Books 2015

China

Silent Poetry: Chinese Paintings from the Collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art

By  Ju Hsi Chou, Cleveland Museum of Art, ISBN, 978-0300206074, US$125

This is a comprehensive look at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s world-renowned collection of Chinese paintings. With in-depth study of more than 100 selected works and more than 400 illustrations, Silent Poetry reflects the growth, both in size and in scope, of the Cleveland Museum’s holdings of Chinese art over the past 30 years. Renowned scholars Ju Hsi Chou and Anita Chung, who have overseen the museum’s Chinese art collection for almost two decades, contribute new scholarship gleaned through investigative methods, both conventional and innovative, that include the physical examination of works and digital technology as a supplement to traditional analyses of style, text, context, and artistic technique. An authoritative reference for students, scholars, and collectors, this book encourages new directions in the study of Chinese art.

 

Art as History: Calligraphy and Painting as One

By Wen C Fong, Princeton University Press,
ISBN 978-0691162492, US$95

“Fong offers a model that should encourage his colleagues to look again at the patterns of artistic relationships in the history of Western art, to explore what might be called a studio history of art. The focus on the brush stroke as both representation and presentation, at once mimetic in function and personally expressive in effect, acknowledges the continuing presence of the artist in the work, the creator of illusion beyond the surface whose very marking of that surface declares his individual creative responsibility. As Fong reaches out to Western art historiographic models for comparison, his exposition of the Chinese critical tradition offers an invitation to reconsider the values that have guided Western aesthetic thought, to acknowledge the centrality of the artist and the meaning of the mark.”

Review by David Rosand, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History Emeritus, Columbia University

 

Chang’an 26 BCE:  An Augustan Age in China

Edited by Michael Nylan and Greet Vankeerberghan, University of Washington Press, ISBN 978-0295994055, US$70

During the last two centuries BC, the Western Han capital of Chang’an, near today’s Xi’an in northwest China, outshone Augustan Rome in several ways while administering comparable numbers of imperial subjects and equally vast territories. At its grandest, during the last 50 years or so before the collapse of the dynasty in 9 AD, Chang’an boasted imperial libraries with thousands of documents on bamboo and silk in a city nearly three times the size of Rome and nearly four times larger than Alexandria. Many reforms instituted in this capital in late Western Han substantially shaped not only the institutions of the Eastern Han (25–220) but also the rest of imperial China until 1911. Although thousands of studies document imperial Rome’s glory, until now no book-length work in a Western language has been devoted to Han Chang’an, the reign of Emperor Chengdi (whose accomplishments rival those of Augustus and Hadrian), or the city’s impressive library project (26-6 BC), which ultimately produced the first state-sponsored versions of many of the classics and masterworks that we hold in our hands today. The book addresses this deficiency, using as a focal point the reign of Emperor Chengdi (r. 33–7 BC), specifically the year in which the imperial library project began. This in-depth survey by some of the world’s best scholars, Chinese and Western, explores the built environment, sociopolitical transformations, and leading figures of Chang’an, making a strong case for the revision of historical assumptions about the two Han dynasties. A multidisciplinary volume representing a wealth of scholarly perspectives, the book draws on the established historical record and recent archaeological discoveries of thousands of tombs, building foundations, and remnants of walls and gates from Chang’an and its surrounding area.

 

The Archaeology of Early China: From Prehistory to the Han Dynasty

By Gidean Shelach-Lavi, CUP,

ISBN 978-0521145251, US$39.99

This book covers an extended time period from the earliest peopling of China to the unification of the Chinese Empire some 2,000 years ago. The geographical coverage includes the traditional focus on the Yellow River basin but also covers China’s many other regions. Among the topics covered are the emergence of agricultural communities; the establishment of a sedentary way of life; the development of socio-political complexity; advances in lithic technology, ceramics, and metallurgy; and the appearance of writing, large-scale public works, cities, and states. Particular emphasis is placed on the great cultural variations that existed among the different regions and the development of interregional contacts among those societies.

 

Imperial Illusions

By Kristina Kleutghen, University of Washington Press, ISBN 978-0295994109, US$70

In the Forbidden City and other palaces around Beijing, Emperor Qianlong (r. 1736-1795) surrounded himself with monumental paintings of architecture, gardens, people, and faraway places. The best artists of the imperial painting academy, including a number of European missionary painters, used Western perspectival illusionism to transform walls and ceilings with visually striking images that were also deeply meaningful to Qianlong. These unprecedented works not only offer new insights into late imperial China’s most influential emperor, but also reflect one way in which Chinese art integrated and domesticated foreign ideas. Kristina Kleutghen examines all known surviving examples of the Qing court phenomenon of ‘scenic illusion paintings’ (tongjinghua), which today remain inaccessible inside the Forbidden City. Produced at the height of early modern cultural exchange between China and Europe, these works have received little scholarly attention.

 

The China Collectors: America’s Century-Long Hunt for Asian Art Treasures

by Karl E Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac,
St Martin’s Press, ISBN 978-1137279767, £19.50

Thanks to Salem sea captains, Gilded Age millionaires, curators on horseback and missionaries gone native, North American museums now possess the greatest collections of Chinese art outside of East Asia itself. How did it happen? The China Collectors is the first full account of a century-long treasure hunt in China from the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion to Mao Zedong’s 1949 ascent. The principal gatherers are mostly little known and defy invention. They included ‘foreign devils’, who braved desert sandstorms, bandits and local warlords in acquiring significant works. Adventurous curators like Langdon Warner, a forebear of Indiana Jones, argued that the caves of Dunhuang were already threatened by vandals, thereby justifying the removal of frescoes and sculptures. Other Americans include George Kates, an alumnus of Harvard, Oxford and Hollywood, who fell in love with Ming furniture.

The Chinese were divided between dealers who profited from the artworks’ removal, and scholars who sought to protect their country’s patrimony. Duanfang, the greatest Chinese collector of his era, was beheaded in a coup and his splendid bronzes now adorn major museums. Others in this rich tapestry include Charles Lang Freer, an enlightened Detroit entrepreneur, two generations of Rockefellers, Avery Brundage, the imperious Olympian, and Arthur Sackler, the grand acquisitor. No less important are two museum directors, Cleveland’s Sherman Lee and Kansas City’s Laurence Sickman, who challenged the East Coast’s hegemony. Shareen Blair Brysac and Karl E. Meyer even-handedly consider whether ancient treasures were looted or salvaged, and whether it was morally acceptable to spirit hitherto inaccessible objects westward, where they could be studied and preserved by trained museum personnel. And how should the US and Canada and their museums respond now that China has the means and will to reclaim its missing patrimony?

 

The Mongol Century: Visual Cultures of Yuan China, 1271-1368

By Shane McCausland, Reaktion Books,
ISBN 978-1780233666, £31.50

The Mongol Century explores the visual world of China’s Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), the spectacular but short-lived regime founded by Khubilai Khan, regarded as the pre-eminent khanate of the Mongol empire. This book illuminates the Yuan era – full of conflicts and complex interactions between Mongol power and Chinese heritage –  by exploring the visual history of its culture. Shane McCausland considers how Mongol governance and values imposed a new order on China’s culture and also how a sedentary, agrarian China posed specific challenges to the Mongols’ militarist and nomadic lifestyle. He also explores how an unusual range of expectations and pressures were placed on Yuan culture: the idea that visual culture could create cohesion across a diverse yet hierarchical society, while balancing Mongol desires for novelty and display with Chinese concerns about posterity. Although in recent years exhibitions have begun to open up the inherent paradoxes of Yuan culture, this is the first study in English to adopt a fully comprehensive approach. It incorporates the full range of visual media of the East Asia region to reconsider the impact Mongol culture had in China, from urban architecture and design to tomb murals and porcelain, and from calligraphy and printed paper money to stone sculpture.

 

Deng Xiaoping: A Revolutionary Life

By Alexander V Pantsov and Steven I Levine, OUP USA, ISBN 978-0199392032, £14.50

Deng Xiaoping joined the Chinese Communist movement as a youth and rose in its ranks to become an important lieutenant of Mao’s from the 1930s onward. Two years after Mao’s death in 1976, Deng became the de facto leader of the Chinese Communist Party and the prime architect of China’s post-Mao reforms. Abandoning the Maoist socio-economic policies he had long fervently supported, he set in motion changes that would dramatically transform China’s economy, society, and position in the world. Three decades later, we are living with the results. China has become the second largest economy and the workshop of the world. When Deng died at the age of 92 in 1997, he had set China on the path it is following to this day.  Alexander Pantsov and Steven Levine’s new biography of Deng Xiaoping does what no other biography has done: based on newly discovered documents, it covers his entire life, from his childhood and student years to the post-Tiananmen era. Thanks to unprecedented access to Russian archives containing massive files on the Chinese Communist Party, the authors present a wealth of new material on Deng dating back to the 1920s. In a long and extraordinary life, Deng navigated one epic crisis after another. Born in 1904, Deng, like many Asian revolutionary leaders, spent part of the 1920s in Paris, where he joined the CCP in its early years. During Mao’s quarter century rule, Deng oscillated between the heights and the depths of power. He was purged during the Cultural Revolution, only to reemerge after Mao’s death to become China’s paramount leader until his own death in 1997.

 

Excavating the Afterlife: The Archaeology of Early Chinese Religion

By Guolong Lai, University of Washington Press, ISBN 978-0295994499, US$65

In Excavating the Afterlife, Guolong Lai explores the dialectical relationship between sociopolitical change and mortuary religion from an archaeological perspective. By examining burial structure, grave goods, and religious documents unearthed from groups of well-preserved tombs in southern China, Lai shows that new attitudes toward the dead, resulting from the trauma of violent political struggle and warfare, permanently altered the early Chinese conceptions of this world and the afterlife. The book grounds the important changes in religious beliefs and ritual practices firmly in the sociopolitical transition from the Warring States (ca. 453–221 BC) to the early empires (3rd century–1st century BC).  A methodologically sophisticated synthesis of archaeological, art historical, and textual sources, the book is of interest to art historians, archaeologists, and textual scholars of China, as well as to students of comparative religions.

 

Royal Taste: The Art of Princely Courts in Fifteenth Century China

Edited by Fan Jeremy Zhang, Scala,
ISBN 978-1857599725, US$65

The exhibition catalogue, Royal Taste, offers a rare opportunity to examine more than 100 objects from five museums in Hubei, China, including metal and porcelain work, jewellery, paintings and sculpture. Highlights include exciting archeological finds from recently excavated royal tombs and state-commissioned Daoist statues from Mt Wudang that illustrate the luxurious life and religious practice of princely courts
in early and mid-Ming China (1368-1644).

 

How to Read Chinese Ceramics

By Denise Patry Leidy, Metropolitan Museum

of Art, ISBN 978-1588395719, US$25

This new instalment in the successful How to Read series enlightens readers on Chinese ceramics of all kinds, using highlights from the outstanding collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art as a teaching tool. Accessible to a general audience and written by an expert on the subject, this book explains and interprets 40 masterworks of Chinese ceramics. The works represent a broad range of subject matter and type, from ancient earthenware to 20th-century porcelain, and from plates and bowls to vases and sculptural figures. Lavish illustrations showcase these stunning works and the decorations that adorn them, including symbolic scenes, flowers, and Buddhist and Chinese historical figures.

