In our Asian Art Book Survey, one of the most expensive books to be published this year, and included in our Asian Art Book Survey for 2018, must be The Murals of Tibet by Thomas Laird, – a project by the photographer and writer that has taken over 10 years to produce – creating a record of some of the most important visual culture of Tibet – Buddhist murals _ before they are lost or badly damaged by decay. There are additional essays by international scholars Robert Thurman, Heather Stoddard and Jakob Winkler. And the cost? £9,500. This large-format book (50 x 70 cm) presents the most precious surviving murals of Tibetan Buddhist culture in life-size resolution. The Collectors’ Edition (Nos 81-998 out of an edition of 998), is signed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and comes with a bookstand designed by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.
Below, are listed some of the most interesting books published in 2018 – listed first by country or region, then there are also a sections for fiction and those miscellaneous wonders that seem to defy categorisation.
Asian Art Book Survey: CHINA
Our Asian Art Book Survey for books on China
Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age
By Stephen R Platt, Atlantic Books, ISBN 9781786494863, £16.50
When Britain launched its first war on China in 1839, pushed into hostilities by profiteering drug merchants and free-trade interests, it sealed the fate of what had long been seen as the most prosperous and powerful empire in Asia, if not the world. Corruption, popular unrest and dwindling finances had weakened China far more than was commonly understood, and the war would help set in motion the eventual fall of the Qing dynasty – which, in turn, would lead to the rise of nationalism and communism in the twentieth century. As one of the most potent turning points in the country’s modern history, the Opium War has since come to stand for everything that today’s China seeks to put behind it. By telling this epic story, award-winning historian Stephen Platt sheds new light on the early attempts by British traders and missionaries to ‘open’ China and paints an enduring portrait of an immensely profitable – and mostly peaceful – meeting of civilisations, which was destined to be shattered by one of the most shockingly unjust wars in the annals of imperial history.
A Culture Revealed: Kangxi-era Chinese Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection
co-authored by Jeffrey P Stamen and Cynthia Volk with Yibin Ni, Jiuruitang Publishing, ISBN 9780692928424, £130
Kangxi era porcelains are vast in number and in range of style, reflecting the long and successful reign of the Kangxi emperor (1662-1722). This book focuses on selections from the Jie Rui Tang Collection of Kangxi porcelain, formed over a 35-year period and features a selection of 120 examples, as a means to invite discussion and appreciation for the aesthetic appeal, technical merit and enriching subject matter unique to the period. A thematic approach has been chosen in order to present the porcelain in a way more closely aligned with its original purpose; as a gift for a significant birthday, a ritual ware, a token of encouragement to an aspiring scholar, or a means to support the legitimacy of the Emperor himself. The pieces depicting narrative scenes have been deciphered by Yibin Ni, many of which were previously unidentified or misidentified. In addition, two essays have been included with the hope of encouraging a new vantage point on areas of some controversy: Toward an Understanding of Kangxi Imperial Wares and Export versus Exported in the Kangxi Era.
Kam women Artisans of China: Dawn of the Butterflies
by Marie Anna Lee, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, ISBN 9781527505537, £76.99
Deep in the fir woods of southwestern China, in a village called Dimen, live several women who are masters of many cultural arts. Following the centuries-old lifestyle of their ancestors, they are the living repositories of their civilisation. They carry the unwritten history and wisdom of the Kam people in their songs, weave cloth that is smooth and strong, and dye fabric to the richest indigo blue. They devote every free moment to embroidering sleeves, hems, hats, and purses in the bright colours of the natural setting that surrounds the village. Through everyday activities, lessons in craft, folk stories and songs, the women weave a patchwork of Kam culture and reveal its hidden treasures in fibres, textiles, papermaking as well as ethnography, anthropology, and Sinology.
Dissidence: The Rise of Chinese Contemporary Art in the West
by Marie Leduc, MIT Press, ISBN 9780262038522, £26
Interest in Chinese contemporary art increased dramatically in the West shortly after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Sparked by political sympathy and the media hyped response to the event, Western curators, critics, and art historians were quick to view the new art as an expression of dissident resistance to the Chinese regime. In this book, Marie Leduc proposes that this attribution of political dissidence is not only the result of latent Cold War perceptions about China, but also indicative of the art world’s demand for artistically and politically provocative work – a demand that mirrors the validating of free expression in liberal democracies. Focusing on nine Chinese artists: Wang Du, Wang Keping, Huang Yong Ping, Yang Jiechang, Chen Zhen, Yan Pei-Ming, Shen Yuan, Ru Xiaofan, and Du Zhenjun, who migrated to Paris in and around 1989, Leduc explores how their work was recognized before and after the Tiananmen Square incident. Drawing on personal interviews with the artists and curators, and through an analysis of important exhibitions, events, reviews, and curatorial texts, she demonstrates how these and other Chinese artists have been celebrated both for their artistic dissidence, their formal innovations and introduction of new media and concepts-and for their political dissidence, how their work challenges political values in both China and the West.
Out of China
By Robert Bickers, Harvard University Press, ISBN 97806749776870, £25.95
Even at the high noon of Europe’s empire-building China managed to be one of the handful of countries not to succumb. Invaded, humiliated and looted, China nonetheless kept its sovereignty. Robert Bickers’ major new book is the first to describe fully what has proved to be one of the modern era’s most important stories: the long, often agonizing process by which the Chinese had by the end of the 20th century regained control of their own country. Out of China uses an array of unusual, strange and vivid sources to recreate a now fantastically remote world: the corrupt, lurid modernity of pre-war Shanghai, the often tiny patches of ‘extra-territorial’ land controlled by European powers (one of which, unnoticed, had mostly toppled into a river), the entrepôts of Hong Kong and Macao, and the myriad means, through armed threats, technology and legal chicanery, by which China was kept subservient until, gradually, it emerged from Western control. That struggle continued until the end of the twentieth century, through the Cold War and its aftermath, and shaped both Chiang Kai-shek’s rule in Taiwan and the China of Mao Zedong and his successors. Today Chinese nationalism stays firmly rooted in memories of its degraded past – the quest for self-sufficiency, the determination to assert China’s standing in the world, to stake its outstanding territorial claims, and never to be vulnerable to renewed attack. History matters deeply to Beijing’s current rulers – and the book helps explain why.
New China Eyewitness
by Roger Duff, Rewi Alley, and the Art of Museum Diplomacy, edited by James Beattie and Richard Bullen, Canterbury University Press, ISBN 9781927145944, £33
New China Eyewitness is the account of the 1956 visit to the People’s Republic of China by a group of prominent New Zealanders – including Roger Duff, James Bertram, Evelyn Page, Angus Ross and Ormond Wilson – and of how Canterbury Museum came to acquire the largest collection of Chinese art in New Zealand. At the centre of the book is the eloquent diary kept by Canterbury Museum director Dr Roger Duff, detailing his efforts to bring to Christchurch the collection of antiquities gifted to the museum by long-time China resident, New Zealander Rewi Alley. This offers a rare glimpse of foreigners’ views of China during a period of rapid social, political and cultural change, and at a time of unusual political and cultural tolerance.
Qi Baishi: An Introduction to His Life and Art
By Thomas Hayes, Mirador Publishing, ISBN 9781912192755, £11.99
Qi Baishi was born into poverty in Xiangtan City, Hunan in China in 1864 and became one of the greatest artists in Chinese history. This book introduces Qi Baishi’s life and works in chronological order with the major events of his life, set against the historical background and often turbulent times. It also introduces and explores, in detail, a number of his major works.
Bai: The New Language of Porcelain in China
By Bai Ming, ACC Art Books, ISBN 9781851499090, £30
Born in Yugan, near Jingdezhen, the birthplace of porcelain, Bai Ming has contributed to the revival of contemporary Chinese ceramics and introduced it to a new worldwide audience through numerous exhibitions. Today he is arguably China’s greatest exponent of this most traditional art form. In this book, Bai Ming traces his career, revealing a sensitive yet creative and flamboyant style, built on the most rigorous traditional techniques.Focusing particularly on his blue and white ceramic work reveals Bai Ming’s style and attention to detail.
