December 2010: Book Reviews

CHINA

Chinese Robes from The Forbidden City edited by Ming Wilson

V&A Publishing, ISBN 9781851776207, £30

Focusing on the dress and accessories of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), this book captures the grandeur of the garments worn by emperors and empresses for defined formal engagements. During this time, there were clear rules on what to wear on different occasions. Official dresses were worn when the emperor performed sacrifices at the Temple of Heaven and at other important rituals. Auspicious dresses were for New Year, birthdays and weddings; military dresses for troop inspection; travelling dresses for hunting and royal visits to provinces, and ordinary dresses for events of a non-celebrative nature, such as mourning. When not performing public duties, however, the imperial family could freely choose which garments to wear – and this book also illustrates these more casual clothes made for the court. Accompanies the exhibition opening in early December.

 

The Printed Image in China edited by Clarissa von Spee

The British Museum Press, ISBN 9780 7141 24605, £19.99

The British Museum holds one of the finest collections of Chinese prints outside Asia, with particular strength in the modern period. Its wide range includes examples dating back to the invention of printing in China through its development, both technically and aesthetically, over more than a millennium, from the 8th to the 20th century. This book features 100 of the most iconic and important examples from the British Museum’s collection, many of which have never before been published. The accompanying text explains the important features of each print, including techniques, aesthetic principles and cultural context, to open up this fascinating subject to a wider audience. The introduction gives a concise survey of the subject, explaining how revolutionary the invention of printing in China was and how its influence spread worldwide.

 

Jade by Roger Keverne

Anness Publishing, ISBN 9781903141861, £29.99

Roger Keverne was for many years Director of the Oriental Department of Spink & Sons Ltd, London (which was bought by Christie’s). In 1992, he established the Oriental Art Gallery Limited in London. This new book on Jade is structured geographically and historically and covers all the major and lesser-known areas of jade production. Expert authors on each section have been commissioned from locations as diverse as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, America, Canada, New Zealand and England. Over 600 pieces have been used as illustration and for reference.

 

The Emperors Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City by Nancy Berliner et al.

Peabody Essex Museum/Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300163896, £45

For centuries, China’s Forbidden City has captured the world’s imagination. Parts of the Forbidden City have been open to the public since 1925, and nearly 8 million tourists flock there annually. Yet the elegant, intimate Qianlong Garden – itself within a mini-Forbidden City inside the Forbidden City – has remained sequestered from public view. Dating from the 18th century, the Qianlong Garden was built as a retirement retreat for its namesake emperor, a visionary patron of the arts who designed his garden to reflect a perfect union of art, architecture, and nature. Now undergoing restoration as a result of a groundbreaking international collaboration, it is intended to be fully open to visitors in 2019. The Emperors Private Paradise gives an in-depth analysis of the garden – the most refined and elegant of imperial Chinese gardens, and containing some of the most extravagant imperial interiors still existing. This volume also interprets the many artworks commissioned for the garden by the emperor as expressions of ancient cultural values and new perspectives. Essays offering an overview of the history of Chinese gardens and the reign of the Qianlong emperor complement and contextualize the importance of the Qianlong Garden and its artworks. This volume is published to accompany the exhibition of 90 objects from the Qianlong Garden at Peabody Essex, many of them never seen before and including superlative examples of Qing murals, paintings, wall coverings, furniture, architectural elements, and jades.

 

Tracing the Past Drawing the Future: Master Ink Painters in the 20th Century by Xiaoneng Yang
Five Continents, ISBN 978-8874395385, £55

This book examines a crucial turning point in the development of Chinese ink painting in the twentieth century, a change represented by the beautiful and innovative work of four artists, Wu Changshuo (1844-1927), Qi Baishi (1863-1957), Huang Binhong (1864-1955), and Pan Tianshou (1897-1971). With careers spanning over a century of radical change in China, these artists were instrumental in propelling the ancient tradition of Chinese ink painting into the modern era in the face of compelling Western influences. As a group, their work represents an alternative approach to questions of relevance and modernity. This book explores the context in which these artists worked, describes their overall contribution to the history of Chinese art, and highlights their individual ideas and achievements. The essays devoted to each artist are followed by individual entries discussing their works. Featuring more than one 100 works of both painting and calligraphy by the four artists, the book, which is published to accompany a travelling exhibition, also includes a glossary and detailed bibliography.

 

 

The Caves of Dunhuang: The Dunhuang Academy by Fan Jinshi

Scala, ISBN 9781 857595406, £35

The cave temples of Mogao are near Dunhuang at the extreme western end of the Silk Road in China. Founded by Buddhist monks in the fourth century, the caves were inhabited as an isolated monastery for over 1,000 years. The murals with which the caves were decorated create one of the finest examples of Buddhist art in China, reflecting the changing styles of Chinese art for more than a millennium. The caves were also the repository of many other treasures, including works on silk and paper as well as tens of thousands of Buddhist manuscripts. This book examines 50 of the finest caves in detail and gives an unparalleled introduction to the site, the quality of the murals and the other contents, and outlines one of the most fascinating stories in Asian history. Fan Jinshi, President of the Dunhuang Research Institute, has worked at Dunhuang since 1963, dedicating herself to the preservation and management of the caves and their contents.

 

The New and Revised Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics by Gerald Davison

Gerald Davison Ltd, ISBN 9780956451804, £45

This is a new and substantially revised edition of the author’s original book on the subject. This new work represents a further 15 years of research into this area of collecting and contains detailed information on nearly 3,400 marks – twice the content of the original `Handbook’ published in 1994.

 

Telling Images of China: Narrative and Figure Paintings, 15th to 20th century from the Shanghai Museum by Shane McCausland and Ling Lizhong

Scala, ISBN 9781 857596045, £25

This book accompanied an exhibition in Dublin of early modern and modern paintings from one of the world’s finest collections of Chinese art – the Shanghai Museum. The 38 figural works included scrolls and albums by artists – both pre-eminent and obscure – active in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, and the 20th century. These narrative or ‘story paintings’, an emerging topic in Asian art history, retell or illustrate some kind of tale. The sources range across folk and religious lore, oral and official history, and poetry and literature. The main themes of the exhibition are introduced in the catalogue under the headings: ‘Stories of Crossings: Exiles, Loyalists, Rustics’; ‘Religious Lore and Legends of the Supernatural’; and, ‘Romances and Tales of Talent and Beauty’.

 

Writing Modern Chinese Art edited by Josh Yiu

Seattle Art Museum, ISBN 9780932216625, £17.99

This book – consisting of 10 articles by art historians, artist, historian, and curator – explores the developments of Chinese art in the previous century, applying critical theories to question and reinterpret concepts that are normally taken for granted. Their writings also reveal the thought processes in which the authors filtered what they considered to be important information, especially regarding people, events, dates, and artworks. As such, the topic of each article is, in itself, a result of judicious selection. This volume demonstrates how modern Chinese art history has been – and can be – written. Josh Yiu is the Foster Foundation Associate Curator of Chinese Art at the Seattle Art Museum. Other contributors include Julia Andrews, Arnold Chang, Ralph Croizier, Zaixin Hong, Tamaki Maeda, Kuiyi Shen, Jerome Silbergeld, Qingli Wan, and Aida Yuen Wong.

 

Chinese Ink Painting Now by Jason C Kuo

DAP, ISBN 978-1935202110, £46.95

China’s brush-and-ink traditions remain vital in contemporary Chinese art and the genre is continually under renewal by successive generations of artists. This is the first book-length survey in English on recent trends in this discipline and reflects the recent dissemination of Chinese art and the explosion of interest in this work in the West. Nearly 60 artists are discussed here, including leading figures of postwar modernism such as Liu Kuo-sung; ‘New Literati’ artists like Li Jin and other figurative painters; calligraphers such as Gu Gan; New Wave figures and conceptual artists including Xu Bing, Wenda Gu and Qiu Zhijie; and landscape artists whose work ranges from the traditional – Li Huayi, Fang Jun and Yuan Jai – to the abstract, such as Jia Youfu and Qiu Deshu.

Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents by edited by Wu Hung
MoMA/Duke University Press, ISBN 9780822349433, £27.99

Despite the liveliness and creativity of avant-garde Chinese art in the post-Mao era, and its prominence in the world of international contemporary art, there has been no real systematic introduction to this important work in any Western language. Moreover, most of the relevant primary documents have existed only in Chinese, scattered in hard-to-find publications. Contemporary Chinese Art remedies this situation by bringing together carefully selected primary texts in English translation. Arranged in chronological order, the texts guide readers through the development of avant-garde Chinese art from 1976 until 2006. Because experimental Chinese art emerged as a domestic phenomenon in the 1970s and 1980s, and its subsequent development has been closely related to China’s social and economical transformation, this volume focuses on art from mainland China. At the same time, its purview encompasses the activities of mainland artists residing overseas, since artists who emigrated in the 1980s and 1990s were often key participants in the early avant-garde movements and have continued to interact with the mainland art world. The primary documents include the manifestos of avant-garde groups, prefaces to important exhibitions, writings by representative artists, important critical and analytical essays, and even some official documents. Each chapter and section begins with a concise preface explaining the significance of the texts while providing the necessary historical background, and the volume includes a chronicle summarising important art phenomena and related political events.

 

Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation by Christoph Noe, Xenia Piech and Cordelia Steiner

Prestel, ISBN 8783 7913 5060 8, £14.99

The artists presented in this book came of age in a time when freedom of thought and expression was possible, if not exactly permitted. Unlike their predecessors, these artists did not feel a compulsion to politicise their work. The result is a generation that accepts materialism and economic growth as a part of the Chinese experience – and this paradigm is apparent in their arresting and often shocking works of art. This book also gives voice to other representatives of this generation outside the art world, which puts the artists presented here in a broader cultural context. This volume features 30 artists, examples of their work, and short texts about their art and lives in China.

 

Chen Man: Works 2003-2010 by Lui Heung-shing and Karen Smith

3030 Press, ISBN 978-9889938420, £36

At 30, Chen Man is one of China’s leading photographers and one of their most successful photographers yet produced. In the past seven years she has contributed to Vogue, Elle and many other luxury fashion titles, where her blend of fantasy, fetishism, revolutionary kitsch and Beijing cool have moved the boundaries for creativity in China and paved they way for a new generation of young artists in the post-reform era.

 

Pearl of China by Anchee Min

Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN 978-1408801826, £11.99

In the small southern town of Chin-kiang, in the last days of the 19th century, two young girls bump heads and become thick as thieves. Willow is the only child of a destitute family. Pearl is the headstrong daughter of zealous Christian missionaries. She will grow up to become Pearl S. Buck, the Nobel Prize-winning writer and activist, but for now she is just a girl embarrassed by her blonde hair and enchanted by her new Chinese friend. Moving out into the world together, the two enter the intellectual fray of the times, confide their hopes and dreams, and survive early marriages gone bad. But when civil war erupts between the Nationalists and Communists, Pearl’s family is forced to flee the country ahead of angry mobs. Willow, despite close ties to Mao’s inner circle, is punished for her loyalty to her ‘cultural imperialist’ friend. And yet, through love and loss, heartbreak and joy, exile and imprisonment, the two women remain intimately entwined.

 

Burying the Bones: Pearl Buck in China by Hilary Spurling

ISBN 9781861978288, £15

Pearl Buck was raised in China by her American parents, Presbyterian missionaries from Virginia. Blonde and blue-eyed she looked startlingly foreign, but felt as at home as her Chinese companions. She ran free on the grave-littered grasslands behind her house, often stumbling across the tiny bones of baby girls who had been suffocated at birth. Buck’s father was a terrifying figure, with a maniacal zeal for religious conversion – a passion rarely shared by the local communities he targeted. He drained the family’s budget for his Chinese translation of the New Testament, while his aggrieved, long-suffering wife did her utmost to create a homely environment for her children, several of whom died tragically young. Pearl Buck would eventually rise to eminence in America as a bestselling author (her most renowned work, The Good Earth, re-entered the bestseller charts in 2004 when it was selected for Oprah’s Book Club) but in this biography, Spurling recounts her hard upbringing in a China that was virtually unknown to the West.

 

When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind – Or Destroy It by Jonathan Watts

Basic, ISBN 978-0571239818, £16.99

This book attempts to tell the story of China’s – and the world’s – biggest crisis. With foul air, filthy water, rising temperatures and encroaching deserts, China is already suffering an environmental disaster. Now it faces a stark choice: either accept catastrophe, or make radical changes. Travelling the vast country to witness this environmental challenge, Jonathan Watts moves from mountain paradises to industrial wastelands, examining the responses of those at the top of society to the problems and hopes of those below. At heart his book is not a call for panic, but a demonstration that – even with the crisis so severe, and the political scope so limited – the actions of individuals can make a difference. Consistently attentive to human detail, Watts vividly portrays individual lives in a country all too often viewed from outside as a faceless state.

 

Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler

HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0061804090, $27.99

Country Driving begins with Hessler’s 7,000-mile trip across northern China, following the Great Wall, from the East China Sea to the Tibetan plateau. He investigates a historically important rural region being abandoned, as young people migrate to jobs in the southeast. Next Hessler spends six years in Sancha, a small farming village in the mountains north of Beijing, which changes dramatically after the local road is paved and the capital’s auto boom brings new tourism. Finally, he turns his attention to urban China, researching development over a period of more than two years in Lishui, a small southeastern city where officials hope that a new government-built expressway will transform a farm region into a major industrial centre.

 

JAPAN AND KOREA

 

Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East by Jonathan Clements

Haus Publishing, ISBN 978-1906598624, £14.99

Togo Heihachiro (1848-1934) was born into a feudal society that had lived in seclusion for 250 years. As a teenage samurai, he witnessed the destruction wrought upon his native land by British warships. As the legendary ‘Silent Admiral’, he was at the forefront of innovations in warfare, pioneering the Japanese use of modern gunnery and wireless communication. He is best known as ‘the Nelson of the East’ for his resounding victory over the Tsar’s navy in the Russo-Japanese War, but he also lived a remarkable life – studying at a British maritime college, witnessing the Sino-French War, the Hawaiian Revolution, and the Boxer Uprising. After his retirement, he was appointed to oversee the education of the Emperor, Hirohito. This new biography spans Japan’s sudden, violent leap out of its self-imposed isolation and into the 20th century. Delving beyond Togo’s finest hour at the Battle of Tsushima, it portrays the life of a diffident Japanese sailor in Victorian Britain, his reluctant celebrity in America – where he was laid low by Boston cooking and welcomed by his biggest fan, Theodore Roosevelt, forgotten wars over the short-lived Republics of Ezo and Formosa, and the accumulation of peacetime experience that forged a wartime hero.

 

Poem of the Pillow and Other Stories by Gian Carlo Calza

Phaidon, ISBN 9780 7148 4996 6, £29.95

This is a comprehensive survey of Japanese erotic art, from the mid-17th century to the end of the 19th century. Organised chronologically by artist, it includes such well-known artists as Utamaro, Hokusai, Harunobu, Kunisada, and Kuniyoshi amongst others. The book comprises of a general introduction which sets the artists and their work in their social, historical and artistic context. The book is then organized by artist with a short text on each artist, introducing the illustrated works.

 

The Golden Age of Japanese Okimono by Laura Bordignon

Antique Collectors Club, ISBN 9781851496099, £45

This is a comprehensive study of the history of okimono during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) based on Dr. A.M. Kanter’s collection with over 150 illustrations of Japanese ivory carvings, bronzes and shibayama objects. The guide covers all aspects on the subject; the author has been granted permission from the Shoto Museum of Art in Tokyo, to reproduce their entire archive listing of Japanese artists active during this period. All the various signature marks are reproduced alongside the English translation, an essential reference to facilitate collectors, dealers and scholars. Also, illustrations are provided showing how to identify all the Japanese forms of art signatures used which adds greatly to its interest for collectors. Guidance has been given to help collectors identify the various materials used for carving: ivory, walrus, hippo and bone, and how to care for these fine objects. Japanese mythology and folk tales are explained, as well as the various metalwork and shibayama techniques.