 

Zhang Xiaogang: Disquieting Memories

By Jonathan Fineberg and Gary G Xu, Phaidon, ISBN 978 07148867366, £20

This is the first major monograph on the leading Chinese contemporary artist. Featuring over 250 colour illustrations the book is both a retrospective, spanning Zhang’s work and career, and a biography of his dramatic life. The monograph features previously unpublished correspondence and photographs from the artist’s archives, bringing new insight to his practice and daily life in China, and providing the historical and political context for his work. Known primarily for his haunting large-scale paintings, Zhang’s work often explores notions of memory and cultural identity, both individual and collective. The monograph features his most significant series of work including ‘Bloodline: Big Family’, ‘Amnesia and Memory’, and ‘Description’, alongside lesser-known drawings and sculpture. The ‘Bloodline series’, started in the early 1990s, has brought him the most acclaim and the work on the cover of the monograph, Bloodline – Big Family No.3, was sold for US$12.1m at auction in April 2014. These works, which draw from formal family photographs from the Maoist era, depict highly stylised figures connected by distinctive red ‘blood lines’, representing both the individual and faceless mass of China. Born in 1958 in Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan Province in southern China, Zhang’s artistic life has run in parallel with the development of contemporary art in China. A practising artist for more than three decades Zhang came of age during the Cultural Revolution, experienced first-hand the opening up of China to the West in the 1980s, the post-Tiananmen Square era of the 1990s, and the economic boom of the twenty-first century. The personal and collective impact of these events is reflected in his work. Following the collapse of the Cultural Revolution, Zhang was accepted into the prestigious Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in Chongquing and graduated in 1984. His work has been included in numerous international exhibitions including the 22nd Sao Paulo Biennial (1994) and the 46th Venice Biennale (1995), and is held in collections including MoMA (New York), Tate Modern (London) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney). He is currently based in Beijing represented by Pace Gallery.

 

Ghenghis Khan: The Man Who Conquered the World

By Frank McLynn, Bodley Head,

ISBN 978-0224072908, £25

Genghis Khan was by far the greatest conqueror the world has ever known, whose empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to central Europe, including all of China, the Middle East and Russia. Credited by some with paving the way for the Renaissance, condemned by others for being the most heinous murderer in history, who was Genghis Khan?  His actual name was Temujin, and the story of his success is that of the Mongol people: a loose collection of fractious tribes who tended livestock, considered bathing taboo and possessed an unparallelled genius for horseback warfare. United under Genghis, a strategist of astonishing cunning and versatility, they could dominate any sedentary society they chose. Combining fast-paced accounts of battles with rich cultural background and the latest scholarship, Frank McLynn brings vividly to life the strange world of the Mongols, describes Temujin’s rise from boyhood outcast to become Genghis Khan, and provides the most accurate and absorbing account yet of one of the most powerful men ever to have lived.

 

Dealing with China:  An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower

By Henry M Paulson Jr, Headline, £25

The book takes the reader behind closed doors to witness the creation and evolution and future of China’s state-controlled capitalism. Hank Paulson has dealt with China unlike any other foreigner. As head of Goldman Sachs, Paulson had a pivotal role in opening up China to private enterprise. Then, as Treasury Secretary, he created the Strategic Economic Dialogue with what is now the world’s second-largest economy. While negotiating with China on needed economic reforms, he safeguarded the teetering US financial system. Over his career, Paulson has worked with scores of top Chinese leaders, including Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful man in decades. In the book, Paulson draws on his unprecedented access to modern China’s political and business elite, including its three most recent heads of state, to answer several key questions: How did China become an economic superpower so quickly? How does business really get done there? What are the best ways for Western business and political leaders to work with, compete with, and benefit from China? How can the West negotiate with and influence China given its authoritarian rule, its massive environmental concerns, and its huge population’s unrelenting demands for economic growth and security?

 

Paper Tiger: Inside the Real China

By Xu Zhiyuan, Head of Zeus,

ISBN 978-1781859780, £18.95

Chinese journalist and intellectual Xu Zhiyuan paints a portrait of the world’s second-largest economy via a thoughtful and wide-ranging series of mini essays on contemporary Chinese society. Xu Zhiyuan describes the many stages upon which China’s great transformation is taking place, from Beijing’s Silicon district to a cruise down the Three Gorges; he profiles China’s dissidents, including Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei and Chen Guangcheng; and explores lesser-known stories of scandals that rocked China but which most people outside that country did not hear about – and which shed troubling light on China’s dark heart. Xu Zhiyuan understands his homeland in a way no foreign correspondent ever could. The book reveals an insider’s view of China that is measured and brave, ambitious and deeply personal.

 

In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Modern China

By Michael Meyer, Bloomsbury,

ISBN 978-1620402863 , £20

Michael Meyer’s In Manchuria is a scintillating combination of memoir, contemporary reporting, and historical research, presenting a unique profile of China’s legendary northeast territory. For three years, Meyer rented a home in the rice-farming community of Wasteland, hometown to his wife’s family, and their personal saga mirrors the tremendous change most of rural China is undergoing, in the form of a privately held rice company that has built new roads, introduced organic farming, and constructed high-rise apartments into which farmers can move in exchange for their land rights. Once a commune, Wasteland is now a company town, a phenomenon happening across China that Meyer documents for the first time; indeed, not since Pearl Buck wrote The Good Earth has anyone brought rural China to life as Meyer has here. Amplifying the story of family and Wasteland, Meyer takes us on a journey across Manchuria’s past, a history that explains much about contemporary China – from the fall of the last emperor to Japanese occupation and Communist victory. Through vivid local characters, Meyer illuminates the remnants of the imperial Willow Palisade, Russian and Japanese colonial cities and railways, and the POW camp into which a young American sergeant parachuted to free survivors of the Bataan Death March.

 

The White Road: A Pilgrimage of Sorts

By Edmund de Waal, Chatto,

ISBN 978-0701187705, £20

Acclaimed writer and potter Edmund de Waal sets out on a quest – a journey that begins in the dusty city of Jingdezhen in China and travels on to Venice, Versailles, Dublin, Dresden, the Appalachian Mountains of South Carolina and the hills of Cornwall to tell the history of porcelain. Along the way, he meets the witnesses to its creation; those who were inspired, made rich or heartsick by it, and the many whose livelihoods, minds and bodies were broken by this obsession. It spans 1,000 years and reaches into some of the most tragic moments of recent times. In these intimate and compelling encounters with the people and landscapes who made porcelain, Edmund de Waal enriches his understanding of this rare material, the ‘white gold’ he has worked with for decades.

 

3 Parallel Artworlds: One Hundred Art Things from Chinese Modern History

Edited by Chang Tsong-Zung and Gao Shiming, Asia One Books and Hanart Projects,

ISBN 9789881318008, US$150

This monumental new book, with essays by a spectrum of international art historians, critical theorists and artists, presents a fresh, new approach to understanding the development of modern and contemporary Chinese art through the art historical and critical framework of Artworlds. The 100 Art Things of the book s title refers to the special selection of 100 artworks shown in the Hanart 100: Idiosyncrasies exhibition in January 2014, the narrative of which was constructed around this theoretical framework.

 

Early Carpets and tapestries on the Eastern Silk Road

By Gloria Gonick, AAC Art Books,

ISBN 978-1851498109, £40

A mystifying group of carpets and tapestries created along the Silk Route over 500 years ago is the topic of this book. The carpets and tapestries with riveting yet puzzling designs have been preserved in closed treasure houses in the former Japanese capital since the 14th and  15th centuries. They are brought out only one day a year for a Shinto-Buddhist festival procession and quickly returned to storage. This book is about their shrouded origin in China, the pariahs who wove them, the meaning of their obscure motifs, and the reasons for the secrecy continuing to surround their exhibition.

 

Tribal Textiles from Southwest China: Thread Songs from Misty Land

By Catherin Bourzat, Thierry Arensma

and Philippe Fatin, RIver Books, ISBN 9786167339603, £35

Philippe Fatin is a traveller, photographer and collector who has established a world-class collection of tribal textiles from southern China. These colourful, hand-woven textiles are highly prized by collectors and this is the first time that this extensive collection of garments from tribes across southern China including the Bazhai, Zhouxi, Xijiang and Gedong amongst others, has been published. The distinctive styles, colours and motifs from each are looked at in turn and the remarkable photographs allow the reader to appreciate the intricacy of each piece and the tradition prized by each tribe. Illustrated with over 320 illustrations the book not only studies the designs themselves but shows the ceremonies the textiles are made for, the traditional weaving methods employed as well other ornamentations, such as headpieces and fastenings as well dying techniques and working methods.

 

Japan and Korea

Sotatsu: Making Waves

Edited by Yukio Lippit and James T Ulak,

Smithsonian Books, ISBN 9781588345, US$50

Edo-period commoner-artisan Tawaraya Sōtatsu, who had become nearly forgotten in Japan until the early 20th century, is in many ways the ‘fountainhead of the anachronistically  named Rinpa style’. Although much of his life remains a mystery, this exhibition catalogue and collection of essays presents us with an artistic genius and enlightens us with an overview of his oeuvre and career. It traces not only the sources of his art and his influence on the famed Rinpa school, but also his rediscovery by modern Japanese artists looking for alternative sources of visual abstraction.

 

Zen Paintings in Edo Japan (1600-1868)

By Galit Aviman, Ashgate,

ISBN 978-1409470427, £60

In Zen Buddhism, the concept of freedom is of profound importance. And yet, until now there has been no in-depth study of the manifestation of this liberated attitude in the lives and artwork of Edo period Zen monk-painters. This book explores the playfulness and free-spirited attitude reflected in the artwork of two prominent Japanese Zen monk-painters: Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768) and Sengai Gibon (1750-1837). The free attitude emanating from their paintings is one of the qualities, which distinguish Edo period Zen paintings from those of earlier periods. These paintings are part of a Zen ink painting tradition that began following the importation of Zen Buddhism from China at the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1333). In this study, Aviman elaborates on the nature of this particular artistic expression and identifies its sources, focusing on the lives of the monk-painters and their artwork. The author applies a multifaceted approach, combining a holistic analysis of the paintings, i.e. an interrelated combination of text and image-with a contextualization of the works within the specific historical, art historical, cultural, social and political environments in which they were created.

 

Living for the Moment: Japanese Prints from the Barbara S Bowman Collection

By Hollis Goodall, Prestel,

ISBN 978-3791354729, £32.90

Spanning the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the exquisite examples of Japanese prints included in this book offer a collective history of an art form and vision that is distinctively Japanese and was highly inspirational to later European painters. Each of the 100 prints in this book is reproduced in large colour plates that highlight their subtle beauty and charm and are accompanied by extensive captions that describe the pieces’ remarkable qualities. This book also includes a comprehensive introduction to the collection by LACMA curator
Hollis Goodall, who discusses the significance of the Bowman collection and the many ways it enhances the museum’s extensive holdings of Japanese art. Published in association with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s exhibition.

 

Japan and the Shackles of the Past

By R Taggart Murphy, OUP USA, £20

Washington treats Japan with something between absent-mindedness and contempt, and while some fret that Tokyo could drag the US into an unwanted confrontation with China, it has otherwise essentially disappeared from the American radar screen. A quarter-century ago, Tokyo’s stock exchange was bigger than New York’s and the Japanese industrial juggernaut seemed destined to sweep all before it. Now, Japan is seen as a has-been with a sluggish economy, an aging population, dysfunctional politics, and a business landscape dominated by yesterday’s champions. Does it even matter today except as an object lesson in how not to run a country?  The author argues that yes, we should care about Japan and, yes, the country matters-it matters very much. Murphy concedes that with the exception of its pop culture, Japan has indeed been out of sight and out of mind in recent decades. But he argues that this is already changing. Political and economic developments in Japan today risk upheaval in the pivotal arena of Northeast Asia; parallels with Europe on the eve of the First World War are not misplaced. America’s half-completed effort to remake Japan in the late 1940s is unravelling in ways that will not be to Washington’s liking-ironic, since the American foreign policy and defence establishment is directly culpable for what has happened.