Asian Art Book Survey: JAPAN and KOREA
Our Asian Art Book Survey for books on Japan and Korea
The Artist in Edo: Studies in the History of Art, vol 80
By Yukio Lippit, Louise Allison Cort, Tamamushi Satoko, Emuro Tomoko, Komo Motoaki, Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300214673, £50
During the early modern period in Japan, peace and prosperity allowed elite and popular arts and culture to flourish in Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. The historic first showing outside Japan of Ito Jakuchu’s 30-scroll series titled Colourful Realm of Living Beings (circa 1757-66) in 2012 prompted a re-imagining of artists and art making in this context. These essays give attention to Jakuchu’s spectacular series as well as to works by a range of contemporary artists. Selected contributions address issues of professional roles, including copying and imitation, display and memorialisation, and makers’ identities. Some explore the new form of painting, ukiyo-e, in the context of the urban society that provided its subject matter and audiences; others discuss the spectrum of amateur and professional Edo pottery and interrelationships between painting and other media. Together, they reveal the fluidity and dynamism of artists’ identities during a time of great significance in the country’s history.
Japan in Early Photographs: The Aime Humert Collection
By Gregoire Mayor, Aikiyoshi Tani and Philippe Dallais, Arnoldsche Art Pubishers, ISBN 9783897900271, £58
Photographs taken in Japan between the late Edo period and early Meiji periods found their way overseas, and played a major role in forming Westerners’ image of Japan. Among these collections, the pictures gathered by the Swiss diplomat Aimé Humbert (1819-1900) in the 1860s were crucial in building lasting representations of the island nation: many of these, mainly collected in 1863/64 during a sojourn in Yokohama and Edo, were used as sources for the well-known and largely distributed engravings of his famous book Le Japon illustré, published in Paris in 1870. The photographs belong to the collection of the Museum of Ethnography in Neuchatel in Switzerland are published here for the first time.
The Poetry of Nature: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection
By John T Carpenter and Midori Oka, The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press, ISBN 9781588396549, £25
This book offers an in-depth look at more than 40 Japanese paintings that represent every major school and movement of the Edo period, including Kano, Rinpa, Nanga, Zen, Maruyama-Shijo, and Ukiyo-e. The unifying theme is a celebration of the natural world, expressed in varied forms, from the bold, graphic manner of Rinpa to the muted sensitivity of Nanga. Among the artists whose works are included are Ike Taiga (1723-1776), Maruyama Okyo (1733-1795), and Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828). John T Carpenter looks specifically at the intertwinement of painting and poetry, a Japanese artistic tradition that reached new heights during the Edo period. In addition to new readings and translations of Japanese and Chinese poems, Carpenter sheds light on the ways in which Edo artists used verse to transform their paintings into a hybrid literary and visual art.
Textiles of Japan
By Thomas Murray,Virginia Soensksen, and Anna Jackson, Prestel, ISBN 9783791385204, £65
Textiles are an eloquent form of cultural expression and of great importance in the daily life of a people, as well as in their rituals and ceremonies. The traditional clothing and fabrics featured in this book were made and used in the islands of the Japanese archipelago between the late 18th and the mid 20th century. The Thomas Murray collection featured in this book includes daily dress, work-wear, and festival garb and follows the Arts and Crafts philosophy of the Mingei Movement, which saw that modernisation would leave behind traditional art forms such as the hand-made textiles used by country people, farmers, and fisherman. It presents subtly patterned cotton fabrics, often indigo dyed from the main islands of Honshu and Kyushu, along with garments of the more remote islands: the graphic bark cloth, nettle fibre, and fish skin robes of the aboriginal Ainu in Hokkaido and Sakhalin to the north, and the brilliantly coloured cotton kimonos of Okinawa to the far south.
Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present
By Christopher Harding, Allen Lane, ISBN 9780241296486, £17.50
The story is told through the eyes of people who greeted this change not with the confidence and grasping ambition of Japan’s modernisers and nationalists, but with resistance, conflict, distress. In the book, we encounter writers of dramas, ghost stories and crime novels where modernity itself is the tragedy, the ghoul and the bad guy; surrealist and avant-garde artists sketching their escape; rebel kamikaze pilots and the put-upon urban poor; hypnotists and gangsters; men in desperate search of the eternal feminine and feminists in search of something more than state-sanctioned subservience; Buddhists without morals; Marxist terror groups; couches full to bursting with the psychological fall-out of breakneck modernisation. These people all sprang from the soil of modern Japan, but their personalities and projects failed to fit. They were ‘dark blossoms’: both East-West hybrids and home-grown varieties that wreathed, probed and sometimes penetrated the new structures of mainstream Japan.
By Alex Kerr and Kathy Arlyn Sokok, Penguin, ISBN 9780141988337, £6.99
This is an insider’s meditation on the hidden wonders of Japan’s most enigmatic city. Drawing on decades living in Kyoto, and on lore gleaned from artists, Zen monks and Shinto priests, Alex Kerr illuminates the simplest things – a temple gate, a wall, a sliding door – in a new way. A rich book of intimate proportions. In Kyoto, facts and meaning are often hidden in plain sight. Kerr’s gift is to make us stop and cast our eyes upward to a temple plaque, or to squint into the gloom of an abbot’s chamber.
Rosetsu: Ferocious Brush
Matthew McKelway and Khanh Trinh, Prestel, ISBN 9783791357263, £45
Born into the family of a low-ranking samurai, Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799) is renowned today as one of the most imaginative artists of early modern Japan. His visually stunning and highly idiosyncratic paintings earned him a place in Japan’s Lineage of Eccentrics. This book surveys Rosetsu’s art with sixty of his most important paintings, beginning with his earliest works in the realist mode of his teacher Maruyama Okyo, and ending with his haunting, visionary, and occasionally bizarre final masterpieces. Screen paintings, scrolls, and albums depicting Zen eccentrics, raucous children, ethereal beauties, otherworldly landscapes, and vivacious animals and birds take viewers on a journey through Rosetsu’s own travels and into his unbridled imagination.
By Matt Clayton, CreateSpace, ISBN 9781987435733, £10
The study of mythology and folklore is a peculiar one to the extent that we are looking into things which are generally regarded as untrue yet critically important to a culture. We are also taking on the study of the ‘lore of the folk’, and this faces us with the question of exactly which folk we are talking about. Japan, of course, is a single nation, but its origins are so old and often so fragmented that unified mythology and folklore can be difficult to point to. Still, in all, there are some key texts, tales, and characters that can be focused on to give a good sense of Japanese mythology.
Utagawa Kuniyoshi: The Edo-Period Eccentric
Edited by Rossella Menegazzo, Skira, ISBN 9788857236896, £38
Kuniyoshi, who was born in 1797 and studied under the master artist Utagawa Toyokuni, is most famous for his series of polychrome xylographs illustrating the 108 heroes of the novel Suikoden, a bestseller in the late 18th century. Suikoden, meaning ‘brigands’,featured powerful, armed characters with muscular bodies covered in tattoos, illustrations which greatly inspired the manga and anime genres today as well as tattoo artists and illustrators around the world. In addition to warrior prints, Kuniyoshi is known for the illusionist tendencies of his art – for his shadowy figures and fantastical images.
Diamond Mountains: Travel and Nostalgia in Korean Art
By Soyoung Lee, contributions by Ahn Daehoe, Chin-Sung Chang and Lee Soomi, The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press, ISBN 9781588396532, £35
The Diamond Mountains, known in Korea as Mount Geumgang, are perhaps the most famous and emotionally resonant site on the Korean Peninsula, a breathtaking range of rocky peaks, waterfalls, lagoons, and manmade pavilions. For centuries the range has inspired cultural pride and a vast outpouring of creative expression. Yet since the partition of Korea in the 1940s, situating them in the North, the Diamond Mountains have remained largely inaccessible to visitors, shrouding the site in legend, loss, and longing. This book examines the visual representation of this remarkable landscape from the 18th century to the present day. It explores how Jeong Seon (1676-1759) revolutionised Korean painting with his Diamond Mountains landscapes, replacing conventional generic imagery with specific detail and indelibly influencing generations of artists in his wake. It also discusses the potency of these mountains as an emblem of Korean cultural identity, as reflected in literature and in exquisitely detailed album leaves, handscrolls, hanging scrolls, and screens.