 

Japanese Prints by Ellis Tinios

The British Museum Press, ISBN 9780 7141 24537, £14.99

Japanese woodblock prints of the Edo period (1615-1868) were the products of a highly commercialised and competitive publishing industry. Their content was inspired by the vibrant popular culture that flourished in Edo (Tokyo). At any given time scores of publishers competed for the services of the leading artists of the day. Publishers and artists displayed tremendous ingenuity in finding ways to sustain demand for prints and to circumvent the restrictions placed upon them by government censorship. This book draws upon recent scholarship to explain how those who first purchased these prints would have read them. Through new photography of both well-known and rarely published works in the collection of the British Museum, including many recent acquisitions, the author explores how and why such prints were made, providing a fascinating introduction to a much-loved art form.

 

Shunga: Erotic Art in Japan by Rosina Buckland

The British Museum Press, ISBN 9780 7141 2463 6, £19.99

Over the course of the Edo period, an extraordinarily large quantity of paintings, prints and illustrated books with sexual and erotic themes was produced in Japan. As urban culture expanded rapidly during the 17th century, erotic material was a major genre of woodblock print production. These constitute some of the finest examples of art-printing in Japan, employing deluxe materials and special printing effects. This book looks at pictures by some of the most renown artists, such as Kitagawa Utamaro and Katsushika Hokusai, who produced erotic imagery as a standard part of their work. Erotic encounters in Edo-period woodblock prints reflect multiple perspectives male, female, heterosexual and homosexual. Japanese erotic art is also notable for its tone of humour, much more so than in Western representations of sex. There was also frequent recourse to satire and parody, often in defiance of contemporary censorship and sumptuary regulations.

 

Haiku Animals edited by Mavis Pilbeam

British Museum Press, ISBN 9780 7141 24612, £9.99

A perfect Christmas present … Haiku Animals is a wonderful way to relax and think about animals, nature and celebrate the art of haiku – all caught in a frozen moment of time.

 

The Gardens of Japan by Helena Attlee

Frances Lincoln, ISBN 978-0711229716, £16.99

In Japanese gardens, visitors find nature condensed and brought to perfection: trees are trained and sculpted; the finest natural landscapes are reproduced in miniature; and the seasons are celebrated with spring blossom and the fiery leaves of autumn. In this introduction to Japanese gardens Helena Attlee captures the essence of Japanese garden style and gives an outline of its history. She then explores in detail 28 of the great Japanese gardens, explaining their character and nature. Alex Ramsay’s superb photographs, specially taken for the book, illustrate every aspect of the gardens.

 

Flowers for Kim Il Sung by Han Chang Gyu, Frank Hoffmann and Peter Noever

MAK, Vienna, ISBN 978 3869845, £30

This is the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition in Vienna – one of the first to explore the contemporary art, poster production and architecture of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The show contained around 100 oil and ink pictures, a representative selection of posters, and a model of the ‘Chuch’e Tower’, the landmark of Pyongyang, and is rounded off by architectural drawings and photographs. Also included were 16 portraits of the two most senior leaders of the country, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong II.

 

Life in Ceramics: Five Contemporary Korean Artists by Burglind Jungmann

Fowler Museum/University of Washington Press, US$20

Korea has an enduring history as a world-renowned centre of ceramic production. While the development of other Korean art forms – whether calligraphy, painting, architecture or sculpture – is strongly linked with that of neighboring China, Korean ceramics stand out as highly individual and largely independent of such cultural exchanges. The five celebrated ceramic artists whom noted art historian Burglind Jungmann has selected to form the focus of this study – Kim Yikyung, Yoon Kwang-cho, Lee Kang Hyo, Lee Young-Jae, and Lee In Chin – all have established and well-deserved reputations in Korea, and some with strong international ties as well. These particular artists have been chosen in part because their works acknowledge and engage with Korean ceramic tradition while remaining innovative, contemporary pieces of art.

 

Korean Eye: Contemporary Korean Art edited by Serenella Ciclitira

Skira, ISBN 9788 885720 4673, £39.95

This is one of the most significant works on Korean contemporary art and artists to date and features 60 of Korea’s most renowned contemporary artists. It is a welcome addition to the sparse collection of publications in English on Korean contemporary art.

 

SOUTH ASIA

 

India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow by Stephen Markel and Tushara Bindu Gude

Prestel, ISBN 978-3791350752, £50

This exploration of the opulent art and refined lifestyle of Lucknow showcases the ancient city’s cultural diversity at its most magnificent.Lucknow was a cosmopolitan Indo-Islamic-European capital in northern India that flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cultural successor to the resplendent Mughal Empire – and fated to succumb to Imperial British expansion – Lucknow fostered some of the most vibrant artistic expressions of its day in a wide range of media. It also represented a rare intersection of Eastern and Western traditions, as well as of Islamic and Hindu influences. It includes essays by the two curators and nine additional scholars on the multiple aspects of Lucknow’s cultural heritage and a variety of illustrations, including album paintings, illustrated historical and religious manuscripts, textiles and garments, period photographs, and decorative art objects such as ornate metalwork, glassware, and jewellery.

 

Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal

Philadelphia Museum of Art, ISBN 978-3-7913-5075-2, £50

This first book-length study on kanthas published outside of South Asia focuses on two premier collections, one assembled by the legendary historian of Indian art, Dr. Stella Kramrisch, the other by Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz, leading proponents of self-taught art. Created from worn-out garments imaginatively embroidered by women with motifs and tales drawn from a rich regional repertoire, kanthas traditionally were stitched as gifts for births, weddings, and other family occasions. Innovative essays by leading scholars explore the domestic, ritual, and historical contexts of the fascinating quilts in these collections – made between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries in what is today Bangladesh and West Bengal, India – and trace their reinterpretation as emblems of national identity and works of art.

 

South Indian Paintings: A Catalogue of the British Museum Collection by Anna L Dallapiccola

British Museum Press, ISBN 9780 7141 2424 7, £60

The British Museum’s collection of South Indian paintings consists of around 1,000 items ranging from the 17th to the 20th century and representing a wide variety of themes and techniques. Only a very few examples from this major collection have been published before. In this book the collection will be catalogued in full, and 250 of the most important items will be reproduced in colour. The paintings will be described and listed according to the their topics (Hindu mythology; castes, trades and occupations; natural history drawings; painted narratives; India observed) and according to the medium on which they were executed (paper, cloth, leather, mica). Each section begina with a brief introduction outlining the essential stylistic and iconographic features. Among this material are a number of highly interesting albums such as a set of 91 paintings depicting Hindu mythology, dating from the early decades of the 19th century. More unusual items are the long painted scrolls from Andhra illustrating local mythological narratives, the painted cloths from Tamil Nadu depicting the Ramayana epic, and paintings on paper used by the storytellers of northern Karnataka.

 

Silent Splendour: Palaces of the Deccan, 14th to 19th Centuries by Dr Helen Philon

Marg, ISBN 978-8185026961, £42.87

This book, using new research, examines the private and ceremonial structures found in the five principal dynastic capitals and administrative centres of the Deccan during the 14th-19th centuries. The Indo-Islamic courtly cultures of the different dynasties that ruled the Deccan, with their surrounding garden areas and water resources, have been considered as one entity for the first time.

 

Gandhi: Naked Ambition by Jad Adams

Quercus, ISBN 978-1849162104, £20

The pre-eminent political and spiritual leader of India’s independence movement, pioneer of non-violent resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience (satyagraha), honoured in India as ‘father of nation’, Mohandas K. Gandhi has inspired movements for civil rights and political freedom across the world. Jad Adams offers a concise and elegant account of Gandhi’s life: from his birth and upbringing in a small princely state in Gujarat during the high noon of the British Raj, to his assassination at the hands of a Hindu extremist in 1948 only months after the birth of the independent India which he himself he had done so much to bring about. He delineates the principal events of a career that may truly be said to have changed the world: his training as a barrister in late Victorian London; his civil rights work in Boer War-era South Africa; his leadership of the Indian National Congress; his focus on obtaining self-government and control of all Indian government institutions, and the campaigns of non-cooperation and non-violence against British rule in India whereby he sought to achieve that aim (including the famous ‘Salt March’ of March/April 1930); his passionate opposition to partition in 1947 and his fasts-unto-death in a bid to end the bitter and bloody sectarian violence that attended it. Jad Adams’s examines why Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings are still profoundly relevant today.