 

The Frozen Gesture: Kabuki Prints from the Cabinet d’Arts Graphique

Edited by Christian Rumelin and Hans Bjarne Thomsen, Wienand Verlag, Eng/French,
ISBN 978-3868322309, £45

Between the 17th and the 19th centuries, kabuki was the traditional theatre for the bourgeoisie in Japan. Artists recorded numerous stage scenes and artists’ portraits in woodcuts. During the 19th century many of these works traveled to Europe, where they formed the basis for the impressive collection in Geneva consisting of more than 1,000 Japanese woodcuts in excellent condition. This lavishly illustrated catalogue assembles more than a hundred of these woodcuts for the first time and provides a key to understanding Japanese culture. Catalogue accompanied the exhibition of the same name.

 

Hokusai

By Sarah E Thompson and Joan Wright,

MFA Publications, ISBN 9780878468256, £20

Over a century and a half after his death, Katsushika Hokusai is still one of Japan’s most popular and influential artists. This handy volume presents the wide range of Hokusai’s artistic production in terms of one of his most remarkable characteristics: his intellectual ingenuity. It attempts to answer the question of how the self-styled Man Mad about Drawing approached his subjects, how he depicted human bodies in motion, combined figures and landscape, represented three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface, and used techniques of illusionism or adjusted reality for greater visual or emotional effect. Including some 50 unusual paintings, prints, and drawings from the peerless Japanese art collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, this book is a treasure trove that introduces readers to a witty, wide-ranging and inimitably ingenious Hokusai.

 

Kimono: The Art and Evolution of Japanese Fashion
Anna Jackson and Nagasaki Iwao,

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500518021,  £50

The Khalili Collection of kimono, which comprises more than 200 garments and spans almost 300 years of Japanese textile artistry, brilliantly conveys the remarkable creativity of designers who used the surface of the garment to produce a wearable work of art. An enormous range of patterns and motifs were executed in an often complex combination of weaving, dyeing and embroidery techniques, some garments requiring the expert skills of a number of different artisans. The Khalili Collection includes formal, semi-formal and informal kimono, undergarments and jackets, worn by women, men and children. Represented are the sophisticated garments of the imperial court, samurai aristocracy and affluent merchant classes of the Edo period (1603–1868); the shifting styles and new colour palette of Meiji period dress (1868–1912); and particularly the bold and dazzling kimono of the Taisho (1912–26) and early Showa (1926–89) periods which utilised innovative techniques and drew fresh inspiration from both past traditions and the modern world.

 

Into the Fold: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics from the Horvitz Collection

Samuel P Harn Museum of Art, ISBN, US$80

Into the Fold, the catalogue that accompanies this exhibition, highlights the diversity, creativity, and technical virtuosity of 20th- and 21st-century ceramic artists working in Japan. More than 30 artists are represented, including many of Japan’s greatest living ceramicists. Among them are historical master potter pioneers such as Hamada Shōji, Kiatoji Rosanjin, Yamada Hikaru, and Kazuo Yagi and contemporary leaders such as Nakaigawa Yuki, Katsumata Chieko, Hoshino Kayoko, and Akiyama Yo.

 

Tokaido Texts and Tales
By Andreas Marks and Laura Allen, University Press of Florida, ISBN 9780813060217, US$80

Throughout the Edo period (1615-1868), the Tokaido was the most vital road in a network of highways across Japan. Connecting Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and Kyoto, the road and its 53 rest stations became a popular theme for sets of woodblock prints. The Tokaido gojosan tsui ( Fifty-Three Pairings along the Tokaido Road ) created in 1845, is one of the most fascinating of these series. Japan’s three leading print designers of the 19th century – Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige, and Kunisada – paired each Tokaido rest station with an intriguing, cryptic design. Crafted to outwit the artistic restrictions imposed by the Tempo-era reforms, which outlawed prints of celebrity actors, courtesans, and entertainers, these woodcuts became popular visual puzzles that were frequently reprinted. This series was the first to involve more than one artist and used a variety of motifs, including stories from the kabuki theatre, poetry, famous tales, legends, landmarks, and local specialties. Presenting the complete set of Tokaio gojosan tsui in colour, along with text from the woodcuts transcribed and translated from the Japanese, this book is an invaluable resource for collectors, art historians, and students of this classic technique. Supplementary essays and detailed analyses of the prints help readers share the delight contemporary viewers experienced when these Tokaido woodcuts first appeared on the market.

Lost Japan

By Alex Kerr, Penguin,
ISBN 978-0141979748, £8.99

An enchanting and fascinating insight into Japanese landscape, culture, history and future. Originally written in Japanese, this passionate, vividly personal book draws on the author’s experiences in Japan over 30 years. Alex Kerr brings to life the ritualised world of kabuki, retraces his initiation into Tokyo’s boardrooms during the heady Bubble Years, and tells the story of the hidden valley that became his home. But the book is not just a love letter. Haunted throughout by nostalgia for the Japan of old, Kerr’s book is part paean to that great country and culture, part epitaph in the face of contemporary Japan’s environmental and cultural destruction. Winner of Japan’s Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize, and now fully revised in a new edition. Alex Kerr is an American writer, antiques collector and Japanologist. Lost Japan is his most famous work. He was the first foreigner to be awarded the Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize for the best work of non-fiction published
in Japan.

 

Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi

By Hayden Herrera, Thames & Hudson,

ISBN 978 0 500 093986, £24.95

Throughout the 20th century Isamu Noguchi was a vital figure in modern art. From interlocking wooden sculptures to massive steel monuments to his elegant Akari lamps, Noguchi became a master of what he called the ‘sculpturing of space’. Combining the personal correspondence of Noguchi with interviews with those closest to him including his patrons, assistants, lovers and other artists, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Hayden Herrera has written an authoritative biography of one of the 20th century’s most important sculptors. Listening to Stone is a moving portrait of a modern sculptor whose earthy stones and meditative gardens bridging East and West have become landmarks of 20th-century art. Herrera takes the reader through every phase of Noguchi’s enigmatic life, from his collaborations with Martha Graham to the design of his iconic table and his time at a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. She locates Noguchi in his friendships with such artists as Buckminster Fuller and Arshile Gorky, and in his affairs with Frida Kahlo and Anna Matta Clark.

 

On Kawara – Silence

By Jeffrey Weiss, Anne Wheeler, et al,

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 9780892075195, £40

Given his recourse to language, photography and systems of information, On Kawara is often described as a key figure in the history of Conceptual art. Yet his work stands apart in its devotion to painting and its existential reach. On Kawara – Silence is published in conjunction with a major exhibition of Kawara’s post-1964 work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Like the exhibition itself, the structure of the book was devised in close collaboration with the late artist and contains essays by leading scholars and critics in various fields, including art history, literary studies and cultural anthropology. It also includes substantial, authoritative descriptions of every category of his production – the first time such comprehensive information has appeared in print. Richly illustrated, the book reproduces many examples of the Date Paintings (Today), calendars (One Hundred Years and One Million Years), postcards (I Got Up), telegrams (I Am Still Alive), news cuttings (I Read), maps (I Went), and lists (I Met) that comprised the artist’s practice beginning in the mid-1960s. Among other groups of works, the book includes images of the 97 Date Paintings (accompanied by their newspaper-lined storage boxes) that Kawara produced during a three-month run of daily painting in 1970. The catalogue also contains reproductions of paintings and drawings produced in Paris and New York in the years that precede the works for which Kawara is best known, as well as rare images of materials related to his working process.

 

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story

By Hyeonseo Lee, William Collins, ISBN  £16.99

An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships – and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom. As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told ‘the best on the planet’? Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family. She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities – involving imprisonment, torture, and possible public execution. Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. Twelve years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea, on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable.

 

Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival

By David Pilling, Allen Lane,

ISBN 978-1846145469, £20

Despite years of stagnation, Japan remains one of the world’s largest economies and a country which exerts a remarkable cultural fascination. David Pilling’s new book is an entertaining, deeply knowledgeable and surprising analysis of a group of islands which have shown great resilience, both in the face of financial distress and when confronted with the overwhelming disaster of the 2011 earthquake. The resulting tsunami, which killed some 19,000 people, and nuclear catastrophe highlighted both the deeply impressive practical resilience of ordinary Japanese and a political culture of extraordinary carelessness and arrogance. Pilling describes the emergency and its aftermath, but then writes far more broadly about many aspects of Japan which are little known to outsiders and which do so much to explain these contradictory responses to the earthquake. Bending Adversity is a superb work of reportage and the essential book even for those who already feel they know the country well.

North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors

By Daniel Tudor and James Pearson, Tuttle,  £16.99

North Korea is one of the most controlled and isolated societies on earth, but what is it actually like to live there? How do you make money in a failed economy? How do you have fun under a violent, repressive dictatorship, and how does the secretive and infamous prison camp system work? Read this book to find out. North Korea Confidential explains how the devastating famine of the 1990s became a catalyst for a network of black markets, which have created a new generation of North Korean capitalists. From skinny jeans, to home-made booze, where there’s a market for it, today’s North Koreans can probably buy it. In seven chapters the authors explore modern North Korea today for the ordinary ‘man and woman on the street’. They interview experts and tap a broad variety of sources to bring a startling new insider’s view of North Korean society – from members of Pyongyang’s ruling families to defectors from different periods and regions, to diplomats and NGOs, to cross-border traders from neighbouring China, and textual accounts appearing in English, Korean and Chinese sources. The resulting stories reveal the horror as well as the innovation and humour which abound in this country.

 

The Director is the Commander

By Anna Broinowski, Penguin Australia,

ISBN 9780670077830, AU$32.99

Looking for respite from her crumbling marriage and determined to stop a coal seam gas mine near her Sydney home, filmmaker Anna Broinowski finds wisdom and inspiration in the strangest of places: North Korea. Guided by the late Dear Leader Kim Jong Il’s manifesto The Cinema and Directing, Broinowski, in a world first, travels to Pyongyang to collaborate with North Korea’s top directors, composers and movie stars to make a powerful anti-fracking propaganda film. The Director is the Commander centres around the bizarre twenty-one day shoot Broinowski did in North Korea to make her documentary,
Aim High in Creation! She meets and befriends artists and apparatchiki, defectors and loyalists, and gains a new insight into the world’s most secretive regime. Her adventures are set against a parallel exploration of propaganda in general: both in its ham-fisted North Korean form and its sophisticated but no less pervasive incarnation in the corporate West.

 

South and West Asia, Himalayas

Baroda: A Cosmopolitan Provenance in Transition

Edited by Priya Maholay-Jaradi , Marg,

ISBN 978-93-83243-08-2, USD 70

This anthology frames the story of Baroda’s visual culture from the early 18th century to present times along the themes of provenance and cosmopolitanism. Baroda’s sphere of art production from the princely through to the contemporary firmly establishes it as a recognisable provenance. Simultaneously, a wide inclusion of local, regional and foreign ideas lends the provenance a cosmopolitan character: early artists, craftsmen and photographers engage with Sayajirao Gaekwad III; the royal patron in turn represents them at international exhibitions; itinerant builders and European architects contribute to a fast-modernising state; artists and teachers set new directions for a Faculty of Fine Arts in post-Independence Baroda; patrons, gallerists, scholars and artists shape contemporary Baroda’s artistic culture.The writers approach Baroda from different vantage points: as first-person accounts, as art critics, anthropologists and historians. Together they contribute new approaches to art history, and provide a non-Western case study of provenance and cosmopolitanism.

 

Pondicherry: That Was Once French India

By Raphael Malangin, Roli Book,

ISBN 978-8174369864, £19.95

At the pinnacle of French power in India, Pondicherry sparked the imagination of those back home. Pondicherry was the French window on Indian culture, proudly seen as the Gallic Gateway of India. For over three centuries this gateway witnessed the busy trade of spices, beautiful textiles, woven cloth and later peanuts in return for a steady flow of gold, silver, weapons, merchants, priests, soldiers and adventurers. Later, as the English tightened their noose around Pondicherry, the beleaguered French were caught up in their own fateful and impossible attempt to combine colonial and republican principles. History was played out street by street in old Pondicherry and the wealth of these experiences have left an indelible mark on the unique cosmopolitan city that is Pondicherry today.