Asian Art Book Survey: SOUTH ASIA/HIMALAYAN
Our Asian Art Book Survey for books on South Asia and the Himalayas
Traditional Indian Jewellery
By Bernadette van Gelder, ACC Art Books, 2 vols, ISBN 9781851498833, £125
Jewellery plays an important part in the everyday lives, important moments, festivals and religious aspects of Indian culture. It is not only girls and women who wear jewellery, but also boys, men, temple statues and even animals. The book excels in its detailed descriptions, which accompany the sumptuous array of images. We discover the origin and significance of gold, the significance of setting gems in a certain order, and jewellery’s spiritual importance. The book retells and explains in detail the legends and stories attached to certain gems, as well as their mythological and astrological significance.
Under Indian Skies: 19th Century Photographs
By John Falkener, Strandberg Publishing, £45
Produced to accompany the exhibition at the David Collection in Copenhagen. At the beginning of the 1850s, photography made its debut in colonial India, with its impressive architecture, exotic landscapes and many different ethnic groups and cultures, the country offered fantastic opportunities for photographers. The book explores this period, 1850s to 1900, using photographs from private collection. A total of images are included in the catalogue.
Pukka Indian: 100 Objects that Define India
By Jahnvi Lakhota Nandan and Shivani Gupta, Roli Books, ISBN 9789351941408, £24.95
In Hindi pukka means genuine, authentic, complete. Design in India is not only determined by the aesthetic appeal of the object, but also by the significance of the object in the everyday life of its users. In some instances, the age-old practices established by ancient Indian wisdom determine the design of an object, such as the datun (neem tree twig) recommended for oral care or agarbatti (incense) used to heal and protect. On the other hand, the lota (a kind of metal pot) has been a part of everyday Indian life for centuries and its design remains unchanged even today. The book celebrates the diversity, versatility, vibrancy, and colours of design icons – ranging from kulhad to the kolhapuri chappal, Nano to the Nehru jacket, and auto rickshaw meter to the Ambassador – that set them apart in a country as multifarious as India.
Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaj
by Manu S Pillai, Juggernaut, ISBN 9789386228734, £17.80
In Rebel Sultans, the Deccan is presented in seven engaging chapters, each focused on a pivotal moment, character or symbol, that together trace the dynamic history of the region and convey its unique flavour. In the book, Manu Pillai narrates the story of the Deccan from the close of the 13th century to the dawn of the 18th. The book takes the reader from the age of Alauddin Khilji to the ascent of Shivaj to witness the dramatic rise and fall of the Vijayanagara empire, negotiating intrigues at the courts of the Bahmani kings and the Rebel Sultans who overthrew them. From Chand Bibi, a valorous queen stabbed to death, and Ibrahim II of Bijapur, a Muslim prince who venerated Hindu gods, to Malik Ambar, the Ethiopian warlord, and Krishnadeva Raya on Vijayanagar’s Diamond Throne – these characters all appear in the pages as you journey through one of the most fascinating sweeps of Indian history.
Thanjavur’s Gilded Gods
By Ann L Dallapiccola with Kuldip Singh and RG Sing, Marg, ISBN 9789383243242, £35
Comparatively little scholarly work has been done on South Indian paintings from Thanjavur and Mysuru. The works illustrated display a variety of idioms within the South Indian tradition, both religious – images of deities, saints and temple plans – and non-religious – portraits of maharajas, religious personalities and ordinary devotees. This volume presents an enhanced understanding of the subject through an in-depth study of South Indian paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries from Thanjavur and its allied style of Mysuru. The book uses Kuldip Singh’s unique collection of 300 paintings as a focus. The subject matter ranges from the domain of gods and goddesses and the sites and stories associated with their worship, to the realm of their human patrons with portraits made of maharajas, priests and ordinary individuals. The different regions and schools that come under the larger ambit of the term ‘South Indian’ paintings are also explored. A historical and cultural background provides an overview and context to the material while a description of technique and an analysis of styles highlights an aesthetic appreciation.
Europe’s India: Words, People, Empires, 1500-1800
By Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Harvard University Press, ISBN 9780674972261, £30
When Portuguese explorers first rounded the Cape of Good Hope and arrived in the subcontinent in the late 15th century, Europeans had little direct knowledge of India. The maritime passage opened new opportunities for exchange of goods as well as ideas. Traders were joined by ambassadors, missionaries, soldiers, and scholars from Portugal, England, Holland, France, Italy, and Germany, all hoping to learn about India for reasons as varied as their particular nationalities and professions. In the following centuries they produced a body of knowledge about India that significantly shaped European thought. The book tracks Europeans changing ideas of India over the entire early modern period. Sanjay Subrahmanyam brings his expertise and erudition to bear in exploring the connection between European representations of India and the fascination with collecting Indian texts and objects that took root in the 16th century. European notions of India s history, geography, politics, and religion were strongly shaped by the manuscripts, paintings, and artefacts both precious and prosaic that found their way into Western hands.
The British in India: Three Centuries of Ambition and Experience
By David Gilmour, Allen Lane, ISBN 9780241004524, £20
The British in this book lived in India from shortly after the reign of Elizabeth I until well into the reign of Elizabeth II. Who were they? What drove these men and women to risk their lives on long voyages down the Atlantic and across the Indian Ocean or later via the Suez Canal? And when they got to India, what did they do and how did they live? This book explores the lives of the many different sorts of Briton who went to India: viceroys and officials, soldiers and missionaries, planters and foresters, merchants, engineers, teachers and doctors. It evokes the three and a half centuries of their ambitions and experiences, together with the lives of their families, recording the diversity of their work and their leisure, and the complexity of their relationships with the peoples of India. It also describes the lives of many who did not fit in with the usual image of the Raj: the tramps and rascals, the men who ‘went native’, the women who scorned the role of the traditional memsahib.
Gandhi: The years that Changed the World, 1914-1948
By Ramachandra Guha, Allen Lane, ISBN 9781846142673, £30
Gandhi lived one of the great 20th-century lives. He inspired and enraged, challenged and galvanised many millions of men and women around the world. He lived almost entirely in the shadow of the British Raj, which for much of his life seemed a permanent fact, but which he did more than anyone else to destroy, using revolutionary tactics. In a world defined by violence on a scale never imagined before and by ferocious Fascist and Communist dictatorship, he was armed with nothing more than his arguments and example. This book tells the story of Gandhi’s life, from his departure from South Africa to his assassination in 1948. It is a book with a Tolstoyan sweep, both allowing us to see Gandhi as he was understood by his contemporaries and the many and varied Indian societies and landscapes through which he travelled – and changed beyond measure. Drawing on many new sources this book is seen as a major reappraisal of the crucial years in Gandhi’s story.
Photography in India: A Critical History from 1840 to the Present
By Nathaniel Gaskell, Prestel, ISBN 9783791384214, £49.99
India has one of the richest and most extensive histories of photography in the world with the camera arriving in the country only a few years after its invention in Europe. Organised chronologically, this book covers over 150 years of photographs, divided into 10 chapters which focus on themes and genres such as archaeology and ethnography, portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, street photography, modernism, and contemporary art. An in-depth introduction and ten short essays contextualise the photographs in light of India’s journey from colonial territory, to independent nation state, to global economic superpower, along the way suggesting new arguments as to how this has been reflected in photographic practice. Over 100 Indian as well as international photographers are included in this well-researched and engaging book that includes some of the country’s most iconic images, alongside the work of lesser-known artists and a wealth of previously unpublished material.