 

Curfewed Night: Frontline Memoir of Life, Love and War in Kashmir by Basharat Peer

HarperPress, ISBN 978 0 87633 218 4, £16.99

Basharat Peer was a teenager when the separatist movement exploded in Kashmir in 1989. Over the following years countless young men, fuelled by feelings of injustice, crossed over the Line of Control to train in Pakistani army camps. Peer was sent off to boarding school in Aligarh to keep out of trouble. He finished college and became a journalist in Delhi. But Kashmir – angrier, more violent, more hopeless – was never far away. In 2003, Peer, now a young journalist, left his job and returned to his homeland. Drawing a harrowing portrait of Kashmir and her people – a mother forced to watch her son hold an exploding bomb, politicians living in refurbished torture chambers, picturesque villages riddled with landmines – this is above all, a story of what it really means to return home – and the discovery that there may not be any redemption in it.

 

Woven Masterpieces of Sikh Heritage by Frank Ames

Antique Collectors Club, ISBN 9781 5149 5986, £45

The sub title of this book is The Stylistic Development of the Kashmir Shawl under Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), which explains the thrust of the book: the events and ideas that transpired with the Khasala (Sikh Brotherhood) movement, transforming the Kashmir shawl to one of powerful ethnic proportions. Maharaja Runjit Singh’s takeover of Kashmir in 1819 had an extraordinary impact on the fashion of the shawl and this evolution is explored by using miniature paintings, illustrations and images of existing shawls from the period.

 

HIMALAYAS

 

A Shrine for Tibet: The Alice S Kandell Collection by Marylin M Rhie and Robert AF Thurman

Tibet House US Book/Overlook Duckworth,
ISBN 978 0967011578, US$60

The focus of this book is Tibetan art from the 15th-century Ganden Renaissance through the 17th century building of the Potala Palace, and into the 18th and 19th centuries with the flowering of Mongolian and Manchu Qing Buddhist art in the Tibetan tradition. The Tibetans regard a shrine in a technical way as a doorway into the enlightened world, a laboratory in which the structure of that world is designed, and a refuge in which it is enjoyed and brought into the ordinary world to be shared with suffering beings. The Alice S. Kandell collection was assembled to create such an authentic Tibetan Buddhist shrine room, complete with all ritual arrangements and equipment, according to the practice of Tibetan and Mongolian reincarnate lamas.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

 

Gods of Angkor: Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia edited by Louise Allison Cort and Paul Jett. University of Washington Press/Arthur M Sackler Gallery, ISBN 9780295990422, US$40

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 AD. 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.

 

Five Centuries of Indonesian Textiles: The Mary Hunt Kahlenberg Collection edited by Ruth Barnes and Mary Hunt Kahlenberg

Prestel, ISBN 9783 7913 50714, £65

Since the 1970s Mary Hunt Kahlenberg has been building her collection of exquisite ceremonial garments and sacred textiles from throughout Indonesia’s chain of tropical islands. Dating from the past five centuries and brought together here for the first time in book form, these woven and batiked hangings, ceremonial mats, jackets, shawls, and head cloths form a stunning array that will draw the attention of anyone with a love of art, fine craftsmanship, and design. Large, elegantly presented photographs show the textiles in incredible closeup detail and full expanse, making it possible to appreciate their technical brilliance and rich colours as well as the amazing assortment of intricate patterns and motifs.

 

Everything is Broken: the Untold Story of Disaster Under Burma’s Military Regime by Emma Larkin

Granta, ISBN 978-1847081803, £12.99

On May 2, 2008, an enormous tropical cyclone made landfall in Burma. The cyclone wreaked untold havoc, but the regime, in an unfathomable decision of near-genocidal proportions, blocked international aid from entering the country, and provided little relief themselves. Emma Larkin, who has been travelling to and secretly reporting on Burma for years, managed to arrange for a tourist visa in those frenzied days and arrived to chaos. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens lacked food, drinking water, and basic shelter. In this book, Larkin not only exposes the extent of the damage, but provides a singular portrait of the generals responsible for compounding the tragedy, examining in revealing detail the historical, religious, and superstitious setting that created Burma’s tenacious and brutal dictatorship.

 

Vietnam: Rising Dragon by Bill Hayton

Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300152036, US$30

The eyes of the West have recently been trained on China and India, but Vietnam is rising fast among its Asian peers. A breathtaking period of social change has seen foreign investment bringing capitalism flooding into its nominally communist society, booming cities swallowing up smaller villages, and the lure of modern living tugging at the traditional networks of family and community. Yet beneath these sweeping developments lurks an authoritarian political system that complicates the nation’s apparent renaissance. In this engaging work, experienced journalist Bill Hayton looks at the costs of change in Vietnam and questions whether this rising Asian power is really heading toward capitalism and democracy. Based on vivid eyewitness accounts and pertinent case studies, Hayton’s book addresses a broad variety of issues in today’s Vietnam, including important shifts in international relations, the growth of civil society, economic developments and challenges, and the nation’s nascent democracy movement as well as its notorious internal security. His analysis of Vietnam’s ‘police state’, and its systematic mechanisms of social control, coercion, and surveillance, is fresh and particularly imperative when viewed alongside his portraits of urban and street life, cultural legacies, religion, the media, and the arts.

 

Southeast Asian Ceramics: New Light on Old Pottery by John N Miksic and Michael Flecker

Didier Millet, ISBN 9789814206138, £29.95

Focusing primarily on the Classical Period (800-1500), this book views ancient Southeast Asian culture through the lens of ceramic production and trade, influenced but not completely overshadowed by its powerful neighbour, China. In this landmark publication, which accompanied the exhibition of the same name, noted archaeologist and scholar John N. Miksic constructs a picture of the development of Southeast Asia’s ceramics. Along with three contributing authors Pamela M.Watkins, Dawn F. Rooney and Michael Flecker he summarises the fruits of their research over the last 40 years, beginning in Singapore with the founding of the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society (SEACS) in 1969. The result is a comprehensive and insightful overview of the technology, aesthetics and organization, both economic and political, of seemingly diverse territories in pre-colonial Southeast Asia.

 

Arts of Ancient Viet Nam: From River Plain to Open Sea

Asia Society/MFA/Yale University Press, ISBN 978 0300 146967, US$60

Once a strategic trading post that channelled the flow of riches and ideas among countries situated along the South China Sea and places as far away as India and Rome, Vietnam has a fascinating history and an artistic heritage to match it. This well produced catalogue will help introduce English-speaking audiences to Vietnam’s amazing body of artwork, ranging from the first millennium BC to the 18th century. The authors begin by discussing, for example, the elegant burial jars, iron axes, bronze artefacts, and jewellery of the early Sa Huynh culture; the bronze ritual drums of the Dong Son; and, the jewelled gold pieces, excavated from the walled center of Oc Eo in the kingdom of Fu Nan. New scholarship investigates the trade in gold and Chinese ceramics between Cham and the Philippine kingdom of Butuan. The final section is devoted to art from Hoi An, once a major international port.

 

Nini Towok’s Spinning Wheel: Cloth and the Cycle of Life in Kerek, Java by Rens Heringa

Fowler Museum/University of Washington Press, ISBN 978 0977 834426, US$25

In 1976 Dutch textile specialist Rens Heringa, then a resident of Indonesia, first visited Kerek in rural East Java and discovered there a last holdout, a region where – unlike the rest of Java – the full range of textiles with woven patterning, as well as the only batik still made on handwoven cotton cloth, continued to be produced for local use. Moreover, each type of cloth made in Kerek is created for a specific purpose – to be worn by a person of a particular age, social or residential group; to serve in life-cycle events such as marriage or funerals; to act as a focal point in agricultural ceremonies or curing rites. The functions, techniques, patterning and especially the colour combinations of the cloth all form part of a highly structured and elaborate system of belief that is remarkably integrated with the community’s social organisation, mythology and ritual practices. Remnants of similarly integrated systems of belief are known from many parts of Java, but by the late 20th century the full system could be observed only in Kerek. Batik from Kerek today probably represents the most direct descendant of the earliest North Coast styles, which were antecedents of both the courtly and urban batik found in collections around the world.