 

Collecting Paradise: Buddhist Art of Kashmir and Its Legacies

By Rob Linrothe, Serindia Publications,

ISBN 978-1932476729, US$75

From the 7th to 11th centuries, Kashmir – a lush valley connected to the Silk Road – was a wealthy centre of transcultural trade, culture and religion. Beginning in the 10th century, Buddhists in the Western Himalayas travelled to Kashmir to acquire, preserve and emulate its sophisticated art. Kashmiri artists also accepted invitations to travel to the Western Himalayas during this period to work with and teach local artists. The distinctive workmanship of the Kashmiri style became integrated into the identity of Tibetan Buddhism in this period and experienced a revival in the Western Himalayas in the 15th and 16th centuries. Centuries later, beginning in the 1900s, artworks from Kashmir and the Western Himalayas became prized acquisitions for collections in the US and Europe. Western explorers, scholars and travellers removed these works – often surreptitiously – from their places of origin. Today many of these works reside in public and private collections. Collecting Paradise features Buddhist objects, including manuscripts, paintings, and sculptures in ivory, metal and wood, dating from the 7th to 17th centuries. With 44 objects, the exhibition presents an original and innovative look at art from the region of Kashmir and the Western Himalayas, as well as how it has been collected over time

 

In Pursuit of the Past: Collecting Old Art in Modern India circa 1875-1950

By Pratapaditya Pal, Marg,

ISBN 978-93-83243-09-9, US$70

A significant development in the period from the late 19th to the first half of the 20th century was the awakening of national pride, with an increased awareness in India’s ancient heritage. The explorations of the ASI unearthed several treasures of the past; in addition, the dwindling fortunes of princely families led to their disposing of their possessions. As a result, individuals from wealthy and educated Indian families, as also enlightened European visitors and residents, zealously acquired objects of historic and aesthetic appeal. Today these works, preserved in museums or private collections in India and abroad, provide rich materials for the study of India’s art history. This book presents the stories of the pioneering collectors and traces the journey of great works of art, as collections were sold or gifted away. Many of the 20th-century collectors were personally known to the author, and he has also mined the memoirs of scholars, collectors and dealers to reveal little-known facts about how they came to acquire some of their prized pieces.

 

Gates of the Lord: The Tradition of Krishna Paintings

By Madhuvanti Ghose, Yale University Press, ISBN 97803002147727, £30

The Pushtimarg, a Hindu sect established in India in the 15th century, possesses a unique culture-reaching back centuries and still vital today-in which art and devotion are deeply intertwined. This important volume, illustrated with more than one hundred vivid images, offers a new, in-depth look at the Pushtimarg and its rich aesthetic traditions, which are largely unknown outside of South Asia. Original essays by eminent scholars of Indian art focus on the style of worship, patterns of patronage, and artistic heritage that generated pichvais, large paintings on cloth designed to hang in temples, as well as other paintings for the Pushtimarg. In this expansive study, the authors deftly examine how pichvais were and still are used in the seasonal and daily veneration of Shrinathji, an aspect of Krishna as a child who is the chief deity of the temple town of Nathdwara in Rajasthan. Gates of the Lord introduces readers not only to the visual world of the Pushtimarg, but also to the spirit of Nathdwara.

 

The Tears of the Rajas

By Ferdinand Mount, Simon & Schuster,

ISBN 978-1471129452, £25

The Tears of the Rajas is a sweeping history of the British in India, seen through the experiences of a single Scottish family. For a century the Lows of Clatto survived mutiny, siege, debt and disease, everywhere from the heat of Madras to the Afghan snows. They lived through the most appalling atrocities and retaliated with some of their own. Each of their lives, remarkable in itself, contributes to the story of the whole fragile and imperilled, often shockingly oppressive and devious but now and then heroic and poignant enterprise.  On the surface, John and Augusta Low and their relations may seem imperturbable, but in their letters and diaries they often reveal their loneliness and desperation and their doubts about what they are doing in India. The Lows are the family of the author’s grandmother, and a recurring theme of the book is his own discovery of them and of those parts of the history of the British in India which posterity has preferred to forget. The book brings to life not only the most dramatic incidents of their careers – the massacre at Vellore, the conquest of Java, the deposition of the boy-king of Oudh, the disasters in Afghanistan, the Reliefs of Lucknow and Chitral – but also their personal ordeals: the bankruptcies in Scotland and Calcutta, the plagues and fevers, the deaths of children and deaths in childbirth. And it brings to life too the unrepeatable strangeness of their lives: the camps and the palaces they lived in, the balls and the flirtations in the hill stations, and the hot slow rides through the dust.

 

Steve McCurry: India

Phaidon Press, ISBN 978-0714869964, £25

This book explores the lives of everyday people in extraordinary settings through the lens of Steve McCurry, one of the most admired photographers working today. This new portfolio of emotive and beautiful photographs from India features 150 previously unpublished images taken across the Indian subcontinent, along with iconic photographs that are famous worldwide. Reproduced in a large format with captions, and an introductory essay, this book features a range of images illustrating this most colourful of countries, capturing the lives of everyday people in extraordinary settings: from the Ganesh festival on Chowpatty beach in Mumbai to the Kolkata railway station before dawn to the flower markets of Kashmir and the streets of Old Delhi. McCurry’s India is a new selection of the photographer’s beautiful and powerful images of India, a country he has photographed many times over the last 30 years.

 

Sita Ram’s Painted Views of India

Edited by JP Losty, Thames & Hudson, ISBN 9780500518274, £35

Lord Hastings’s journal of his travels from Calcutta to the Punjab in 1814–1815 records the events and views of this journey accompanied by 200 large watercolour illustrations by Sita Ram. This book includes an edited version of the journal charting his passage through the India of the early nineteenth century. Though Sita Ram’s picturesque paintings were a sharp departure from the accurate ‘Company’ views of Indian monuments, they nonetheless revealed his eye for architectural detail. Taking the readers along as part of Lord Hastings’s party, J P Losty brings alive the 17-month long expedition in a flotilla of 220 boats from Barrackpore past Patna, Benares, Allahabad and Cawnpore, and then overland to Lucknow, Delhi and the Punjab, through Sita Ram’s never-before-published paintings of Colonial India.

 

Farthest Field:  An Indian Story of the Second World War

By Raghu Karnad, William Collins,

ISBN 978-0008115722, £18.99

Three young men gazed at him from silver-framed photographs in his grandmother’s house, ‘beheld but not noticed, as angels are in a frieze full of mortal strugglers’. They had all been in the Second World War, a fact that surprised him. Indians had never figured in his idea of the war, nor the war in his idea of India – and he thought that he had a good idea of both. One of them, Bobby, even looked a bit like him, but Raghu Karnad had not noticed until he was the same age as they were in their photo-frames. Then he learned about the Parsi boy from the sleepy south Indian coast, so eager to follow his brothers-in-law into the colonial forces and onto the front line. Manek, dashing and confident, was a pilot with India’s fledgling air force; gentle Ganny became an army doctor in the arid North-West Frontier. Bobby’s pursuit would carry him as far as the deserts of Iraq and the green hell of the Burma battlefront. The years 1939-45 might be the most revered, deplored and replayed in modern history. Yet India’s extraordinary role has been concealed, from itself and from the world. In riveting prose, Karnad retrieves the story of a single family – a story of love, rebellion, loyalty and uncertainty – and with it, the greatest revelation that is India’s Second World War. Farthest Field narrates the lost epic of India’s war, in which the largest volunteer army in history (2.5m men) fought for the British Empire, even as its countrymen fought to be free of it. It carries us from Madras to Peshawar, Egypt to Burma – unfolding the saga of a young family amazed by their swiftly changing world and swept up in its violence.

 

Indian Cotton Textiles

By John Guy, ACC Art Books,

ISBN 978-1851498093, £40

The Indian dyed and painted cotton cloths in the Thakar Collection are perhaps the best in private hands. Many have never previously been published. Dating from the 15th century onwards, the collection illustrates the trade in textiles across the Indian Ocean with the Malay-Indonesian world, with Sri Lanka, Armenia and Europe, as well as within the Indian domestic market. The trade in Indian cloth flourished due to the ability of its craftsmen to create a multitude of detailed and expressive patterns with strong and fast colours. Such textiles gained high esteem among the elite at home and abroad, ultimately acquiring heirloom status. Karun Thakar has been collecting textile art for more than 30 years, and has one of the world’s leading private collections from the Indian Subcontinent, with costume and fabrics from the 14th through to the early 20th century.

 

The Fabric of India

By Rosemary Crill, V&A Publishing, ISBN 978-1851778539, £35

This book is a wide-ranging yet accessible overview of the making, design, and use of textiles from the Indian subcontinent. Focusing on individual objects, it explores in great detail the materials and techniques used in their manufacture and discusses centres of production, patronage, markets and designs. It is the first truly comprehensive book on the subject, featuring lavishly illustrated chapters interspersed with analysis of 18 unique objects of world-historical importance, including a Kashmir map shawl, Tipu Sultan’s tent, and a remarkable eighteenth-century temple hanging from South India and an Abraham & Thakore sari. While many people are familiar with aspects of South Asian textiles – Mughal velvets, chintzes for the Western markets or rural embroideries, for example – this book aims to surprise, inspire, delight and inform readers with an extraordinary range of material, much of it being published for the first time. From ancient survivals to contemporary couture that reflects the richness and dynamism of Indian textile heritage. As well as presenting great historical masterpieces, the importance and variety of basic fibres – silk, cotton, wool – from which Indian textiles are traditionally made is emphasised, and the remarkable techniques of weaving, printing, dyeing and embroidery that have lead them to be prized across the world are illustrated with specially commissioned photography.

 

Art and Devotion at a Buddhist Temple in the Indian Himalaya

By Melissa R Kerin, Indiana University Press, ISBN 978-0253013064, US$65

Sixteenth-century wall paintings in a Buddhist temple in the Tibetan cultural zone of northwest India are the focus of this innovative and richly illustrated study. Initially shaped by one set of religious beliefs, the paintings have since been reinterpreted and retraced by a later Buddhist community, subsumed within its religious framework and communal memory. Melissa Kerin traces the devotional, political, and artistic histories that have influenced the paintings’ production and reception over the centuries of their use. Her interdisciplinary approach combines art historical methods with inscriptional translation, ethnographic documentation, and

theoretical inquiry to understand religious images in context.

 

Bejewelled: Treasures of the Al-Thani Collection

By Susan Stronge, V&A Publishing,

ISBN 978-1851778577, £20

Published to accompany the V&A exhibition, Bejewelled: Treasures of the Al-Thani Collection, 21 November 2015 to 28 March 2016. This sumptuous book invites the reader to examine in exquisite detail, spectacular jewelled and enamel objects, drawn from a single private collection, and to explore the broader themes of tradition and modernity in Indian jewellery. Highlights include a rare jewelled finial from the throne of Tipu Sultan, Mughal jades and a stunningly carved dagger. Featuring 100 objects, this book examines the origins of these precious artefacts from the treasury of the Mughal emperors and the courts of Hindustan. The author also looks at the influence that India had on avantgarde European jewellery made by Cartier and other leading houses and concludes with contemporary pieces made by JAR (hailed as the Fabergé of our times) and Viren Bhagat, which are inspired by a creative fusion of Mughal motifs and Art Deco ‘Indian’ designs.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

The Golden Lands: Architecture of the Buddhist World

By Vikram Lall, Abbeville Press,

ISBN 978-0789211941, US$95

Over the course of its 2,500-year history, Buddhism has found expression in countless architectural forms, from the great monastic complexes of ancient India to the fortified dzongs of Bhutan, the rock-carved temple grottoes of China, the wooden shrines of Japan, and the colourful wats of Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. Architecture of the Buddhist World, a projected six-volume series by the noted architect and scholar Vikram Lall, represents a new multidisciplinary approach to this fascinating subject, showing how Buddhist thought and ritual have interacted with local traditions across the Asian continent to produce masterpieces of religious architecture. The first volume in the series, The Golden Lands, is devoted to Southeast Asia, home to many of the most spectacular Buddhist monuments. Following a general introduction to the early history of Buddhism and its most characteristic architectural forms (the stupa, the temple, and the monastery), Lall examines the Buddhist architecture of Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos in turn. For each country, he provides both a historical overview and case studies of noteworthy structures. Lall’s concise and accessible text is illustrated throughout with new colour photography, as well as 3-D architectural renderings that make even the most complex structures easily comprehensible.