Invisible Webs: An Art Historical Inquiry into the Life and Death of Jangarh Singh
By Amit Dutta, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, ISBN 9789382396505
In July 2001, Jangarh Singh Shyam, the 39-year-old Pardhan-Gond artist from Patangarh village in Madhya Pradesh, took his own life inside a museum in Japan. This incident, far from being isolated, is in fact resonant of a whole century of art historical experiences of the Indian nation. This book explores the phenomenon of Jangarh and his art through a multi-sided, art-historical investigation questioning the whole premise of art practice in India through the last two centuries and the making of its modern identity. Many details in the story of Jangarh, like his native village or workplace at Bhopal, lead towards strong and surprising links to some of the major figures and movements that shaped the modern Indian artistic and cultural milieu, forming an intricate web.
The Second Buddha Master of Time
By Elena Pakhoutova and Rachel Seligman, Prestel, ISBN 9783791357539, £39.99
Padmasambhava, a legendary Buddhist master believed to be instrumental in bringing Buddhism to Tibet, is often known as ‘The Second Buddha.’ According to popular legend, Padmasambhava miraculously appeared as a boy in a lotus blossom floating on a lake. The Second Buddha: Master of Time explores visual expressions of Padmasanbhava’s legends in sculptures, textiles, paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and a portable shrine that date from the 13th to the 19th century. Essays present new scholarship on Padmasambhava and show a central and multidimensional character with an enduring place in Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist cultures.
Alchi: Treasure of the Himalayas
By Peter van Halm and Amy Heller, Hirmer, ISBN 9783777430935, £54
The world-famous Buddhist monastery of Alchi lies at 3,500 metres in Ladakh (Northwest India) and is the best-preserved temple complex in the Himalayas. Inside are housed thousands of rare and incomparable paintings and sculptures dating back to 11th century Western Tibet. For the first and only time in their history the Dalai Lama has authorised their comprehensive documentation. Alchi was proposed for inclusion in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list in 1996. It provides fascinating insight into the spiritual and secular life of medieval Kashmir and Western Tibet. Its influence extends from India and Tibet across Central Asia and Iran as far as ancient Greece. The photographs were produced in the highest possible digital resolution by Peter van Ham using a special camera; they capture the miniature-like delicacy and broad range of colour of the originals with a unique wealth of detail.
By Wendelgard Gerner, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, German only, £78
Tsha-tsha are terracottas, or unfired earthenware figures, in the form of cast-sculptured reliquaries or reliefs, which are decorated in a variety of religious motifs in bas-relief or half-relief. With the depiction of over 360 objects, this book offers an outstanding review of the diverse manifestations of these exceptional ritual objects from the Buddhist cultural sphere from the Christian H Lutz Collection.
The Myth of India in Western Culture 1808-2017
Edited by Elio Schenini, Skira, ISBN 9788857236667, £58
In 1808, the publication of Friedrich Schlegel’s book On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians inaugurated a new era of Western obsession with the country and culture of India. Notable western artists, psychologists, theologians and writers – from Herman Hesse to Carl Jung and from Gustave Moreau to the Beatles – were seduced by the idea of India and its traditions, religions, landscape, culture and art. Now, a new book covers some 200 years of Western fascination with India. With more than 600 colour illustrations and contributions from authors with backgrounds in art, literature, music, religion and psychology, the book offers an evocative exploration of two centuries of Western culture captivated by an intense curiosity for India, its culture, and its civilisation.
Asian Art Book Survey SOUTHEAST ASIA
Our Asian Art Book Survey for books on Southeast Asia
Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia
By San San May and Jana Igunma,The British Library, ISBN 9780712352062, £50
Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia are centres for the preservation of local artistic traditions. Chief among these are manuscripts, a vital source for our understanding of Buddhist ideas and practices in the region. They are also a beautiful art form, too little understood in the West. The British Library has one of the richest collections of Southeast Asian manuscripts, principally from Thailand and Burma, anywhere in the world. It includes finely painted copies of Buddhist scriptures, literary works, historical narratives, and works on traditional medicine, law, cosmology, and fortune-telling. The book includes over 100 examples of Buddhist art from the Library’s collection, relating each manuscript to Theravada tradition and beliefs, and introducing the historical, artistic, and religious contexts of their production.
Fabricating Power with Balinese Textiles
By Urmila Mohan, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9781941792131, £22.50
Anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson were pioneers in using visual anthropological techniques to study the aesthetics of bodily motion in Bali. What is less well known is that they also collected textiles, paintings, puppets, and carvings, most of which are collected at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This book explores how the ‘power’ of Balinese textiles depends upon the efficacies attributed to these objects as they journey from fabrication and ritual use in their native context.
Vibrancy in Stone: Masterpieces of the Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture
By Vo Van Thang and Peter D Sharrock, Rover Books, ISBN 9786167339993, £34.95
This catalogue assembles sumptuous photographs of the world’s leading collection of Cham sculpture, along with the most recent insights of Vietnamese and international scholars. The Champa culture thrived in magnificent temples, sculpture, dance and music along the central and southern coast of today’s Vietnam from the 5th to the 15th centuries. A focused exploration here uncovers this brilliant yet almost lost culture to newcomers as well as experts. To mark its centenary, the Dà Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture has been expanded and refurbished to appropriately house the world’s leading collection of Cham art.
Ancient Sites of Southeast Asia: A Traveller’s Guide Through History, Ruins, and Landscapes
By William Chapman, River Books, ISBN 9786167339917, £20
Ancient Sites of Southeast Asia is a first comprehensive guide to the ancient sites and archaeological ruins of Southeast Asia. Designed to assist the adventurous visitor to the region, the book is also an armchair traveller’s introduction to many of the most historic and visually engaging monuments across seven nations: Indonesia,Vietnam, Cambodia,Thailand, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Malaysia. In addition to background on and descriptions of individual sites, the guide provides essential tips for travellers and an extensive reading list and glossary. The result of over 20 years of research and site visits by the author, archaeologist, and architectural conservator William Chapman.
The House of Islam: A Global History
By Ed Husain, Bloomsbury, ISBN 9781408872260, £25
The gulf between Islam and the West is widening. A faith rich with strong values and traditions, observed by nearly two billion people across the world, is seen by the West as something to be feared rather than understood. Sensational headlines and hard-line policies spark enmity, while ignoring the feelings, narratives and perceptions that preoccupy Muslims today. The book seeks to provide entry to the minds and hearts of Muslims the world over. It introduces us to the fairness, kindness and mercy of Mohammed; the aims of sharia law, through commentary on scripture, to provide an ethical basis to life; the beauty of Islamic art and the permeation of the divine in public spaces; and the tension between mysticism and literalism that still threatens the House of Islam. The decline of the Muslim world and the current crisis of leadership mean that a glorious past, full of intellectual nobility and purpose, is now exploited by extremists and channelled into acts of terror. How can Muslims confront the issues that are destroying Islam from within, and what can the West do to help work towards that end? The author guides us through the nuances of Islam and its people, contending that the Muslim world need not be a stranger to the West, nor its enemy, but a peaceable ally.
Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography
By Robert Irwin, Princeton University Press, ISBN 9780691174662, £20
The definitive account of the life and thoughts of the medieval Arab genius who wrote the Muqaddima, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) is generally regarded as the greatest intellectual ever to have appeared in the Arab world – a sage who ranks as one of the world’s great minds. However, Ibn Khaldun is not as well known as he should be – and his ideas are widely misunderstood. In this biography, Robert Irwin provides an engaging and authoritative account of Ibn Khaldun’s extraordinary life, times, writings, and ideas. The author tells how Ibn Khaldun, who lived in a world decimated by the Black Death, held a long series of posts in the tumultuous Islamic courts of North Africa and Muslim Spain, becoming a major political player as well as a teacher and writer. By examining the Muqaddima, the analysis of the laws of history, and drawing on many other contemporary sources, Irwin shows how Ibn Khaldun’s life and thought fit into historical and intellectual context, including medieval Islamic theology, philosophy, politics, literature, economics, law, and tribal life. Here, Irwin presents Ibn Khaldun as a creature of his time – a devout Sufi mystic who was obsessed with the occult and futurology and who lived in an often-strange world quite different from our own.