 

Buddhist Murals of Northeast Thailand: Reflections of Isan Heartland by Bonnie Pacala Brereton and Somroay Yencheuy

Silkworm Books/University of Washington Press, ISBN 9786169005315, US$35

Books on mural painting in Thailand have tended to focus on works commissioned by royalty or other elites from the centres of power. This volume is the first to examine a vibrant sub-school of painting from the rural heartland of the North-Eastern Region, also known as Isan. It is a multifaceted and empathetic study of these lovely and lively paintings, and will appeal to anyone interested in the Mekong Region as well as to scholars of art history, Buddhism and anthropology in Southeast Asia.

 

CENTRAL ASIA

 

Kazakhstan: Religions and Society of Central Asia edited by Gian Luca Bonora

Umberto Allemandi, ISBN 9788842217558, £52.50

This book is essentially a portfolio of the religious experience in the Kazakh lands organised in two parts: the first devoted to the religions of the Steppes of Central Eurasia (present-day Kazakhstan) in the prehistoric and ancient period, and the second is devoted to the study of the different religious beliefs professed by the various populations who lived and live in the Kazakh Steppes in the mediaeval, modern and contemporary periods (12th-20th century). Special attention is given to themes of the utmost importance such as Buddhist Lamaism in Kazakh lands, the role of religion in the control of intertribal conflicts between Kazakhs, and the Jewish presence in 19th and 20th-century Kazakhstan. This book is illustrated with a wealth of photographs and maps of the major places of worship in Kazakhstan from archive collections belonging to Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.

 

Nomadic Felts by Stephanie Bunn
The British Museum Press, ISBN 978 0 7141 2557 2, £25

Believed to be one of the earliest textiles, felt has been made by the nomadic peoples of Central Asia for over 2,500 years and the craft still thrives today as an integral part of their culture. Valued for both its functional and decorative qualities, felt is used to make yurts and all manner of objects relating to daily life, such as carpets, interior fittings, carrying bags, saddle cloths and clothing. The book looks in particular detail at the Turkic and Mongol traditions, which include felt from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Xinjiang and from Mongolia, Tibet, Bhutan and South-East Asia. As well as the history and technology of feltmaking, the book will explore patterns and symbolism. Illustrated with spectacular textiles from museums in Britain, the United States, Russia and Europe, as well as field photographs, archival material and details of motifs, this book will provide a unique insight into nomadic life as well as an inspirational source of designs for textile specialists.

 

Colours of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats
The Textile Museum, ISBN 978 0874 050332, $55

Nineteenth-century Central Asian ikats are distinguished by bold, original designs using vibrant colours and are prized for their great beauty. Today the influence of ikat textiles can be seen in contemporary fashion and home decor. The book explores the artistic, social, and economic aspects of Central Asian ikat production and the role these textiles played in the 19th-century role and upper-middle-class urban society living in oasis towns of what is now Uzbekistan, while bringing attention to the contemporary revival of ikat production in Uzbekistan and its historic influences. Ikats derive their name from the techanique used to create them, wherein parts of the warp or weft are protected in order to resist dye. The process is complex, requiring highly skilled and specialised craftsmen and careful planning before weaving starts. The resulting textiles are recognised for their daring, often large designs, clever colour combinations and dazzling palettes. The publication presents 185 never-before-seen ikat textiles from the outstanding collection donated to The Textile Museum since 2005 by Murad Megalli of Istanbul.

 

ISLAMIC WORLD

 

New Vision: Arab Contemporary Art in the 21st Century by Hossei Amirsadeghi, Salwa Mikdadi and Nada Shabout (eds)
Thames & Hudson, ISBN 9780500976982, £48

New Vision is the most comprehensive, scholarly and in-depth survey yet of what is currently happening at the cutting-edge of art in the Arab world. Five essays explore in depth contemporary Arab production, followed by 90 superbly illustrated profiles of key artists, organisations and galleries. Perfect for all scholars, students and lovers of art, as well as all those interested in the broader Arab cultures, it is set to become the touchstone publication on this increasingly important and exciting subject.

 

Islamic Art by Luca Mozzati

Prestel, ISBN 978 37913 4453 3, £50

From its birth in the 7th century through modern times, the Islamic religion has inspired glorious works of art. This stunning book includes more than four hundred reproductions of treasures of Islamic art that span the world: from southern Europe along the entire Mediterranean basin to sub-Saharan Africa, through the Middle East, India, and Central Asia. Arranged geographically, the objects include paintings, miniatures, ceramics, calligraphy, textiles, carpets and metal works. Each region is given a thorough introduction that offers historical context and extensive descriptions of its artefacts. Accompanying essays offer guidance in interpreting the many themes that tie these works together, including typology, calligraphy, and religious beliefs. Despite its wide-ranging history and origins, Islamic art is unified by its devotion to faith and beauty. With its large format, exquisite reproductions and extensive research, this book is a thorough introduction to an artistic tradition.

 

Textiles of the Islamic World by John Gillow

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978 0500 51527 3, £45

This volume offers an illustrated, region-by-region survey of textiles made, worn, used and displayed in the Islamic world. The text includes details of dozens of textile techniques, such as loom types, materials, forms of decoration and local specialities, paired with specially taken colour images of textiles on display, photographs of weavers and dyers in action, and rare historical material.

 

An Ottoman Traveller Selections from the Book of Travels of Eviliya Celebi translation and commentary by Robert Dankoff and Sooyong Kim

Eland, ISBN 978 1906 011444, £25

Evliya Celebi was the Orhan Pamuk of the 17th century, the Pepys of the Ottoman world – a diligent, adventurous and honest recorder with a puckish wit and humour. He is in the pantheon of the great travel-writers of the world, though virtually unknown to western readers. This brand new translation by the foremost scholar of his age, brings Evliya sparkling to life, so that we can relish his charm and intelligence once more, whether he is describing high jinks in the bathhouses, being kidnapped by bandits, Ottoman Istanbul in its baroque heyday, or a worldwide convention of trapeze artists.

 

Art of the Middle East: Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World and Iran by Saeb Eigner

Merrell Publishers, ISBN 978-1858945002 £39.95

Artistic expression in the Middle East is experiencing something of a renaissance. Domestic patronage is flourishing, and an impressive array of new museums and art fairs across the region is helping to stimulate international interest in an increasingly influential movement. Art of the Middle East is an accessible overview of modern and contemporary art of the Middle East and Arab world from 1945 to the present, with an emphasis on artists active today. The featured works are divided into seven themed sections including literature, portraiture and the body, and politics, conflict and war while extended captions provide an engaging commentary on each artwork and the artist behind its creation. Illustrated throughout, this landmark publication is an authoritative guide to a challenging and exciting body of work.

 

The Calligrapher’s Garden by Hassan Massoudy
Saqi Books, ISBN 9780863566196, £16.99

The latest collection of work by Hassan Massoudy is another prodigious offering by a modern master, one might say, not of calligraphy but of calligraphic art and its latest sub-category, calligraphic performance art. As with all calligraphy, some advance planning obviously takes place, but the bold, free sweeps of colour are what lift this collection from ‘good’ to ‘great.’

Following the seasons of the year, with a slight influence of Japanese brush calligraphy, Massoudy’s garden series exudes a pure lyrical joy in his pictures which are not pictures. His interpretations of shades of the seasons are drawn with a freedom which one does not usually expect from a calligrapher. Indeed, in the work of some of the greatest living exponents, such as Jordan’s Nassar Mansour, or Syria’s Mounir Shaarani, great pieces are overlaid upon muqarnas-like intricacies of geometry and precision-proportion. Massoudy’s cycle of calligraphies is captivating in a different way, each one being built upon poetic image. A strange new palette of pastel colours, a series of images which can be viewed as abstracts reflecting the mood of the season and the underlying emotion of the text, an eclectic and international journey across the year, with individual pieces perhaps as dissectible as a melody into snatches of phrases and swirling, figurative bursts of emotion – it is a total delight in its communicative power.