 

Buddhist Art of Myanmar

Edited by Sylvia Fraser-Lu and Donald M Stadtner,

Asia Society/Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300209457, £40

The practice of Buddhism in Myanmar (Burma) has resulted in the production of dazzling objects since the 5th century. This publication presents the first overview of these works of art from major museums in Myanmar and collections in the United States, including sculptures, paintings, textiles, and religious implements created for temples and monasteries, or for personal devotion. Many of these pieces have never before been seen outside of Myanmar. The essays synthesise the history of Myanmar from the ancient through colonial periods and discuss the critical links between religion, geography, governance, historiography, and artistic production. The authors examine the multiplicity of styles and techniques throughout the country, the ways Buddhist narratives have been conveyed through works of art, and the context in which the diverse objects were used.

 

Yangon Echoes

By Virginia Henderson, River Books, ISBN 978-6167339573, £19.95

Yangon Echoes is a popular history of buildings used as homes in Burma’s bustling, former capital, charting social space and urban folklore and linking past to present via living memories. This anthology records everyday life through domestic connections to old places and explores the present day significance of Yangon’s rich inheritance. The book is a popular history of buildings used as homes in Burma’s bustling, former capital, charting social space and urban folklore and linking past to present via living memories. This anthology records everyday life through domestic connections to old places and explores the present day significance of Yangon’s rich inheritance of built form. The author speaks of joy and tragedy, simple pleasures and aching issues. Sharing thoughts and feelings of living through Yangon’s emergence from decades of stagnation to engagement with a rapidly spinning world. Told with courage and charm, these informal stories of home offer insight into what has happened and is happening to the city.

 

Temple in the Clouds: Faith and Conflict at Preah Vihear

By John Burgess, River Books,

ISBN 9786167339542, £9.95

Temple in the Clouds is an accessible, handsomely illustrated book about an imposing Tenth Century Cambodian temple known as Preah Vihear. The temple lies close to the Thai-Cambodian border – a line on maps that didn’t exist until the early 1900s. John Burgess deftly sets Preah Vihear in its religious and architectural context before going on to examine the conflict about ‘ownership’ of the temple that has inflamed Thai-Cambodian relations on and off since the 1960s. John Burgess has done the region a great favour with his in-depth investigation of the temple – its ancient history and the tragic modern-day conflict. His findings will help to calm the waters – facts should trump myths and speculation.

 

Reworlding Art History: Encounters with Contemporary Southeast Asian Art after 1990

by Michelle Antoinette, Brill,
ISBN 9789042039148, Euro 150

Reworlding Art History highlights the significance of contemporary Southeast Asian art and artists, and their place in the globalised art world and the internationalising field of ‘contemporary art’. In the light of the region’s modern art history, the book surveys this relatively under-examined area of contemporary art which first found broad international recognition in the 1990s.Traced here are significant exhibitions that featured contemporary Southeast Asian art and brought it to regional and international attention. Examined are seminal foundational art histories, and dominant methods and thematic frameworks for engaging with Southeast Asian art. Key artists, exhibitions, collections, scholarship, ideologies, and discourses shaping its developing history are discussed, as are major works by artists associated with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore.

 

The Architectural Heritage of Sri Lanka

By David Robson, Laurence King,

ISBN 978-1780675756, £38

Architect C Anjalendran, aided by an army of assistants and students, has been recording Sri Lanka’s architectural heritage for almost 30 years. The result is a collection of exquisite measured drawings, all made with ink and pencil on tracing paper – documenting many interesting and often neglected buildings in Sri Lanka. This book features these, along with photographs and insightful text, to highlight a broad cross-section of buildings of many different types and from many periods – from the ancient classical era of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, from medieval times, from the colonial period and from the years after Sri Lanka regained its Independence in 1948. The book continues the work of Barbara Sansoni who started to record ancient buildings of Sri Lanka during the early 1950s. With the help of her husband Ronald Lewcock, her photographer son Dominic Sansoni and her friend Anjalendran, she published her drawings in a book called ‘The Architecture of an Island’ in 1998.

 

Central Asia/ Silk Road

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

By Peter Frankopan, Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1408839973, £25

The sun is setting on the Western world. Slowly but surely, the direction in which the world spins has reversed: where for the last five centuries the globe turned westwards on its axis, it now turns to the east. For centuries, fame and fortune was to be found in the west – in the New World of the Americas. Today, it is the East that calls out to those in search of adventure and riches. The region stretching from eastern Europe and sweeping right across Central Asia deep into China and India, is taking centre stage in international politics, commerce and culture – and is shaping the modern world. This region, the true centre of the earth, is obscure to many in the English-speaking world. Yet this is where civilisation itself began, where the world’s great religions were born and took root. The Silk Roads were no exotic series of connections, but networks that linked continents and oceans together. Along them flowed ideas, goods, disease and death. This was where empires were won – and where they were lost. As a new era emerges, the patterns of exchange are mirroring those that have criss-crossed Asia for millennia. The Silk Roads are rising again. A major reassessment of world history, this book is an important account of the forces that have shaped the global economy and the political renaissance in the re-emerging east.

 

The Silk Road: Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran and China and The Karakorum Highway

By Jonathan Tucker, IB Tauris,

ISBN 8781780769257, each £24.99

Stretching from the ancient Chinese capital of Xian across the expanses of Central Asia to Rome, the Silk Road was, for 2,000 years, a vibrant network of arteries that carried the lifeblood of nations across the world. Along a multitude of routes everything was exchanged: exotic goods, art, knowledge, religion, philosophy, disease and war. From the East came silk, tea, jade, paper, porcelain, spices and Buddhism; from the West, horses, weapons, lions, precious stones and cotton. From its earliest beginnings in the days of Alexander the Great and the Han Dynasty, the Silk Road expanded and evolved, reaching its peak under the Tang and Byzantine empires and gradually crumbling along with decline of the Mongol empire. The books cover the Central Asian section of the Silk Road – from Lake Issy Kul through Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, the Kyzyl Kum Desert, Khiva and Merv to Herat, Kabul and Iran – Jonathan Tucker uses travellers’ anecdotes and literary and historical sources to celebrate the cultural heritage of the countries that lie along the Silk Road,  illuminating the lives of those who once travelled through the very heart of the world.

 

Islamic World

Saladin: The Life, the Legend and the Islamic Empire

By John Man, Bantan Press,

ISBN 978-0593073728, £15.50

Saladin remains one of the most iconic figures of his age. As the man who united the Arabs and saved Islam from Christian crusaders in the 12th century, he is the Islamic world’s preeminent hero. Ruthless in defence of his faith, brilliant in leadership, he also possessed qualities that won admiration from his Christian foes. He knew the limits of violence, showing such tolerance and generosity that many Europeans, appalled at the brutality of their own people, saw him as the exemplar of their own knightly ideals.  But Saladin is far more than a historical hero. Builder, literary patron and theologian, he is a man for all times, and a symbol of hope for an Arab world once again divided. Centuries after his death, in cities from Damascus to Cairo and beyond, to the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf, Saladin continues to be an immensely potent symbol of religious and military resistance to the West. He is central to Arab memories, sensibilities and the ideal of a unified Islamic state. In this authoritative biography, historian John Man brings Saladin and his world to life in vivid detail. Charting his rise to power, his struggle to unify the warring factions of his faith, and his battles to retake Jerusalem and expel Christian influence from Arab lands, Saladin explores the life and the enduring legacy of this champion of Islam, and examines his significance for the world today.

 

Damascus Tiles:  Mamluk and Ottoman Architectural Ceramics from Syria

By Arthur Millner, Prestel,

ISBN 97837991381473, £60

Architectural ceramic decoration is one of the most celebrated manifestations of the arts of Islam. Spanning a period from the 13th to the 20th century, the tiles featured in this book exhibit a rich range of influences from Persia, Turkey, China and even Europe. A renowned specialist in the field of Islamic and Indian art, Arthur Millner explores the historical context that allowed the uniquely creative achievement of Syrian craftsmen to flourish, and why tiles from this region are less restricted in artistic expression than those from better-known centres of production. The complex and interconnected nature of tile designs, techniques and colour palettes is explored, highlighting what is distinctive about Damascus ceramics and how they relate to tiles produced in other parts of the Islamic world. Finally, the author traces the journey made by many of these tiles to the West, embellishing the interiors of wealthy clients as Islamic art became both fashionable and influential in late 19th-century art and design.

 

Iraq: A History

By John Robertson, One World Publications, ISBN 978-1851685868, £19.99

In this insightful analysis, John Robertson canvases the entirety of Iraq’s rich history, from the seminal advances of its Neolithic inhabitants to the aftermath of the American-led invasion and Iraq today. Grounded in extensive research, this balanced account of a country and its people explores the greatness and grandeur of Iraq’s achievements, the brutality and magnificence of its ancient empires, its contributions to the emergence of the world’s enduring monotheistic faiths, and the role the great Arab caliphs of Baghdad played in the mediaeval cultural flowering that contributed so much to the European Renaissance and the eventual rise of the West. Fascinating and thought-provoking, Robertson’s work sheds light on a remarkable story of world history, one that has been too often overlooked. Wide-ranging and extensive in approach, it is sure to be greatly appreciated by historians, students and all those with an interest in this diverse and enigmatic country.

Islam: A New Historical Introduction

By Carole Hillenbrand, Thames & Hudson,

ISBN 9780500110270, £24.95

Carole Hillenbrand’s book offers a profound understanding of the history of Muslims and their faith, from the life of Muhammad to the religion practised by 1.6 billion people around the world today. Each of the 11 chapters explains a core aspect of the faith in historical perspective, allowing readers to gain a sensitive understanding of the essential tenets of the religion and of the many ways in which the present is shaped by the past. It is an ideal introductory text for courses in Middle Eastern studies, in religious studies, or on Islam and its history.

 

Persian Painting: Illustrated Manuscripts and Miniatures in The al-Sabah Collection

By Adel T Adamova and Manijeh Bayani, Thames & Hudson, ISBN 9780500970676, £40

This is an illustrated catalogue of The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait that celebrates Persian art with more than 40 illustrated and illuminated manuscripts, miniature paintings and elaborately decorated book bindings. This in-depth look at the rich tradition of Persian representational art, dating from the period preceding the Mongol invasions to the early 20th century, and includes rare and previously unpublished examples of this Persian art form. It comprises fine Qur’an manuscript illuminations; Mu’nis al-Ahrar, an important early 14th-century anthology by Muhammad ibn Badr al-Din al-Jajarmi; folios from manuscripts of Firdawsi’s Shah-nameh; two previously unpublished copies of Qazwini’s ‘Aja’ib al-Makhluqat; three copies of Nizami’s Khamsah; Sa‘di’s Golestan; and Jami’s Yusuf and Zulaykha and Subhat al-Abrar, as well as paintings from dispersed Safavid and post-Safavid albums, and 17th-century book bindings and
oil paintings from the Zand and
Qajar periods.