How to Read Islamic Calligraphy
By Maryam D Ekhtiar, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, distributed by Yale University Press, ISBN 9781588396303, £18.99
An accessible introduction to the quintessential art form of the Islamic world, the book explores the preeminence of the written word as a means of creative expression throughout the Islamic world. Aimed at a general audience, the book introduces all five major Islamic calligraphic script types, demonstrates their distinctive visual characteristics, and explains the various contexts in which each one came to be used, whether for transcribing the Qur’an, composing poetry, or issuing written edicts from the sultan’s court. Numerous examples illustrate how the transmission of these styles and techniques from master to pupil was fundamental to the flourishing of Islamic calligraphy, and handwriting models from as early as the 10th century continue to inspire students of calligraphy today. The works discussed include manuscripts, glass, metalware, and ceramic tiles.
Lords of The Desert: Britain’s Struggle with America to Dominate the Middle East
By James Barr, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 9781471139796, £20
Upon victory in 1945, Britain still dominated the Middle East. The country directly ruled Palestine and Aden, was the kingmaker in Iran, the power behind the thrones of Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, and protected the sultan of Oman and the Gulf sheikhs. But her motives for wanting to dominate this crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa were changing. Where ‘imperial security’ – control of the route to India – had once been paramount, now oil was an increasingly important factor. So, too, was prestige. Ironically, the very end of empire made control of the Middle East precious in itself: on it hung Britain’s claim to be a great power. Unable to withstand Arab and Jewish nationalism, within a generation the British were gone. But that is not the full story. What ultimately sped Britain on her way was the uncompromising attitude of the United States, which was determined to displace the British in the Middle East. The British did not give in gracefully to this onslaught. Using newly declassified records and long-forgotten memoirs, including the diaries of a key British spy, James Barr tears up the conventional interpretation of this era in the Middle East, vividly portraying the tensions between London and Washington, and shedding an uncompromising light on the murkier activities of a generation of American and British diehards in the region, from the battle of El Alamein in 1942 to Britain’s abandonment of Aden in 1967. Reminding us that the Middle East has always served as the arena for great power conflict, this is the tale of an internecine struggle in which Britain would discover that her most formidable rival was the ally Britain had assumed would be her closest friend.
The Mongols and the Islamic World
By Peter Jackson, Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300125337, £25
An historical consideration of the Mongol conquest of Western Asia and the spread of Islam during the years of non-Muslim rule. The Mongol conquest of the Islamic world began in the early 13th century, when Genghis Khan and his warriors overran Central Asia and devastated much of Iran. Distinguished historian Peter Jackson offers a fresh and fascinating consideration of the years of infidel Mongol rule in Western Asia, drawing from an impressive array of primary sources as well as modern studies to demonstrate how Islam not only survived the savagery of the conquest, but spread throughout the empire. This unmatched study goes beyond the well-documented Mongol campaigns of massacre and devastation to explore different aspects of an immense imperial event that encompassed what is now Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Afghanistan, as well as Central Asia and parts of eastern Europe.
The Making of the Medieval Middle East
By Jack Tannous, Princeton University Press, ISBN 9780691179094, £30
A new religious history of late antiquity and the medieval Middle East that places ordinary Christians at the centre of the story. In the second half of the first millennium, the Christian Middle East fractured irreparably into competing churches and Arabs conquered the region, setting in motion a process that would lead to its eventual conversion to Islam. Jack Tannous argues that key to understanding these dramatic religious transformations are ordinary religious believers, often called ‘the simple’ in late antique and medieval sources. Largely agrarian and illiterate, these Christians outnumbered Muslims well into the era of the Crusades, and yet they have typically been invisible in our understanding of the Middle East’s history. What did it mean for Christian communities to break apart over theological disagreements that most people could not understand? How does our view of the rise of Islam change if we take seriously the fact that Muslims remained a demographic minority for much of the Middle Ages? In addressing these and other questions, Tannous provides a sweeping reinterpretation of the religious history of the medieval Middle East. The book draws on a wealth of Greek, Syriac, and Arabic sources to recast these conquered lands as largely Christian ones whose growing Muslim populations are properly understood as converting away from and in competition with the non-Muslim communities around them.
The Moor’s Last Stand
By Elizabeth Drayson, Profile Books, ISBN 9781781256879, £9.99
In 1482, Abu Abdallah Muhammad XI became the 23rd Muslim King of Granada. He would be the last. This is the first history of the ruler, known as Boabdil, whose disastrous reign and bitter defeat brought seven centuries of Moorish Spain to an end. It is an action-packed story of intrigue, treachery, cruelty, cunning, courtliness, bravery and tragedy. Basing her account on original documents and sources, Elizabeth Drayson traces the origins and development of Islamic Spain. She describes the thirteenth-century founding of the Nasrid dynasty, the cultured and stable society it created, and the feuding which threatened it and had all but destroyed it by 1482, when Boabdil seized the throne. The new Sultan faced betrayals by his family, factions in the Alhambra palace, and ever more powerful onslaughts from the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella, monarchs of the newly united kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. By stratagem, diplomacy, courage and strength of will Boabdil prolonged his reign for ten years, but he never had much chance of survival. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella, magnificently attired in Moorish costume, entered Granada and took possession of the city. Boabdil went into exile. The Christian reconquest of Spain, that has reverberated so powerfully down the centuries, was complete.
Our Asian Art Book Survey for books on recently published fiction
All the Lives We Never Lived
by Anuradha Roy, Maclehose, ISBN 9780857058171, £16.99
In my childhood, I was known as ‘the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman’, so begins the story of Myshkin and his mother, Gayatri, who is driven to rebel against tradition and follow her artist’s instinct for freedom. Freedom of a different kind is in the air across India. The fight against British rule is reaching a critical turn. The Nazis have come to power in Germany. At this point of crisis, two strangers arrive in Gayatri’s town, opening up for her the vision of other possible lives. What took Myshkin’s mother from India to Dutch-held Bali in the 1930s, ripping a knife through his comfortingly familiar environment? Excavating the roots of the world in which he was abandoned, Myshkin comes to understand the connections between anguish at home and a war-torn universe overtaken by patriotism.
By Haruki Murakami, Harvill Secker, ISBN 9781787300194, £20
In the book, a thirty-something portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist, Tomohiko Amada. When he discovers a strange painting in the attic, he unintentionally opens a circle of mysterious circumstances. To close it, he must complete a journey that involves a mysterious ringing bell, a two-foot-high physical manifestation of an idea, a dapper businessman who lives across the valley, a precocious thirteen-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt during World War II in Vienna, a pit in the woods behind the artist’s home, and an underworld haunted by double metaphors.
Frankenstein in Baghdad
By Ahmed Saadawi, translated by Jonathan Wright, Oneworld Publications, ISBN 978786070609, £12.99
From the rubble-strewn streets of US-occupied Baghdad, the scavenger Hadi collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and give them a proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realises he has created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive – first from the guilty, and then from anyone who crosses its path. Frankenstein in Baghdad captures with white-knuckle horror and black humour the surreal reality of a city at war. Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
The Stolen Bicycle
By Wu Ming-Yi, translated by Darryl Sterk, Text Publishing, ISBN 9781911231158, £10.99
Cheng, a novelist, once wrote a book based on his father’s disappearance 20 years ago. One day he receives a reader’s email asking whether his father’s bicycle disappeared as well. Perplexed and amused, Cheng decides to track down the bicycle, which was stolen years ago. The search takes him on an epic quest, deep into the secret world of antique bicycle collectors via a scavenger’s treasure trove and the mountain home of an aboriginal photographer. He also finds himself caught up in the strangely intertwined stories of Lin Wang, the oldest elephant who ever lived, the soldiers who fought in the jungles of South-East Asia during the World War II and the secret worlds of the butterfly handicraft makers … The book is both a historical novel about bicycles, elephants and war, and a startlingly intimate meditation on memory, family and home.