Russell Harris

 

Travellers from Europe in the Ottoman and Safavid Empires, 16th and 17th centuries by Sonja Brentjes

Ashgate Variorum, ISBN 978-1409405337, £70

This collection of Sonja Brentjes’ articles deals with travels, encounters and the exchange of knowledge in the Mediterranean and Western Asia during the 16th and 17th centuries, focusing on three historiographical concerns. The first is how we should understand the relationship between Christian and Muslim societies, in the period between the translations from Arabic into Latin (10th – 13th centuries) and before the Napoleonic invasion of Ottoman Egypt (1798). The second concern is the ‘Western’ discourse about the decline or even disappearance of the sciences in late medieval and early modern Islamic societies and, third, the construction of Western Asian natures and cultures in Catholic and Protestant books, maps and pictures. The articles discuss institutional and personal relationships, describe how Catholic or Protestant travellers learned about and accessed Muslim scholarly literature, and uncover contradictory modes of reporting, evaluating or eradicating the visited cultures and their knowledge.

 

Iranian Textiles by Jennifer Wearden and Patricia L Baker

V&A publishing, ISBN 978 1851 77615 3, £30

This heavily illustrated book is a visual dictionary of Qajar textiles from the first half of the 19th century. The Victoria and Albert Museum has an unrivalled collection of Iranian textiles from the first half of the nineteenth century. There are over 900 examples of woven, printed and embroidered fabrics, which were used as garments and accessories, as well as for furnishings and religious textiles. This book presents, for the first time, over 200 Qajar textiles, and describes the political and economic context against which they were produced. Many of these beautiful fabrics will seem surprisingly familiar – so strong was their influence on European manufacturers.

 

Ottoman Architecture by Dogan Kuban

Antique Collectors Club, ISBN 9781851496044, £65

This is one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging surveys of Ottoman Architecture to be produced. It extends to over 700 pages and is illustrated with over 1000 illustrations, plans of buildings, maps and drawings. The author is a leading authority on the subject having taught throughout the United States, in Paris and in Istanbul. Whilst this work will become an invaluable reference tool to students, its appeal will also be broadened due to the illustrations, many of which were commissioned for the publication. In particular the reader is able to browse interiors of buildings that often decorated by stunning Iznik tiles. Ottoman Architecture developed in parallel with the political structure of the Ottoman Empire. Located at the intersection of Asia and Europe it was influenced by the numerous competing traditions of Islam, China, the Mediterranean and Byzantine worlds. Building on its early development particularly in Bursa and Edirne at the end of the 14th Century, the Ottoman world reached its high point during the so called Classical period 1437-1703 notably under the Sultans Suleyman First and Selim Second. The finest architectural achievements were undoubtedly the works of the court architect Sinan 1489-1588. It is these works that form the core of this book. This book also seeks to survey the extensive building works of the Ottomans throughout their Empire which extend to Damascus, Cairo and as far as the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina.

 

The Aura of Alif: The Art of Writing in Islam edited by Jurgen Wasim Frembgen

Prestel, ISBN 9783 7913 5063 3, £40

Starting with the alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet that symbolises divine beauty and exploring the fascinating aesthetic qualities of calligraphy, the book presents the contextual and symbolic intentions of writing in religion, magic, and poetry. Writing surfaces include not only parchment, papyrus, and paper, but also ceramics, metal, stone, wood, leather, and textiles. Ranging from the early period of Islam to the 21st century, the book presents works from the art of the ruling elite to folk art and everyday aesthetics. Muslim cultures’ artistic forms of expression are brought to life in the illustrations of the book, which includes contributions by international experts in their field and explores the art of writing in Islam in all its richness and diversity.

 

The Arts of Islam: Masterpieces from the Khalili Collection

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 9780 500 5155549, £32

This publication presents nearly 500 masterpieces from the Khalili Collection, the largest and finest privately owned collection of Islamic art in the world. All specially photographed for this book, these precious objects were created for sultans, princes and merchants between the 7th and early 20th centuries, and include illustrated manuscripts and Qurans, glass, ceramics and jewellery,  textiles, carpets and paintings. With texts by international experts and specialists, and accompanied by over 650 colour illustrations, this volume is an inspiring and scholarly celebration of the masterpieces of the arts of Islam.

 

FICTION

 

Late for Tea at the Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi

HarperPress, ISBN 978-0007249312, £25

A multi-generational memoir of one family’s tempestuous century in Iraq from 1900 to the present.The Chalabis are one of the oldest and most prominent families in Iraq. For centuries they have occupied positions of honour and responsibility, loyally serving first the Ottoman Empire and, later, the national government. In the book, Tamara Chalabi explores the dramatic story of her extraordinary family’s history in this beautiful, passionate and troubled land. From the grand opulence of her great-grandfather’s house and the birth of the modern state, through to the elegant Iraq of her grandmother Bibi, who lived the life of a queen in Baghdad, and finally to her own story, that of the ex-pat daughter of a family in exile, Chalabi takes us on an unforgettable and eye-opening journey.

 

The Forest Woman by Amit Chaudhuri

Fourth Estate, ISBN 978-0007360772, £12.99

Abandoned by his fellow travellers on a tiger-ridden shore in eastern Bengal, the narrator stumbles across a strange, beautiful woman, Kapalkundala. But she has been enslaved by a priest – who plans to sacrifice them both in an esoteric rite. The only way for Kapalkundala and the narrator to escape, is by marrying each other and travelling on to town in disguise. As soon as they reach the road, however, they encounter a second woman – laden with jewels and as beguiling, to the narrator, as the first. Apparently a Muslim aristocrat from the court of Emperor Akbar, she appears to know more about the narrator than she should.

 

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Sceptre, ISBN 978-0340921562, £18.99

Set at a turning point in history on a tiny island attached to mainland Japan, David Mitchell’s tale of power, passion and integrity transports us to a world that is at once exotic and familiar: an extraordinary place and an era when news from abroad took months to arrive, yet when people behaved as they always do – loving, lusting and yearning, cheating, fighting and killing. The descriptions of Dejima and what life there must have been like at this time seem extraordinarily realistic, bringing to vivid life a tectonic shift between East and West, the book is dramatic, funny, heartbreaking, enlightening and thought-provoking.

 

The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe translated by Deborah Bolibery Boehm

Atlantic, ISBN 978-1843547341, £18.99

Considered one Japan’s leading post-war writers, Kenzaburo Oe won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994. The character Kogito is a writer, and is in his sixties when he rekindles a childhood friendship with his estranged brother-in-law Goro. Goro sends Kogito a number of cassette tapes onto which he has recorded reflections about their friendship. But one night, Goro’s message takes a profoundly unsettling turn: ‘I’m going to head over to the Other Side now,’ Goro says, and then Kogito hears a loud thud. After a moment of silence, Goro’s voice continues: ‘But don’t worry, I’m not going to stop communicating with you.’ Moments later, Kogito’s wife rings to tell him that Goro has jumped to his death from the roof of a building. Kogito begins a search to understand what drove his brother-in-law to suicide. The Changeling takes readers from the forests of southern Japan to the streets of Berlin in a profound exploration of the ways in which the past – both real and imagined – affects our lives.

 

The Museum of Innocence by Orham Pamuk translated by Maureen Freely

Faber, ISBN 978-0571237029, £18.99

The Museum of Innocence – set in Istanbul between 1975 and today – tells the story of Kemal, the son of one of Istanbul’s richest families, and of his obsessive love for a poor and distant relation, the beautiful Fusun, who is a shop-girl in a small boutique. The novel depicts a panoramic view of life in Istanbul as it chronicles this long, obsessive, love affair between Kemal and Fusun; and Pamuk beautifully captures the identity crisis esperienced by Istanbul’s upper classes who find themselves caught between traditional and westernised ways of being.