 

Iznik:  The History of Ottoman Ceramics

By Walter B Denny, Thames & Hudson,

ISBN 9780500517888, £35

Covering both Iznik pièces de forme and the famous Iznik tiles that decorate Ottoman imperial monuments, Iznik integrates the entire spectrum of Iznik production, both tiles and wares, and the broader artistic tradition in which it originated. Walter B Denny begins with a description of the particular nature of Islamic art under the Ottoman empire, as well as the methods of the craftsmen who worked under the imperial auspices. He then examines the links between the court style of Istanbul and the ceramic ateliers in Iznik itself, and the crucial role of the dominant styles of the golden age of Iznik ceramics and their most famous creators, Shah Kulu and Kara Memi. The book showcases the array of motifs floral, vegetal and figurative used on Iznik wares, looks at the relationship between non-Muslim communities and the Ottoman empire, and closes with an examination of the rich stylistic heritage that Iznik ceramics have given to Western art. Lavishly illustrated in colour throughout, this is a panoramic overview of a spectacular and refined artform.

 

God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth

Edited by Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair, Yale, ISBN 978-0300215281, US$85

The Qur’an makes rich references to light, tying it to revelation, and light consequently permeates the culture and visual arts of the Islamic lands. This book explores the integral role of light in Islamic civilisation across a wide range of media, from the Qur’an and literature to buildings, paintings, performances, photography, and other works produced over the past 14 centuries. A team of international experts conveys current scholarship on Islamic art in a manner that is engaging and accessible to the general reader. The objects discussed include some of the first identifiable works of Islamic art – modest oil lamps inscribed in Arabic, which developed into elaborately decorated metal and glass lamps and chandeliers. Later, photography, which creates images with light, was readily adopted in Islamic lands, and it continues to provide inspiration for contemporary artists. Generously illustrated with specially commissioned, sumptuous colour photographs, this book shows the potential of light to reveal colour, form, and meaning.

 

Imperfect Chronology: Arab Art from the Modern to the Contemporary Works from the Barjeel Art Foundation

Edited by Omar Koleif, Prestel,

ISBN 978-3791354859, £40

Based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, the Barjeel Art Foundation was established to contribute to the development of the art scene in the Arab region by building a prominent, publicly accessible art collection in the UAE. Over time it has grown to become one of the largest and most holistic collections of Arab art, fostering critical dialogue around art practices both in the region and internationally. Coinciding with a major year long exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, this unique overview features many rarely seen works by artists from Algeria, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon, among others. Spanning a period from the 1920s to the present day, this book tells a striking visual story of artists who challenged notions of tradition, territory, and geography. The book includes more than 100 artists works along with essays by leading Arab scholars and curators such as Omar Kholeif, Rasha Salti, Nada Shabbout, Gilane Tawadros, Ted McDonald-Toone, and Sultan Al Qassemi, alongside artist interviews.

 

The Traditional Jewelry of Egypt

By Azza Fahmy, AUC Press,

ISBN 9789774167201, £35

For many women of Egypt, their jewellery is their bank-they wear their wealth in their gold. But jewellery in Egypt is also more than mere assets, and its design and manufacture reveal a great array of styles and a high degree of skill and artistry. Azza Fahmy, herself a renowned designer of jewellery based on traditional motifs, lays before us an Aladdin’s cave of jewellery made in all corners of Egypt over the last one hundred years, collected through her extensive travels throughout the country. From the farms and villages of the Nile Valley and Delta, from the oases of the Western Desert and the mountains and wadis of Sinai and the Eastern Desert, from Nubia in the south, and from the crowded traditional neighborhoods of Cairo is displayed a cornucopia of gold and silver adornment-each area with its own distinctive favoured style.

 

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East 1914-1920

By Eugene Rogan, Allen Lane,

ISBN 978-1846144387, £25

For some four centuries the Ottoman Empire had been one of the most powerful states in Europe as well as ruler of the Middle East. By 1914, it had been drastically weakened and circled by numerous predators waiting to finish it off. Following the Ottoman decision to join the First World War on the side of the Central Powers the British, French and Russians hatched a plan to finish the Ottomans off: an ambitious and unprecedented invasion of Gallipoli… Eugene Rogan’s new book recreates one of the most important but poorly understood fronts of the First World War. Despite fighting back with great skill and ferocity against the Allied onslaught and humiliating the British both at Gallipoli and in Mesopotamia (Iraq), the Ottomans were ultimately defeated, clearing the way for the making, for better or worse, of a new Middle East which has endured to the present.

 

The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923

By Sean McMeekin,  Allen Lane,

ISBN 978-1846147050, £20.50

The Ottoman Endgame is the first single-volume history of the Ottoman empire’s decade-long war for survival. Beginning with Italy’s invasion of Ottoman Tripoli in September 1911, the opening salvo in what would soon spiral into a European conflict, the book concludes with the establishment of Turkish independence in the Treaty of Lausanne, 1923. This is the first time an author has woven the entire epic together from start to finish – and it will cause many readers to fundamentally reevaluate their understanding of the conflict. The consequences, well into the 21st century, could not have been more momentous.

 

How to Read Islamic Carpets

By Walter Denny, Metropolitan Museum of Art,

ISBN 978-0300208092, US$25

Carpets made in the ‘Rug Belt’, an area that includes Morocco, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and northern India – have been a source of fascination and collecting since the 13th century. This engaging and accessible book explores the history, design techniques, materials, craftsmanship, and socio-economic contexts of these works, promoting a better understanding and appreciation of these frequently misunderstood pieces. Fifty-five examples of Islamic carpets are illustrated with new photographs and revealing details. The lively texts guide readers, teaching them ‘how to read’ clues present in the carpets. The author situates these carpets within the cultural and social realm of their production, be it a nomadic encampment, a rural village, or an urban workshop. This is an essential guide for students, collectors, and professionals who want to understand the art of the Islamic carpet.

 

Siwa: Jewelry, Costume, and Live in an Egyptian Oasis

By Margaret M Vale, AUC Press, ISBN 9789774166815, £22.50

Siwa is a remote oasis deep in the heart of the Egyptian desert near the border with Libya. Until an asphalt road was built to the Mediterranean coast in the 1980s, its only links to the outside world were by arduous camel tracks. As a result of this isolation, Siwa developed a unique culture manifested in its crafts of basketry, pottery, and embroidery and in its styles of costume and silverwork. The most visible and celebrated example of this was the silver jewellery that was worn by women in abundance at weddings and other ceremonies. Based on conversations with women and men in the oasis and with reference to old texts, this book describes the jewellery and costume at this highpoint of Siwan culture against the backdrop of its date gardens and springs, social life, and dramatic history.

 

Fiction

Flood of Fire

By Amirav Ghosh, John Murray,

ISBN, £20

The thrilling climax to the Ibis trilogy that began with the Booker-shortlisted Sea of Poppies. It is 1839 and tension has been rapidly mounting between China and British India following the crackdown on opium smuggling by Beijing. With no resolution in sight, the colonial government declares war. One of the vessels requisitioned for the attack, the Hind, travels eastwards from Bengal to China, sailing into the midst of the First Opium War. The turbulent voyage brings together a diverse group of travellers, each with their own agenda to pursue. Among them is Kesri Singh, a sepoy in the East India Company who leads a company of Indian sepoys; Zachary Reid, an impoverished young sailor searching for his lost love, and Shireen Modi, a determined widow en route to China to reclaim her opium-trader husband’s wealth and reputation. Flood of Fire follows a varied cast of characters from India to China, through the outbreak of the First Opium War and China’s devastating defeat, to Britain’s seizure of
Hong Kong.

 

The Way Things Were

By Aatish Taseer, Picador, ISBN 978-1447272458, £14.99

When Skanda’s father Toby dies, estranged from Skanda’s mother and from the India he once loved, it falls to Skanda to return his body to his birthplace. This is a journey that takes him halfway around the world and deep within three generations of his family, whose fractures, frailties and toxic legacies he has always sought to elude. It is both an intimate portrait of a marriage and its aftershocks, and a panoramic vision of India’s half-century, in which a rapacious new energy supplants an ineffectual elite. This is an epic novel about the pressures of history upon the present moment. It is also a meditation on the stories we tell and the stories we forget; their tenderness and violence in forging bonds and in breaking them apart. Set in modern Delhi and at flashpoints from the past four decades, fusing private and political, classical and contemporary to thrilling effect, this book confirms Aatish Taseer as one of the most arresting voices of his generation

 

Family Life

By Akhil Sharma, Faber,

ISBN 978-0571224548, £5.80

For eight-year-old Ajay and his older brother Birju, life in Delhi in the late 1970s follows a comfortable, predictable routine: bathing on the roof, queuing for milk, playing cricket in the street. Yet, everything changes when their father finds a job in America – a land of carpets and elevators, swimsuits and hot water on tap. Life is exciting for the two brothers as they adjust to prosperity, girls and 24-hour TV, until one hot, sultry day when everything falls apart. Winner of the Folio Prize 2015.

 

 

Odysseus Abroad

By Amit Chaudhuri, Oneworld Publications, ISBN 978-1780747446, £8.99

It is 1985. Twenty-two-year-old Ananda has been a student in London for two years, practising at being a poet. He’s homesick, thinks of himself as an inveterate outsider, and yet he cannot help feeling that there is something romantic about his isolation. His uncle, Radhesh is a magnificent failure and an eccentric virgin who has lived in genteel impoverishment in Hampstead for nearly three decades. Over the course of one day, we follow Ananda and Radhesh on one of their weekly forays about town. Weaving back and forth in time, Chaudhuri gradually reveals the background to the two men’s lives with deft precision and humour as they walk through London together, circling around their respective pasts and futures, and finding in one another an unspoken solace.

 

Sleeping with Jupiter

By Anuradha Roy, MacLehose Press,

ISBN 978-0857053466, £8.99

Jarmuli: a city of temples, a centre of healing on the edge of the ocean. Nomi, a young girl, is taken from her family and finds herself in an ashram, overseen by a charismatic guru. But Guruji’s charm masks a predatory menace, and the young girl faces danger beyond her understanding. Twenty years later, Nomi returns to Jarmuli with a documentary film crew. All has changed in a town that she no longer knows, as tourists and market traders bustle, banter and chase their dreams amidst the temples of her youth.Seeking the truth about what happened to her and her family, Nomi finds herself chasing shadows in a town that has reinvented itself. But when she returns to the ashram that haunts her dreams, she discovers some scars cannot be washed away.

 

The Book of Gold Leaves

By Mirza Waheed, Penguin,

ISBN 978-0241970829, £8.99

Mirza Waheed’s extraordinary new novel is a heartbreaking love story set in war-torn Kashmir. In an ancient house in the city of Srinagar, Faiz paints exquisite Papier Mache pencil boxes for tourists. Evening is beginning to slip into night when he sets off for the shrine. There he finds the woman with the long black hair. Roohi is prostrate before her God. She begs for the boy of her dreams to come and take her away. Roohi wants a love story. An age-old tale of love, war, temptation, duty and choice, the book is a heartbreaking tale of a what might have been, what could have been, if only.

 

She Will Build Him a City

By Raj Kamal Jha, Bloomsbury,

ISBN 978-1408855041, £8.99

As night falls in Delhi a mother spins tales from her past for her sleeping daughter. Her now grown-up child is a puzzle with a million pieces whom she hopes, through her words and her love, to somehow make whole again. Meanwhile, as the last train from Rajiv Chowk Station pulls away, a young man rides the metro and dreams of murder. In another corner of the city, a newborn wrapped in a blood-red towel lies on the steps of an orphanage as his mother walks away. There are 20 million bodies in this city and this woman, man and child are only three. But their stories – of a secret love that blossoms in the shadows of grief, of a corrosive guilt that taints the soul, and of an orphaned boy who maps out his own destiny – weave in and out of the lives of those around them to form a dazzling kaleidoscope of a novel. Beautiful, beguiling and audacious, this is the story of a city and its people, of love and horror, of belonging and forgiveness: a powerful and unforgettable tale of modern India.