By Mohammed Hanif, Bloomsbury, ISBN 9781408897188, £16.99
An American pilot crash lands in the desert and takes refuge in the very camp he was supposed to bomb. Hallucinating palm trees and worrying about dehydrating to death isn’t what Major Ellie expected from this mission. In the camp, teenager Momo’s money-making schemes are failing. His brother left for his first day at work and never returned, his parents are at each other’s throats, his dog is having a very bad day, and an aid worker has shown up wanting to research him for her book on the Teenage Muslim Mind. Written with his trademark wit, keen eye for absurdity and telling important truths about the world today, the stories are unrealistic, but the outrage is real.
Smoke and Ashes
By Abir Mukherjee, Harville Spencer, ISBN 9781911215141, £12.99
India, 1921. Haunted by his memories of the Great War, Captain Sam Wyndham is battling a serious addiction to opium that he must keep secret from his superiors in the Calcutta police force. When Sam is summoned to investigate a grisly murder, he is stunned at the sight of the body: he’s seen this before. Last night, in a drug addled haze, he stumbled across a corpse with the same ritualistic injuries. It seems like there’s a deranged killer on the loose. Unfortunately for Sam, the corpse was in an opium den and revealing his presence there could cost him his career. With the aid of his quick-witted Indian Sergeant, Surrender-not Banerjee, Sam must try to solve the two murders, all the while keeping his personal demons secret, before somebody else turns up dead.
By Khaled Hosseini, Bloomsbury, ISBN 9781526602718, £12.99
On a moonlit beach a father cradles his sleeping son as they wait for dawn to break and a boat to arrive. He speaks to his boy of the long summers of his childhood, recalling his grandfather’s house in Syria, the stirring of olive trees in the breeze, the bleating of his grandmother’s goat, the clanking of her cooking pots. And he remembers, too, the bustling city of Homs with its crowded lanes, its mosque and grand souk, in the days before the sky spat bombs and they had to flee. When the sun rises they and those around them will gather their possessions and embark on a perilous sea journey in search of a new home.
The Night Tiger
By Yangsze Choo, Quercus, ISBN 9781787470453, £18.99
In 1930s colonial Malaya, a dissolute British doctor receives a surprise gift of an eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy. Sent as a bequest from an old friend, young Ren has a mission: to find his dead master’s severed finger and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth forever. Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker, moonlights as a dance-hall girl to pay her mother’s debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir that leads her on a crooked, dark trail. As time runs out for Ren’s mission, a series of unexplained deaths occur amid rumours of tigers who turn into men. In their journey to keep a promise and discover the truth, Ren and Ji Lin’s paths will cross in ways they will
The Zanzibar Wife
By Deborah Rodriguez, Sphere, ISBN 9780751561487, £7.99
Set in Oman, the ancient land of frankincense, wind-swept deserts, craggy mountaintops and turquoise seas, come three remarkable women, each facing a crossroad in her life. Rachel, is an American war photographer, who is struggling to shed the trauma of her career. Now she is headed to Oman to cover quite a different story – for a glossy travel magazine. Ariana Khan, a bubbly English woman who has rashly volunteered as Rachel’s ‘fixer’, a job she’s never heard of in a country she knows nothing about. And Miza, a young woman living far from her beloved homeland of Zanzibar. As the second wife of Tariq, she remains a secret from his terrifying ‘other’ wife, Maryam. Until the day that Tariq fails to come home…As the three women journey together across this extraordinary land, they quickly learn that, in Oman, things aren’t always what they appear to be…The Zanzibar Wife is a story of clashing cultures and conflicting beliefs, of secrets and revelations, of mystery and magic
Miss Laila Armed and Dangerous
By Manu Joseph, Myriad Editions, ISBN 9781912408108, £8.99
On the day that Hindu nationalists and their controversial leader have won a spectacular election victory, a large apartment building collapses in Mumbai. The rescue operation finds only one survivor, a man trapped under a beam, mumbling in delirium. But what he is saying is that two people are on their way to carry out a terror attack. Not only must they get him out, the police must find out what he knows, and act quickly. A young woman, Akhila Iyer, a medical student but also a notorious prankster, has rushed to the scene. She is small and light enough to crawl along to the tunnel to the dying man to administer painkillers as they try to dig him out of the rubble. Akhila is the only link between him and the police, hearing what he is whispering. Elsewhere, a young intelligence agent, Mukundan, is assigned to shadow the two terror suspects, one of whom is a teenager and the sweetheart of her street, the enigmatic Laila. And so the chase is on …
By Rita Chowdhury, Pan Macmillan India, ISBN 9789386215239, £6.50
It is the early 19th century. The British East India Company has been bringing in Chinese slaves to work in the tea gardens of Assam. Amidst days of misery and toil, they slowly begin to find contentment in their day-to-day lives. In post-independence Assam, Mei Lin, descended from the slave Ho Han, lives a life of satisfaction with her husband Pulok Barua. But in 1962, as war breaks out in the high Himalayas between India and China, a close family member conspires to have Mei Lin deported to Maoist China. She and thousands of other Chinese Indians will now have to fend for themselves in a land that, despite their origins, is strangely foreign. From the horror-ridden hardships of the slave pens of Assam to the Sino-Indian war, this novel tells the story of the Chinese Indians, a community condemned by intolerance to obscurity and untold sorrow.
The Kinship of Secrets
By Eugenia Kim, Bloomsbury, ISBN 9781526602824, £14.99
The riveting story of two sisters, one raised in the United States, the other in South Korea, and the family that bound them together even as the Korean War kept them apart. In 1948 Najin and Calvin Cho, with their young daughter Miran, travel from South Korea to the United States in search of new opportunities. Wary of the challenges ahead, Najin and Calvin make the difficult decision to leave their other daughter, Inja, behind with their extended family; soon, they hope, they will return to her. But then war breaks out in Korea, and there is no end in sight to the separation. Miran grows up in prosperous American suburbia, under the shadow of the daughter left behind, as Inja grapples in her war-torn land with ties to a family she doesn’t remember. Najin and Calvin desperately seek a reunion with Inja, but are the bonds of love strong enough to reconnect their family over distance, time and war? Told through the alternating perspectives of the distanced sisters, and inspired by a true story.
Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants
By Mathia Enard, translated by Charlotte Mandell, Fitzcarraldo Editions, ISBN 9781910695692, £10.99
In 1506, Michelangelo – a young but already renowned sculptor – is invited by the sultan of Constantinople to design a bridge over the Golden Horn. The sultan has offered, alongside an enormous payment, the promise of immortality, since Leonardo da Vinci’s design was rejected: ‘You will surpass him in glory if you accept, for you will succeed where he has failed, and you will give the world a monument without equal.’ Michelangelo, after some hesitation, flees Rome and an irritated Pope Julius II – whose commission he leaves unfinished – and arrives in Constantinople for this truly epic project. Once there, he explores the beauty and wonder of the Ottoman Empire, sketching and describing his impressions along the way, and becomes immersed in cloak-and-dagger palace intrigues as he struggles to create what could be his greatest architectural masterwork.
By Sharlene Teo, Picador, ISBN 9781509855315, £14.99
It is 2003 in Singapore. Friendless and fatherless, sixteen-year-old Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress and now a hack medium performing séances with her sister in a rusty house. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, they develop an intense friendship which offers Szu an escape from her mother’s alarming solitariness, and Circe a step closer to the fascinating, unknowable Amisa. Seventeen years later, Circe is struggling through a divorce in fraught and ever-changing Singapore when a project comes up at work: a remake of the cult 1970s horror film series ‘Ponti’, the very project that defined Amisa’s short-lived film career. Suddenly Circe is knocked off balance: by memories of the two women she once knew, by guilt, and by a past that threatens her conscience. Told from the perspectives of all three women, Ponti by Sharlene Teo is an story of friendship and memory that spans decades.