 

Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph

Fourth Estate, ISBN 978-0007182152, £8.99

Feted for its electric chaos, the city of Bombay also accommodates pockets of calm. In one such enclave, Mohan, a middle-aged letter writer – the last of a dying profession – sits under a banyan tree in Fort, furnishing missives for village migrants, disenchanted lovers, and when pickings are slim, filling in money order forms. But Mohan’s true passion is collecting second-hand books; he’s particularly attached to novels with marginal annotations. So when the pavement booksellers of Fort are summarily evicted, Mohan’s life starts to lose some of its animating lustre. At this tenuous moment Mohan – and his wife, Lakshmi – are joined in Saraswati Park, a suburban housing colony, by their nephew, Ashish, a diffident, sexually uncertain 19-year-old who has to repeat his final year in college. As Saraswati Park unfolds, the lives of each of the three characters are thrown into sharp relief by the comical frustrations of family life: annoying relatives, unspoken yearnings and unheard grievances.

 

Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga

Atlantic Books, ISBN 978-1848871236, £7.99

This is the second book from the winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize Aravind Adiga. Nestling on India’s southern coast lies the town of Kittur. Ranging through the city’s streets and schoolyards, bedrooms and businesses, its inner workings and its outer limits, through the myriad and distinctive voices of its inhabitants, Aravind Adiga brings an entire world vividly and to life.

 

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li

Fourth Estate, ISBN 978-0007303120, £16.99

The second collection of stories from Yiyun Li, author of the Guardian First Book Award-winning A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and The Vagrants. The country portrayed here is the China of the 21st century, where economic development has led to new situations unknown to previous decades: residents in a shabby apartment building witnessing in awe the real estate boom; a local entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist sheltering women in trouble in her mansion; a group of retired women discovering fame late in their lives as private investigators specialising in extramarital affairs; and a young woman setting up a blog to publicise an alleged affair of her father. Underneath the veneer of prosperity and opportunity, however, lie the struggles of characters trying to reorient themselves in the unfamiliar landscapes of modern China.

 

Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein

Constable, ISBN 978-1849014649, £8.99

From the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club: a unique, firsthand, revelatory look at Japanese culture from the underbelly up. At nineteen, Jake Adelstein went to Japan in search of peace and tranquility. What he got was a life of crime … crime reporting, that is, at the prestigious Yomiuri Shinbun. For 12 years of 80-hour workweeks, he covered the seedy side of Japan, where extortion, murder, human trafficking, and corruption are as familiar as ramen noodles and saké But when his final scoop brought him face to face with Japan’s most infamous yakuza boss – and the threat of death for him and his family – Adelstein decided to step down … momentarily. Then, he fought back. In Tokyo Vice, Adelstein tells the riveting, often humorous tale of his journey from an inexperienced cub reporter – who made rookie mistakes like getting into a martial-arts battle with a senior editor – to a daring, investigative journalist with a price on his head.

 

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

Viking, ISBN 978-0670918737, £12.99

Ella Rubenstein is forty years old and unhappily married when she takes a job as a reader for a literary agent – and suddenly her life is transformed. Her first assignment is to read a novel about the ancient Sufi mystic, Rumi, who was transformed by the whirling dervish into a passionate poet and advocate of love. Slowly she realizes that his 13th-century life is starting to mirror her own, and in doing so it opens up exciting opportunities for her to embrace the dervish’s timeless message for herself.

 

The Honey Gatherers by Mimlu Sen

Rider & Co, ISBN 978-1846041891, £12.99

Mimlu Sen is living a bohemian life in Paris when she witnesses an electrifying performance by three wandering minstrels from rural India. They wear flowing, multicoloured robes and play frenetic rhythms on strange instruments made of wood and clay, capturing the many moods of nature and passion. After her turbulent past, including a year in a Calcutta jail, Mimlu instantly knows it is time to set off on the journey of her life. One of the minstrels, Paban Das Baul, is a gifted young musician with a growing international reputation. Mimlu defies prejudice to travel with him deep into the heart of Bengal, the rural hinterland behind Calcutta where few tourists ever go. In this fascinating and unusual book, she describes how they make their way across country, from shanty town to village, from monastery to festival, perched on the roofs of buses and squeezed inside trains, encountering tantrics and sages, exorcisms and witch sightings, catfish that climb trees and esoteric secrets – and fall in love. With Paban’s encouragement, Mimlu too performs for alms – ‘gathering honey’ in the traditional Baul way – and is initiated into a hidden world of song, sensuality and adventure as wild and unpredictable as the landscape itself.

 

The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi

Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-0747590927, £16.99

It all started in August 1968 when Babo became the first member of the Patel family to leave Madras and fly on a plane all the way to London to further his education. His father should have known there would be trouble: on the morning of the departure he had his first and only dream, in which strange ghosts threw poison-tipped arrows and all his family was lost. In debut, Tishani Doshi novel, a prizewinning poet, captures the quirks and calamities of one unusual clan in a story of identity, family, belonging and all-transcending love.

 

The Temple-Goers by Aatish Taseer

Viking, ISBN 978-0670918508, £12.99

A young man returns home to Delhi after several years abroad and resumes his place among the city’s cosmopolitan elite – a world of fashion designers, media moguls and the idle rich. But everything around him has changed – new roads, new restaurants, new money, new crime – everything, that is, except for the people, who are the same, only maybe slightly worse. Then he meets Aakash, a charismatic and unpredictable young man on the make, who introduces him to the squalid underside of this sprawling city. Together they get drunk and work out, visit temples and a prostitute, and our narrator finds himself disturbingly attracted to Aakash’s world. But when Aakash is arrested for murder, the two of them are suddenly swept up in a politically sensitive investigation that exposes the true corruption at the heart of this new and ruthless society.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

 

Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art

Asia Society/Yale, ISBN 978 0300 155662, £45

According to sacred texts, the historical Buddha encouraged his disciples to make pilgrimages to sites associated with his life. As sacred images of the Buddha proliferated over time, it is said that his relics were divided among 84,000 South Asian sites of Buddhist worship, or stupas. This abundance of sacred sites in turn rendered pilgrimage and worship increasingly prominent influences on Asian culture and daily life. ‘Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art’ employs sacred objects, textiles, sculpture, manuscripts and paintings to discuss the relationship between Buddhist pilgrimage and Asia’s artistic production. Accompanying an exhibition of approximately 90 extraordinary objects, many of which have never before been displayed publicly, this book addresses the process of the sacred journey in its entirety, including discussion of pilgrimage motivation, ritual preparation and worship at the sacred destination. Exceptional and visually stunning examples of painted mandalas, reliquaries, prayer wheels and travelling shrines demonstrate that pilgrims and pilgrimage inspired centuries of artistic production and shaped the development of visual culture in Asia.

 

The Great Empires of Asia edited by Jim Masselos

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978 0500 251783, £24.95

In this book full of illustrations, a team of internationally scholars surveys the greatest of Asia’s empires from 800 to the mid-20th century, from the Far East to the fringes of Europe. The Great Empires of Asia shows how those seven empires played a key role in forming today’s global civilisation. Particularly useful are the maps that show the growth of each empire and lists key events.

 

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal

Chatto & Windus, ISBN 978-0701184179, £16.99

264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox: potter Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in the Tokyo apartment of his great uncle Iggie. Later, when Edmund inherited the netsuke, they unlocked a story far larger than he could ever have imagined… The Ephrussis came from Odessa, and at one time were the largest grain exporters in the world; in the 1870s, Charles Ephrussi was part of a wealthy new generation settling in Paris. Marcel Proust was briefly his secretary and used Charles as the model for the aesthete Swann in Remembrance of Things Past. Charles’s passion was collecting; the netsuke, bought when Japanese objects were all the rage in the salons, were sent as a wedding present to his banker cousin in Vienna. The Anschluss and Second World War swept the Ephrussis to the brink of oblivion. Almost all that remained of their vast empire was the netsuke collection, smuggled out of the huge Viennese palace, one piece at a time, in the pocket of a loyal maid – and hidden in a straw mattress. In this memoir, Edmund de Waal travels the world to stand in the great buildings his forebears once inhabited. He traces the network of a remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century. In this book, he tells the story of a unique collection which passed from hand to hand – and which, in a twist of fate, found its way home to Japan.

