powers inflamed the more familiar modern rivalry between the Arabs and the Jews, and ultimately led to war between the British and the French in 1941 and between the Arabs and the Jews in 1948. In 1946, after many years of intrigue and espionage, Britain finally succeeded in ousting France from Lebanon and Syria, and hoped that, having done so, it would be able to cling on to Palestine. Using newly declassified papers from the British and French archives, James Barr brings this overlooked clandestine struggle back to life, and reveals, for the first time, the stunning way in which the French finally got their revenge.

 

Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper by Fuchsia Dunlop

Ebury, ISBN 978-0091918323, £7.99

Award-winning food writer Fuchsia Dunlop went to live in China in 1994, and from the very beginning vowed to eat everything she was offered, no matter how alien and bizarre it seemed to her as a Westerner. In this extraordinary memoir, Fuchsia recalls her evolving relationship with China and its food, from her first rapturous encounter with the delicious cuisine of Sichuan Province, to brushes with corruption, environmental degradation and greed. But is it possible for a Westerner to become a true convert to the Chinese way of eating? In an encounter with a caterpillar in an Oxfordshire kitchen, Fuchsia is forced to put this to the test.

 

Memoirs of a Dervish by Robert Irwin

Profile, ISBN 978-1861979919, £14.99

In the summer of 1964, while a military coup was taking place and tanks were rolling through the streets of Algiers, Robert Irwin set off for Algeria in search of Sufi enlightenment. There he entered a world of marvels and ecstasy, converted to Islam and received an initiation as a faqir. He learnt the rituals of Islam in North Africa and he studied Arabic in London. He also pursued more esoteric topics under a holy fool possessed of telepathic powers. A series of meditations on the nature of mystical experience run through this memoir. But political violence, torture, rock music, drugs, nightmares, Oxbridge intellectuals and first love and its loss are all part of this strange story from the 1960s.

 

Ghetto at the Centre of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong by Gordon Matthews

University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0226510200, £12.50

There is nowhere else in the world quite like Chungking Mansions, a dilapidated seventeen-storey commercial and residential structure in the heart of Hong Kong’s tourist district. A remarkably motley group of people call the building home; Pakistani phone stall operators, Chinese guesthouse workers, Nepalese heroin addicts, Indonesian sex workers, and traders and asylum seekers from all over Asia and Africa live and work there – even backpacking tourists rent rooms. In short, it is possibly the most globalised spot on the planet. But as Ghetto at the Centre of the World shows us, a trip to Chungking Mansions reveals a far less glamorous side of globalisation. A world away from the gleaming headquarters of multinational corporations, Chungking Mansions is emblematic of the way globalisation actually works for most of the world’s people. Gordon Matthews’ intimate portrayal of the building’s poly-ethnic residents lays bare their intricate connections to the international circulation of goods, money, and ideas. We come to understand the day-to-day realities of globalization through the stories of entrepreneurs from Africa carting cell phones in their luggage to sell back home and temporary workers from South Asia struggling to earn money to bring to their families. And we see that this so-called ghetto –  which inspires fear in many of Hong Kong’s other residents, despite its low crime rate – is not a place of darkness and desperation but a beacon of hope.

 

A New Art from Emerging Markets by Iain Robertson

Lund Humphries, ISBN 978-1848220195, £25

A New Art From Emerging Markets sets out to introduce and examine three types of emerging market for contemporary art: the very recently established, the maturing and the mature. In temporal terms, the youngest are no more than five years old; the maturing, 15  years old; and the mature up to 25 years old. But time is only one measure of the market, because size and speed of growth provide other means of establishing where the market is placed. As well as providing a survey of emerging art markets throughout the world, the book is concerned with looking at how value in non-Western contemporary art is constructed largely by external political events and economic factors rather than aesthetic considerations. For instance, Dubai’s political risk has increased markedly with the threat of a terrorist attack in the Emirate: this has repercussions for one of the world’s newest art-market hubs and will undoubtedly affect the progress of prices for Middle-Eastern and Indian art. The book also considers whether it is better to let a new art market grow organically, driven by commercial imperatives, or for the government to step in to construct a cultural and economic infrastructure within which an art market can be placed.