States of Passion
By Nihad Sirees, translated by Max Weiss, Pushkin Press, ISBN 9781782273479, £12.99
When a hapless bureaucrat finds himself stranded in the countryside during a raging storm, he seeks refuge in a grand yet isolated mansion, inhabited by only an elderly gentleman and his unwelcoming servant. The tale of family secrets he encounters while sheltering there begins with a faded photograph in yellowed newspaper, of a beautiful woman stepping off a train at Aleppo station many years ago. It transports him to Syria’s golden age, to the heart of the mysterious unconventional banat al-ishreh – the infamous women who live, dance and play music together – and into a tangled web of forbidden love. The book is playful novel about what it means to live within a memory of the past – and about the many faces of a city that might have been. First published in 1998, but only now translated into English.
By Negar Djavadi, translated by Tina Kover, Europa Editions, ISBN 9781609454517, £12.99
Kimia Sadr fled Iran at the age of ten in the company of her mother and sisters to join her father in France. Now twenty-five and facing the future she has built for herself as well as the prospect of a new generation, Kimi is inundated by her own memories and the stories of her ancestors, which come to her in unstoppable, uncontainable waves. In the waiting room of a Parisian fertility clinic, generations of flamboyant Sadrs return to her, including her formidable great-grandfather Montazemolmolk, with his harem of 52 wives, and her parents, Darius and Sara, stalwart opponents of each regime that befalls them. In this kaleidoscopic story, key moments of Iranian history, politics, and culture punctuate stories of family drama and triumph. Yet it is Kimia herself––punk-rock aficionado, storyteller extraordinaire, a Scheherazade of our time, and above all a modern woman divided between family traditions and her own ‘disorientalisation’, who forms the heart of this novel.
Convenience Store Woman
By Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori, Portobello Books, ISBN 9781846276835, £8.50
Keiko is 36 years old. She’s never had a boyfriend, and she’s been working in the same supermarket for 18 years. Keiko’s family wishes she’d get a proper job. Her friends wonder why she won’t get married. But Keiko knows what makes her happy, and she’s not going to let anyone come between her and her convenience store…
Swimmer Among the Stars
By Kanishk Tharoor, Picador, ISBN 9781250160126, £8.99
In one of the singularly imaginative stories from Kanishk Tharoor’s Swimmer Among the Stars, despondent diplomats entertain themselves by playing table tennis in zero gravity–for after rising seas destroy Manhattan, the United Nations moves to an orbiting space hotel. In other tales, a team of anthropologists treks to a remote village to record a language’s last surviving speaker intoning her native tongue; an elephant and his driver cross the ocean to meet the whims of a Moroccan princess; and Genghis Khan’s marauding army steadily approaches an unnamed city’s walls.
The Devils’ Dance
By Hamid Ismailov, translated by Donald Rayfield, Tilted Axis Press, ISBN 9781911284130, £9.99
On New Year’s Eve 1938, the writer Abdulla Qodiriy is taken from his home by the Soviet secret police and thrown into a Tashkent prison. There, to distract himself from the physical and psychological torment of beatings and mindless interrogations, he attempts to mentally reconstruct the novel he was writing at the time of his arrest based on the tragic life of the Uzbek poet-queen Oyhon, married to three khans in succession, and living as Abdulla now does, with the threat of execution hanging over her. As he gets to know his cellmates, Abdulla discovers that the Great Game of Oyhon’s time, when English and Russian spies infiltrated the courts of Central Asia, has echoes in the 1930s present, but as his identification with his protagonist increases and past and present overlap it seems that Abdulla’s inability to tell fact from fiction will be his undoing. The Devils’ Dance brings to life the extraordinary culture of 19th century Turkestan, a world of lavish poetry recitals, brutal polo matches, and a cosmopolitan and culturally diverse Islam rarely described in western literature. Hamid Ismailov’s virtuosic prose recreates this multilingual milieu in a digressive, intricately structured novel, dense with allusion, studded with quotes and sayings, and threaded through with modern and classical poetry.
Scales of Injustice: The Complete Fiction of Loa Ho
By Loa Ho, translated by Darryl Sterk, Honford Star, ISBN 9781999791223, £12.99
Loa Ho (also Lai He, 1894 1943) was a pioneering writer from Taiwan often called the ‹father of New Taiwanese Literature›. As a doctor during the colonial period in Taiwan, Loa witnessed the cruelty of Japanese rule and wrote stories which display both his sense of justice and social insight. His writing often utilized irony and satire to criticize the status quo, and his work provides a fascinating window into the struggle for Taiwanese self-determination during the early 20th century. Scales of Injustice contains the complete fiction of Loa Hô, with an introduction from Pei-yin Lin and explanatory notes by translator Darryl Sterk.
Sweet Potato: Collected Short Stories
by Kim Tongin translated by Grace Jung, Honford Star, ISBN 9781999791209, £12.99
Born to a wealthy family in Pyongyang, Kim Tongin is one of Korea’s earliest and most respected modern writers whose naturalist fiction brilliantly depicts Korean life during a period of profound social change. Namesake of the prestigious Dong-in Literary Award, Kim Tongin’s succinct writing style, complex psychological portraits, and detached point of view provide insight into early 20th century Korea. Translated by Grace Jung and introduced by Youngmin Kwon, Adjunct Professor of Korean Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.
Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life and China
By Rao Pingru, translated by Nicky Harman, Square Peg, ISBN 9781910931752, £15
Rao Pingru was a twenty-six-year-old soldier when he first saw the beautiful Mao Meitang. One glimpse of her through a window as she put on lipstick was enough to capture Pingru’s heart. It was a moment that sparked a union that would last almost sixty years. But when Meitang passed away in 2008, Pingru realised that their marriage and all the small moments and memories of a life together, would be lost to history. And so at the age of eighty-eight, in an outpouring of love and grief, Pingru began to paint. Our Story is a memorial to Pingru and Meitang’s epic romance, told through Pingru’s exquisitely detailed paintings and handwritten notes. We see Pingru and Meitang through the decades, through both poverty and good fortune, and as they grow so too does China: the nation undergoing political turmoil and seismic cultural change. A tale both tragic and inspiring, of enduring love and simple values, Our Story is an old-fashioned romance that unfolds within the rush of a rapidly changing nation.
The Day the Sun Died
By Yan Lianke, Chatto & Windus, ISBN 978-1784741617, £10.80
One dusk in early June, in a town deep in the Balou mountains, fourteen-year-old Li Niannian notices that something strange is going on. As the residents would usually be settling down for the night, instead they start appearing in the streets and fields. There are people everywhere. Li Niannian watches, mystified. But then he realises the people are dreamwalking, carrying on with their daily business as if the sun hadn’t already gone down. And before too long, as more and more people succumb, in the black of night all hell breaks loose. Set over the course of one night, the book pits chaos and darkness against the sunny optimism of the ‘Chinese dream’ promoted by President Xi Jinping. We are thrown into the middle of an increasingly strange and troubling waking nightmare as Li Niannian and his father struggle to save the town, and persuade the beneficent sun to rise again.
Our Asian Art Book Survey for a selection of books which defy our categories!
The New Silk Roads
By Peter Frankopan, Bloomsbury, ISBN 9781526607423, £14.99
When The Silk Roads was published in 2015, it became an instant classic. A major reassessment of world history, it compelled us to look at the past from a different perspective. The New Silk Roads brings this story up to date, addressing the present and future of a world that is changing dramatically. Following the Silk Roads eastwards, from Europe through to China, by way of Russia and the Middle East, The New Silk Roads provides a timely reminder that we live in a world that is profoundly interconnected. In an age of Brexit and Trump, the themes of isolation and fragmentation permeating the western world stand in sharp contrast to events along the Silk Roads since 2015, where ties have been strengthened and mutual cooperation established. With brilliant insight, Peter Frankopan takes a fresh look at the network of relationships being formed along the length and breadth of the Silk Roads today, assessing the global reverberations of these continual shifts in the centre of power – all too often absent from headlines in the West. This important – and ultimately hopeful – book asks us to reread who we are and where we are in the world, illuminating the themes on which all our lives and livelihoods depend.