 

Don’t Let Him Know

Sandip Roy, Bloomsbury,

ISBN 978-1408856635, £8.99

In a boxy apartment building in an American university town, Romola Mitra, a newly arrived young bride, anxiously awaits her first letter from home in India. When she accidentally opens the wrong letter, it changes her life. Decades later, her son Amit finds that letter and thinks he has discovered his mother’s secret. But secrets have their own secrets sometimes, and a way of following their keepers. Amit does not know that Avinash, his dependable and devoted father, lurks on gay Internet groups at times, unable to set aside his lifelong attraction to men. Avinash has no idea that his dutiful wife had once romanced a dashing Bengali filmstar, whose memory she keeps tucked away in a diary amongst her silk saris. Growing up in Calcutta, in a house bustling with feisty grandmothers, Amit has been shielded from his parents’ secrets.

A successful computer engineer, he settles in San Francisco, torn between his new life and his duties towards the one he has left behind.

 

The Year of the Runaways

By Sunjeev Sahota, Picador,

ISBN 978-1447241645, £14.99

The Year of the Runaways tells of the bold dreams and daily struggles of an unlikely family thrown together by circumstance. Thirteen young men live in a house in Sheffield, each in flight from India and in desperate search of a new life. Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his past in Bihar; and Avtar has a secret that binds him to protect the chaotic Randeep. Randeep, in turn, has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town: a clever, devout woman whose cupboards are full of her husband’s clothes, in case the immigration men surprise her with a call.

 

The Four Books

By Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rohas, Chatto & Windus,

ISBN 978-0701186982, £16.99

In the 99th district of a sprawling labour camp, the Author, Musician, Scholar, Theologian and Technician are undergoing Re-education, to restore their revolutionary zeal and credentials. In charge of this process is the Child, who delights in draconian rules, monitoring behaviour and confiscating treasured books. The inmates – and hundreds of intellectuals just like them – must meet challenges set by the higher-ups: to grow an ever-spiralling amount of wheat per li of land, and to smelt vast quantities of steel. The stakes are high: they can win their freedom if they are awarded enough of the small red blossoms, medium red blossoms and pentagonal stars given out for effort, obedience and informing on others. But when bad weather arrives, followed by the ‘three bitter years’ of the Great Famine, the intellectuals are abandoned by the regime and left on their own to survive.

Divided into four narratives, echoing the four texts of Confucianism and the four Gospels of the New Testament, The Four Books tells the story of one of China’s most controversial periods.
It also shows us the power of camaraderie, love and faith against oppression and the darkest possible odds.

 

The Seventh Day

by Yu Hua, Text Publishing Co,

ISBN 978-1922182890, £9.99

Yang Fei was born on a moving train, lost by his mother, adopted by a young switchman and raised with simplicity and love – utterly unprepared for the changes that await him and his country. At 41, he meets an unceremonious death, and lacking the money for a burial plot, must roam the afterworld aimlessly. There, over the course of seven days, he encounters the souls of people he’s lost, and as he retraces the path of his life, we meet an extraordinary cast of characters. This novel affirms Yu Hua’s place as the standard-bearer of Chinese fiction.

 

The Broken Mirrors Sinalcol

By Elias Khoury,

translated by Humphrey Davies, MacLehose,

ISBN 978-1848669826 £19.99

Why did he return to Beirut? Why did Karim leave his wife and children and the life he had built in France to return to a homeland still reeling from war? It was not to answer his brother Naseem’s call and raise a hospital out the ashes; it was not to pursue past sweethearts and father the son his wife never gave him.It was to find a man, or the ghost of a man, a man known only as Sinalcol, legendary hero of the civil war, and a broken mirror of himself. In Beirut Karim will confront the fate of old comrades, the truth about his father’s death and a brother who is all but a twin in appearance but shares nothing of his soul. And he will learn that peace is only ever fleeting in a war without end.

 

The Drum Tower

By Farnoosh Moshiri, Sandstone Press,

ISBN 978-1910124024, £8.99

In the closing years of the rule of the Shah, young Talkhoon lives with her sister, Taara, with her grandmother Khanum-Jaan, her grandfather Baba-Ji, and her disturbing uncle, Asaad, in the house known as The Drum Tower in Tehran. In the tower, Baba-Ji continues his life’s work, an unfinishable book on the Simorgh, the Bird of Knowledge, but revolution of one sort or another is on the way and Talkhoon’s father is in hiding. The girls live with the mystery of their missing mother, and Khanum-Jaan’s inexplicable hatred of her. In a book peopled by amazing characters and events, shot through with magic realism, Talkhoon’s life, and the life of her country, rush to their inevitable destinies.

 

Cobra in the Bath

By Miles Morland, Bloomsbury,

ISBN 978-1408863671, £16.99

Miles Morland is an adventurer. He was born in India to a naval father and a dangerously glamorous mother. When his parents divorced, Miles followed his mother to Tehran, which they had to leave in a hurry, and on to Baghdad, which they also had to leave in a hurry after the 1958 revolution. His early years were filled with desert journeys, riots, perilous near-misses, and adventures worthy of Kipling, after which he was sent to England for a ‘proper’ education. Later, following years of shouting down a Wall Street telephone,
Miles threw in his job, bought a giant motorbike and set off to discover things in places others did not want to go. Deported at gunpoint from Romania, saved from assassination in Ethiopia by a lucky plane crash, riding an Enfield Bullet through Ooty and following Che over the Andes: Miles has a knack of finding trouble.

 

A Strangeness in My Mind

By Orhan Pamuk, translated by Ekin Oklap, Faber, ISBN 978-0571275977,  £20

A Strangeness In My Mind is a novel Orhan Pamuk has worked on for six years. It is the story of boza seller Mevlut, the woman to whom he wrote three years’ worth of love letters, and their life in Istanbul. In the four decades between 1969 and 2012, Mevlut works a number of different jobs on the streets of Istanbul, from selling yoghurt and cooked rice, to guarding a car park. He observes many different kinds of people thronging the streets, he watches most of the city get demolished and re-built, and he sees migrants from Anatolia making a fortune; at the same time, he witnesses all of the transformative moments, political clashes, and military coups that shape the country. He always wonders what it is that separates him from everyone else – the source of that strangeness in his mind. But he never stops selling boza during winter evenings and trying to understand who his beloved really is. What matters more in love: what we wish for, or what our fate has in store? Do our choices dictate whether we will be happy or not, or are these things determined by forces beyond our control?

 

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra: Book One of the Baby Ganesh Agency

By Vaseem Khan, Mulholland Books,

ISBN 978-1473612266, £6.94

Mumbai, murder and a baby elephant combine in a charming, joyful mystery for fans of Alexander McCall Smith and Rachel Joyce. On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries. The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant. As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought. And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs …

 

Miscellaneous

Conquerors: How Portugal Seized the Indian Ocean and Forged the First Global Empire

By Roger Crowley, Faber & Faber,

ISBN 978-0571290895, £20

As remarkable as Columbus and the conquistador expeditions, the history of Portuguese exploration is now almost forgotten. But Portugal’s navigators cracked the code of the Atlantic winds, launched the expedition of Vasco da Gama to India and beat the Spanish to the spice kingdoms of the East – then set about creating the first long-range maritime empire. In an astonishing blitz of 30 years, a handful of visionary and utterly ruthless empire builders, with few resources but breathtaking ambition, attempted to seize the Indian Ocean, destroy Islam and take control of world trade. Told with Roger Crowley’s customary skill and verve, this is narrative history at its most vivid – an epic tale of navigation, trade and technology, money and religious zealotry, political diplomacy and espionage, sea battles and shipwrecks, endurance, courage and terrifying brutality. Drawing on extensive first-hand accounts, it brings to life the exploits of an extraordinary band of conquerors – men such as Afonso de Albuquerque, the first European since Alexander the Great to found an Asian empire, who set in motion five hundred years of European colonisation and unleashed the forces of globalisation.

 

Agents of Empire

By Noel Malcolm, Allen lane,

ISBN 978-0241003893, £30

In the second half of the 16th century, most of the Christian states of Western Europe were on the defensive against a Muslim superpower – the Empire of the Ottoman sultans. There was violent conflict, from raiding and corsairing to large-scale warfare, but there were also many forms of peaceful interaction across the surprisingly porous frontiers of these opposing power-blocs. Agents of Empire describes the paths taken through the eastern Mediterranean and its European hinterland by members of a Venetian-Albanian family, almost all of them previously invisible to history. They include an archbishop in the Balkans, the captain of the papal flagship at the Battle of Lepanto, the power behind the throne in the Ottoman province of Moldavia, and a dragoman (interpreter) at the Venetian embassy in Istanbul. Through the life-stories of these adventurous individuals over three generations, Noel Malcolm casts the world between Venice, Rome and the Ottoman Empire in a fresh light, illuminating subjects as diverse as espionage, diplomacy, the grain trade, slave-ransoming and anti-Ottoman rebellion. He describes the conflicting strategies of the Christian powers, and the extraordinarily ambitious plans of the sultans and their viziers. Few works since Fernand Braudel’s classic account of the 16th-century Mediterranean, published more than sixty years ago, have ranged so widely through this vital period of Mediterranean and European history. A masterpiece of scholarship as well as story-telling, Agents of Empire builds up a panoramic picture, both of Western power-politics and of the interrelations between the Christian and Ottoman worlds.

 

Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age

By Jan Van Camped, Karina Corrigan,

Femke Diercke with Janet C Blyberg, Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300212877, £40

This exhibition catalogue discusses the Asian luxury goods that were imported into the Netherlands during the 17th century and demonstrates the overwhelming impact these works of art had on Dutch life and art during the Golden Age. Written by a team of 30 international scholars, this volume presents seven essays and catalogue entries on 150 works of art, including Dutch and Asian paintings, textiles, ceramics, lacquer, furniture, silver, diamonds, and jewellery. From the Dutch settlements throughout Asia-including Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China, and Japan-Dutch maritime traders brought an astonishing range of luxuries back to the Netherlands. Dutch consumers were enthralled with these foreign goods, which brought new colours, patterns, and textures to their interiors and wardrobes. As seen in the book’s many illustrations, Dutch artists also found inspiration in these objects and incorporated them into portraits, genre scenes, and particularly still-life paintings. Dutch artists and craftspeople also adapted distinctly Asian technologies, such as porcelain and lacquer, to create new works of art inspired by Asia.This catalogue weaves together the complex stories of these diverse works of art and presents fascinating portraits of the dynamic cities of Amsterdam and Batavia (Jakarta)-the Dutch trade centre in Asia during the 17th century.

 

Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices

By James Bennett and Russell Kelty, Art Gallery of South Australia, ISBN 9781921668227, AU$64.95

The catalogue presents the complex artistic and cultural interactions between Europe and Asia from the 16th to the 19th centuries – a period known as the ‘Age of Spices’. It reveals how the international trade in spices and other exotic commodities inspired dialogue between Asian and European artists, a centuries old conversation whose heritage is the aesthetic globalism we know today.
It includes nearly 300 rarely-seen works of ceramics, decorative arts, furniture, metalware, paintings, prints and textiles from public and private collections in Australia, India, Portugal, Singapore and the US.
It accompanies the exhibition of the same name at the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Art Gallery of Western Australia (to 31 January 2016). It contains 18 essays by international and national experts: Robert J Del Bontà, Fr Jeremy Clarke, SJ Bruce Carpenter, Wayne Crothers, Richard L Wilson, Carol Cains, and Judith Heaven.