 

Contemporary Asian Art by Melissa Chiu and Benjamin Genocchio

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 9780 500238745, £24.95

A comprehensive volume on contemporary Asian art, this illustrated book is amongst the first to survey art created in Asia or by Asian artists from the 1990s onwards. In four thematic chapters, the full scope of Asian art is covered, from calligraphy and ceramics, to installation and internet art. The book provides a critical overview of the work of established stars Takashi Murakami and Zhang Huan, as well as emerging talents such as Indonesian cartoon artist Wedhar Riyadi and Pakistani graffiti artist Naiza H. Khan. With 200 colour illustrations and nearly 200 artists biographies, it is a good introduction to the often bewildering array of contemporary art in Asia.

 

 

Superpower: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise by Raghav Bahl

Penguin, ISBN 978-1591843962, £20

According to Raghav Bahl, there’s a huge difference in how India and its arch-rival China work on the ground. China is spectacularly effective in building infrastructure and is now reinvesting almost half its GDP. Meanwhile, India is still a ‘promising’ economy: more than half its GDP is consumed by its billion-plus people, yet India has some unique advantages: Half its population is under twenty-five, giving it a strong demographic edge; 350 million Indians understand English, making it the largest English-speaking country in the world; and it’s the world’s largest democracy. In the race to superpower status, who is more likely to win: China’s hare or India’s tortoise? Bahl argues that the winner might not be determined by who is investing more and growing faster today but by something more intangible: who has superior innovative skills and more entrepreneurial savvy.

 

A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor

Allen Lane, ISBN 978-1846144134, £30

This is the book to accompany the hugely successful BBC Radio 4 series. The story is told exclusively through the things that humans have made – all sorts of things, carefully designed and then either admired and preserved or used, broken and thrown away. Taking a dramatically original approach to the history of humanity, the series chose objects which previous civilisations have left behind them, often accidentally, as prisms through which we can explore past worlds and the lives of the men and women who lived in them. MacGregor’s aim is not simply to describe these remarkable things, but to show us their significance – how a stone pillar tells us about a great Indian emperor preaching tolerance to his people, how Spanish pieces of eight tell us about the beginning of a global currency or how an early Victorian tea-set tells us about the impact of empire.

 

Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar

I B Tauris, ISBN 978-1845119935, £20

In the magical tale of Aladdin in The Arabian Nights, the genie that suddenly appears out of the lamp is powerful, playful and utterly mysterious. Supernatural, shape-shifting figures have been given many names over the ages – genie, demon, spirit, ghoul, shaitan and jinn. Those who have seen them believe jinn shadow us in our daily lives, causing endless mischief, providing amazing services and sometimes inducing sheer terror. This book explores the enduring phenomenon of the jinn from North Africa to Central Asia and from the Mediterranean to sub-Saharan Africa and beyond, by drawing on long-forgotten ancient testimonies, medieval histories, colonial records, anthropologists’ reports and travellers’ tales to explore the different types of jinn, their behaviour, society, culture and long history of contact with humankind. It documents their links with famous figures in history and illustrates the varied and vivid portrayals of jinn in world literature. A book that is a fascinating portrayal of the rich folklore of the Islamic world.

 

Theodora by Stella Duffy

Virago, ISBN 978-1844082155, £15.99

Theodora of Constantinople rose from nothing to become the most powerful woman in the history of Byzantine Rome. In Stella Duffy’s new novel, she comes to life again as a fascinating, controversial and seductive woman. Some called her a saint. Others were not so kind…When her father is killed, the young Theodora is forced into near slavery to survive. But just as she learns to control her body as a dancer, and for the men who can afford her, so she is determined to shape a very different fate for herself.

 

Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir by Fatima Bhutto

Jonathan Cape, ISBN 978-0224087537, £20

In September 1996, a fourteen-year-old Fatima Bhutto hid in a windowless dressing room, shielding her baby brother while shots rang out in the streets outside the family home in Karachi. This was the evening that her father Murtaza was murdered, along with six of his associates. In December 2007, Benazir Bhutto, Fatima’s aunt, and the woman she had publically accused of ordering her father’s murder, was assassinated in Rawalpindi.It was the latest in a long line of tragedies for one of the world’s best known political dynasties. Songs of Blood and Sword tells the story of a family of rich feudal landlords – the proud descendents of a warrior caste – who became powerbrokers in the newly created state of Pakistan. The history of this extraordinary family mirrors the tumultuous events of Pakistan itself, and the quest to find the truth behind her father’s murder has led Fatima to the heart of
her country’s volatile political establishment. It is the history of a nation from Partition through the struggle with India over Kashmir, the Cold War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan up to the post 9/11 ‘War on Terror’.

 

Jewellery from the Orient: Treasures from the Bir Collection

Arnoldsche, ISBN 978 389790 3197, £45

In this book, readers follow the jewellery collection on an imaginary journey: from Turkey and ‘oriental Europe’ across the Mediterranean to north-western Africa and the Sahara to Ethiopia. From there the journey continues through Yemen via India and on to Thailand and the Roof of the World. Down the Indus Valley to Afghanistan. Back again through the mountains and across Central Asia on the Silk Road to the West. From Turkmenistan to the Caspian Sea and from there to the Caucasus. Through eastern Turkey, Syria and Palestine back to the Mediterranean. Born in Freiburg in 1929, the collector Amit Bir was the son of a Turkish physician and a native of Freiburg. He grew up in Izmir and after studying medicine in Istanbul, he trained as a specialist in Berlin and worked in Wolfsburg from 1958. His passion for collecting began in 1960 on a trip through northeast Africa. One hundred and eighty more trips throughout the Near East would follow.

 

Steeped in History: The Art of Tea
University of Washington Press, ISBN 9780977834419, £29.99

After water, tea is the most frequently consumed beverage on the face of the earth. In ancient China, tea was regarded as one of the seven daily necessities of life; for many Japanese it has served as a ritual element in the quest for enlightenment. In England afternoon tea holds an immutable place in the popular imagination, while in the United States it is often associated with the American Revolution. While various teas have been prepared in an assortment of ways and have played parts in countless culinary practices, it is also important to note that tea is, and nearly always has been, a highly important commodity. As such, it has played a variety of striking and often paradoxical roles on the world stage – an ancient health remedy, an element of cultural practice, a source of profound spiritual insights, but also a catalyst for brutal international conflict, drug trafficking, crushing taxes, and horrific labor conditions. The book traces the impact of tea from its discovery in ancient China to the present-day tea plantations of Assam, crossing oceans and continents in the process. In so doing, they examine the multitude of ways in which tea has figured in the visual and literary arts. These include not only the myriad vessels fashioned for the preparation, presentation, and consumption of tea but also tea-related scenes embellishing ceramics and textiles and forming the subject of paintings, drawings, caricature, songs, and poetry.

 

Mongolian Buddhist Art: Masterpieces from the Museums of Mongolia edited by Zara Fleming and J. Lkhagvademchig Shastri
Serindia Publications, ISBN 978-1-932476-37-8 , US$500

In this first volume, some 441 masterpieces of Mongolian Buddhist art from five major Mongolian museums: the Bogd Kahn Palace Museum, the Choijin Lama Temple Museum, the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, the Erdene Zuu Museum and the Danzanravjaa Museum. Selected by the Centre for Cultural Heritage in conjunction with the curators of the participating museums, these pieces were chosen for their religious and historical importance, their aesthetic and technical quality, their uniquely Mongolian characteristics and their rarity.

 

Volume 1 (Thangkas, Appliqués and Embroideries) is divided into eight chapters – encompassing within these three media the visual realms of the Buddhas and his disciples, mahasiddhas, Indian, Tibetan, and Mongolian scholars, previous reincarnations, yidams, dakinis, protectors and sacred architecture. Dating from the late 17th to the 20th century, these examples provide rich materials for the present and future studies of Buddhist art and its heritage in Mongolia.