 

The Greeks in Asia

By John Boardman, Thames & Hudson,

ISBN 9780500252130, £32

This book, by one of Britain’s most distinguished historians of ancient Greek art, recounts the influence of Greek communities and their culture through Central Asia, India and Western China, from the Bronze Age through to the rise of Islam. Boardman examines a wealth of art and artefacts as well as literary sources to reveal the remarkable influence of Greek culture upon peoples Anatolians, Levantines, Persians, Asiatics, Indians, Chinese whose settled civilisations were far older, with their own strong traditions in life, government and the arts. The Greeks were not empire-builders. They did not seek to conquer or rule. However, they were highly literate and adept at trade; they spread a monetary economy through Eurasia; their religion was easily adapted to that of others; their art developed a form of narrative that was to be dominant for centuries to come; and their poets and philosophers were widely respected outside their homeland.  As Boardman notes, They are an odd phenomenon in world history. Through their travels they came to leave a very distinctive imprint on the lives and arts of many distant peoples, and over centuries, some to the present day.

The Boxer Codex

By George Bryan Souza and Jeffrey Scott Turley, Brill, ISBN 9789004292734 , Euro 199

In The Boxer Codex, the editors have transcribed, translated and annotated an illustrated late-16th century Spanish manuscript concerning the geography, history and ethnography of the Pacific, Southeast and East Asia.  It is a special source that provides evidence for understanding early-modern geography, ethnography and history of parts of the western Pacific, as well as major segments of maritime and continental South-east Asia and East Asia. Although portions of this gem of a manuscript have been known to specialists for nearly seven decades, this is the first complete transcription and English translation, with critical annotations and apparatus, and reproductions of all its illustrations, to appear in print.

 

Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Volume One

Edited by Johnathan A Silk, Brill,

ISBN , Euro 249

It has been evident for many years that no authoritative, reliable, and up-to-date reference work on Buddhism yet exists in any language. Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism aims to fill that gap with a comprehensive work, presented in two phases: a series of six thematic volumes including an index volume, addressing issues of global and regional importance, to be followed by an ever-expanding online resource providing access both to synthetic and comprehensive treatments and to more individuated details on persons, places, texts, doctrinal matters, and so on. Illustrated with maps and photographs, and supplemented with extensive online resources, the print version of the thematic encyclopaedia presents the latest research on the main aspects of the Buddhist traditions in original essays written by the world’s foremost scholars. The encyclopedia aims at a balanced and even-handed view of Buddhist traditions, presenting the most reliable accounts of well-known issues and filling gaps in heretofore-neglected areas. In doing so, it emphasises that Buddhism is simultaneously constituted by a plurality of regional traditions and a far-reaching phenomenon spanning almost all of Asia, and in more recent times, far beyond this region as well.

Volume I, published  in October 2015, surveys Buddhist literatures, scriptural and nonscriptural, and offers discussions of the languages of Buddhist traditions and the physical bases (manuscripts, epigraphy, etc.) available for the study of Buddhist literatures. Subsequent volumes will address issues of personages, communities, history, life and practice, doctrine, space and time, and Buddhism in the modern world.

 

The Porcelain Thief

By Huan Hsu, Fourth Estate,

ISBN 978-0007479436, £16.99

In 1938, with the Japanese army approaching from Nanking, Huan Hsu’s great-great grandfather, Liu, and his five granddaughters, were forced to flee their hometown on the banks of the Yangtze River. But before they left a hole was dug as deep as a man, and as wide as a bedroom, in which was stowed the family heirlooms. Amongst their antique furniture, jade and scrolls, was Liu’s vast collection of prized antique porcelain. A decades-long flight across war-torn China splintered the family over thousands of miles. Grandfather Liu’s treasure remained buried along with a time that no one wished to speak of. And no one returned to find it – until now. Huan Hsu, a journalist raised in America and armed only with curiosity, returned to China many years later. Wanting to learn more about not only his lost ancestral heirlooms but also porcelain itself, Hsu set out to separate the layers of fact and fiction that have obscured both China and his heritage and finally completed his family’s long march back home. Melding memoir and travelogue with social and political history, The Porcelain Thief is an intimate and unforgettable way to understand the bloody, tragic and largely forgotten events that defined Chinese history in the 19th and 20th centuries.

 

Darjeeling

by Jeoff Koehler, Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN 978-1408846070, £16.50

Darjeeling’s tea bushes stretch across a picturesque landscape steeped in religious, sacred and mythical history. Planted at high elevation in the heart of the Eastern Himalayas, in an area of northern India bound by Nepal to the west, Bhutan to the east and Sikkim to the north, the rows of brilliant green, waist-high shrubs that coat the steep slopes and valleys around this Victorian ‘hill town’ produce only a fraction of the world’s tea, and less than one per cent of India’s total. Yet the tea from this limited crop, with its characteristic bright, amber-coloured brew and muscatel flavours – delicate and flowery, with hints of apricots and peaches – is generally considered the best in the world. This is the story of how Darjeeling developed its prodigious tea industry under Imperial British rule. It is a fascinating portrait of the region from the days of the Raj to the ‘voodoo farmers’ of the present day, who achieve world-record prices for their fine teas, all set against the backdrop of the looming Himalayas and drenching monsoons. It is a story rich in intrigue, full of adventurers and unlikely successes in culture and religion, ecology and terroir, and one that began with one of the most audacious acts of corporate smuggling in history. It is also the tale of how the industry had spiralled into decline by the end of the twentieth century, and how this paradisiacal spot in the high Himalayas now seethes with union unrest and a violent struggle for independent statehood. It is on the front line against the devastating effects of climate change and decades of harmful farming practices, a war that is being fought using radical methods.

 

India’s Disappearing Railways

by Angus McDonald, Carlton, ISBN 978-1783130115, £30

This book is a vibrant photo-essay by Australian photographer Angus McDonald, capturing for the first time in print the sub-continent’s unique narrow-gauge hill railways in all their vivid colour, character and chaos. It is an intimate and humorous portrait of life on the trains, evoking the very soul of India; and with a rare empathy and insight illustrates the lives of those who ride them, who work on them, and who live alongside them. Yet as the nation modernises, these railways, whether in the snow-peaked Himalaya, the terai of Rajasthan or the verdant Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu, are vanishing. India’s Disappearing Railways records a way of life that is slowly disappearing – the Indian government is gradually converting its narrow-gauge lines – and documents the diversity of this vast and multilayered country from a unique standpoint.

 

Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka

By John Gimlette, Quercus,
ISBN 9781782067962, £19.99

Sri Lanka is a small island with a long, violent and enthralling history. Home to thousands of wild elephants, this is a place where natural beauty has endured, indifferent to human tragedy. Journeying through its many regions –  some haunted by war, many rarely seen by our eyes – award-winning travel writer John Gimlette interviews ex-presidents and cricketers, tea planters and terrorists, negotiating the complex relationships of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities and the more sinister forms of tourism.Each city raises the ghosts of old colonies: Portuguese, Dutch and British armies striving to claim the most significant ports in the southern seas; each site resurrects a civilisation that preceded, and sometimes, outfaced them. The political families of Colombo lead Gimlette through recent years of turmoil, survivors of the tsunami tell of their recovery and, tale by tale, scrap by scrap, the thorny truths of the civil war emerge – a war whose wounds have yet to heal. As he walks in the steps of old conquerors, follows the secret paths of elephants and marches alongside pilgrims, Gimlette seeks the soul of a country that is struggling to free itself from trauma and embody an identity to match its vitality, its power and
its people.

 

Thirsty Dragon: China’s Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World’s Best Wines

by Suzanne Mustacich, Henry Holt, ISBN 978-1627790871, £14.50

The wine merchants of Bordeaux and the rising entrepreneurs of China would seem to have little in common – old world versus new, tradition versus disruption, loyalty versus efficiency. And yet these two communities have found their destinies intertwined in the conquest of new markets, as Suzanne Mustacich shows in this provocative account of how China is reshaping the French wine business and how Bordeaux is making its mark on China.Thirsty Dragon tells the untold story of how an influx of Chinese money rescued France’s most venerable wine region from economic collapse, and how the result was a series of misunderstandings and crises that threatened the delicate infrastructure of Bordeaux’s insular wine trade. The Bordelais and the Chinese do business according to different and often incompatible sets of rules, and Mustacich uncovers the competing agendas and little-known actors who are transforming the economics and culture of Bordeaux, even as its wines are finding new markets – and ever higher prices – in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong, with Hong Kong and London traders playing a pivotal role. At once a tale of business skullduggery and fierce cultural clashes, adventure, and ambition, the book offers a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges facing the world’s most famous and prestigious wines.

 

Tales of the Marvellous and  News of the Strange

By Malcolm C Lyons, Penguin Classics,

ISBN 978-0141395043, £10.99

Dating from at least a millennium ago, these are the earliest known Arabic short stories, surviving in a single, ragged manuscript in a library in Istanbul. Some found their way into The Arabian Nights, but most have never been read in English before. Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange has monsters, lost princes, jewels beyond price, a princess turned into a gazelle, sword-wielding statues and shocking reversals of fortune.

 

The New Sri Lankan House
By Robert Powell and Sebastian Posingis

Laurence King, ISBN 9781780675749, £29.95

This book charts the development of private houses in the 21st century in a variety of locations around the island. Most are the work of ‘home-grown’ architects, many of whom are indebted to the influence of the island’s most famous son, Geoffrey Bawa. Through the inclusion of plans, sections and elevations, full-colour photographs and interviews with owners and architects, Powell traces the evolution of residence styles in both urban and rural areas. Of paramount importance are sustainability and suitability to site and climate, topics that Powell investigates in depth.

 

Spy Games
By Adam Brookes, Sphere, ISBN 978-0751552515, £18.99
The follow-up book to Night Heron. In this book, Beijing-based journalist and amateur spook Philip Mangan has gone into hiding from the Chinese agents, who have identified him as a British spy. His reputation and life are in tatters. But when he is caught in a terrorist attack in East Africa and a shadowy Chinese figure approaches him in the dead of night with information on the origins of the attack, Mangan is suddenly back in the eye of the storm.

 

Making Sense of Buddhist Art & Architecture, Islamic Art and Architecture

By Patricia Karetsky,Thames & Hudson,

ISBN 9780500291696 and

ISBN 9780500291719, each £9.95

Making Sense of Buddhist Art & Architecture is designed to equip the cultural tourist and art student with the means to interpret each painting, building, or artefact in terms of the iconography and symbolism of the Buddhist religion. With reference to 100 clearly illustrated and diverse historical works, readers will learn to identify the telling details that mean so much to Buddhist devotees. Each double-page spread features a full-page colour photograph of either a detail of the work or its context, depending on the subject, with a second photograph chosen to illustrate important aspects of the work. Alongside is a detailed exposition of the works significance in Buddhist art history and philosophy, with key historical facts about the work, including where it may be seen today.

Making Sense of Islamic Art, follows the same design as Buddhist Art and Architecture. Alongside is a detailed exposition of the works significance in Islamic art history and philosophy, with key historical facts about the work, including where it may be seen today. By tracing the paths between Islamic belief and artistic intention, this book will deepen understanding not only of Islamic art and architecture but also of Islam itself.

 

The Curator’s Handbook: Museums, Commercial Galleries, Independent Spaces

By Adrian George, Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500239285, £19.95

The Curator’s Handbook is the essential practical handbook for curators and curatorial students, mapping out every stage of the exhibition-making process from initial idea to final installation. In his introduction, Adrian George traces the history of curating back to its origins in the 17th century and outlines the multifarious roles of the curator today, including as custodian, interpreter, educator, facilitator and organiser. Twelve chapters then chart the various stages of the exhibition process in invaluable detail and clear, informative language – from initial concept to writing contracts and loan requests, putting together budgets and schedules, producing exhibition catalogues and interpretation materials, designing gallery spaces, working with artists, lenders and art handlers, organising private views, and documenting and evaluating a show. A distinguished cast of international museum directors and curators offer advice and tips.