The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order
By Bruno Macaes, Allen Lane, ISBN 9780241309254, £20
Bruno Maçães argues that the best word for the emerging global order is ‘Eurasian’, and shows why we need to begin thinking on a super-continental scale. While China and Russia have been quicker to recognise the increasing strategic significance of Eurasia, even Europeans are realizing that their political project is intimately linked to the rest of the supercontinent – and as Maçães shows, they will be stronger for it. Weaving together history, diplomacy and vivid reports from his six-month overland journey across Eurasia from Baku to Samarkand, Vladivostock to Beijing, Maçães provides a fascinating portrait of this shifting geopolitical landscape. As he demonstrates, we can already see the coming Eurasianism in China’s bold infrastructure project reopening the historic Silk Road, in the success of cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, in Turkey’s increasing global role and in the fact that, revealingly, the United States is redefining its place as between Europe and Asia.
The Golden Thread: How Fabric Change History
By Kassia St Clair, John Murray, ISBN 9781473659032, £20
All textiles begin with a twist. From colourful 30,000-year old threads found on the floor of a Georgian cave to what the linen wrappings of Tutankhamun’s mummy actually meant; from the Silk Roads to the woollen sails that helped the Vikings reach America 700 years before Columbus; from the lace ruffs that infuriated the puritans to the Indian calicoes and chintzes that powered the Industrial Revolution, our continuing reinvention of cloth tells fascinating stories of human ingenuity. When we talk of lives hanging by a thread, being interwoven, or part of the social fabric, we are part of a tradition that stretches back many thousands of years. Fabric has allowed us to achieve extraordinary things and survive in unlikely places, and this book shows you how — and why. With a cast that includes Chinese empresses, Richard the Lionheart and Bing Crosby, the author takes us on a journey with escaped slaves, climbing the slopes of Everest and moonwalking with astronauts.
Peonies & Pomegranates
By Celia Fisher, The British Library, ISBN 9780712309745, £14.99
Many of the flowers and fruits growing in our gardens and greenhouses today were brought to the West by collectors or traders. This book describes the origins of these plants, with quotations from the people of Asia who first appreciated, cultivated and wrote about them. Almost all the illustrations are by Asian and Middle Eastern artists, some of them hired by European collectors. Celia Fisher begins with an account of the long history of gardens in the East, and of how Eastern plants and botanical knowledge came to be transmitted to Europe. This is followed by seventy-four alphabetical plant entries, ranging from acacia to wisteria, each illustrated with wonderful pictures from a range of books, manuscripts, paintings and drawings. A must-have for every gardener and appreciator of beautiful artwork, this sumptuously illustrated handbook describes over seventy plants that originated in Asia and the Middle East.
Empire of Enchantment: The Story of Indian Magic
By John Zubryzcki, C Hurst & Co, ISBN 9781849049443, £25
India’s association with magicians goes back thousands of years. Conjurors and illusionists dazzled the courts of Hindu maharajas and Mughal emperors. As British dominion spread over the subcontinent, such wonder-workers became synonymous with India. Western magicians appropriated Indian attire, tricks and stage names; switching their turbans for top hats, Indian jugglers fought back and earned their grudging respect. This book tells the extraordinary story of how Indian magic descended from the realm of the gods to become part of daily ritual and popular entertainment across the globe. Recounting tales of levitating Brahmins, resurrections, prophesying monkeys and ‘the most famous trick never performed’, Empire of Enchantment vividly charts Indian magic’s epic journey from street to the stage.
Generation HK: Seeking Identityin China’s Shadow
By Ben Bland, Penguin Specials, ISBN 978-0734398505, $6.99
Teenage activists turned politicians, multi-millionaire super tutors, and artists fighting censorship – these are the stories of Generation HK. From radically different backgrounds yet with a common legacy, having grown up in post-handover Hong Kong, these young people have little attachment to the era of British colonial rule or today’s China. Instead, they see themselves as Hong Kongers, an identity both reinforced and threatened by the rapid expansion of Beijing’s influence. Amid great political and social uncertainty, Generation HK is trying to build a brighter future. Theirs is a fascinating coming-of-age story that reflects the bitter struggles beneath the gleaming facade of modern Hong Kong.
Behind The Lawrence Legend
By Philip Walker, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780198802273, £25
TE Lawrence became world-famous as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, after helping Sherif Hussein of Mecca gain independence from Turkey during the Arab Revolt of 1916-18. His achievements, however, would have been impossible without the unsung efforts of a forgotten band of fellow officers and spies. This ground-breaking account by Philip Walker interweaves the compelling stories of Colonel Cyril Wilson and a colourful supporting cast with the narrative of Lawrence and the desert campaign. These men’s lost tales provide a remarkable and fresh perspective on Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. While Lawrence and others blew up trains in the desert, Wilson and his men carried out their shadowy intelligence and diplomatic work. His deputies rooted out anti-British jihadists who were trying to sabotage the revolt. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Lionel Gray, a cipher officer, provided a gateway into unknown aspects of the revolt through his previously unpublished photographs and eyewitness writings. Wilson’s crucial influence underpinned all these missions and steadied the revolt on a number of occasions when it could have collapsed. Without Wilson and his circle there would have been no ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
Dreamers: How Young Indians are Changing the World
By Snigdha Poonam, Hurst, ISBN 9781849049078, £14.99
Six hundred million Indians, more than half the population, are under twenty-five. This generation lives between extremes: more connected and global than ever, but with narrow ideas of Indian identity; raised with the cultural values of their grandparents, but the life goals of American teenagers. These dreamers are the face of a new India. Angry, and frustrated with being marginalised by both globalisation and India’s old politics, they place hope in the Modi government’s exclusionary nationalism and, above all, in their personal truths: shape your own future; exploit, or be exploited. Journalist Snigdha Poonam tracks these young fortune-seekers – all united by the belief that they were born for bigger and better things.
I Should Have Honor: A memoir of Hope and Pride in Pakistan
By Khalida Brohi, Random House, ISBN 9780399588013, £25
From a young age, Khalida Brohi was raised to believe in the sanctity of arranged marriage. Her mother was forced to marry a thirteen-year-old boy when she was only nine; Khalida herself was promised as a bride before she was even born. But her father refused to let her become a child bride. He was a man who believed in education, not just for himself but for his daughters, and Khalida grew up thinking she would become the first female doctor in her small village. Khalida thought her life was proceeding on an unusual track for a woman of her circumstances, but one whose path was orderly and straightforward. Everything shifted for Khalida when she found out that her beloved cousin had been murdered by her uncle in a tradition known as ‘honour killing’. Her cousin’s crime? She had fallen in love with a man who was not her betrothed. This moment ignited the spark in Khalida Brohi that inspired a globe-spanning career as an activist, beginning at the age of sixteen. From a tiny cement-roofed room in Karachi where she was allowed ten minutes of computer use per day, Brohi started a Facebook campaign that went viral. From there, she created a foundation focused on empowering the lives of women in rural communities through education and employment opportunities, while crucially working to change the minds of their male partners, fathers, and brothers.
The White Book
By Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith, Portobello, ISBN 9781846276958, £10
From the author of The Vegetarian and Human Acts comes a book like no other. The White Book is a meditation on colour, beginning with a list of white things. It is a book about mourning, rebirth and the tenacity of the human spirit. It is a stunning investigation of the fragility, beauty and strangeness of life.
Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
By Karan Thapar, HarperCollins, India, ISBN 9789352779840, £25
In this memoir, narrated in Karan Thapar’s trademark incisive style, the author relates different stories from his life, from personal anecdotes about his childhood, college days and marriage, to his encounters with various well-known personalities in the course of anchoring his TV shows.
By Levison Wood, Hodder Paperbacks, ISBN 9781473676244, £7.99
Levison Wood was only 22 when he decided to hitch-hike from England to India through Russia, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but he wasn’t the conventional follower of the hippy trail. A fascination with the deeds of the early explorers, a history degree in the bag, an army career already planned and a shoestring budget of £750 – including for the flight home – he was determined to find out more about the countries of the Caucasus and beyond – and meet the people who lived and worked there.
Travels in a Dervish Cloak
By Isambard Wilkinson, Eland Publishing, ISBN 9781780601502, £12.99
Spellbound by his grandmother s Anglo Indian heritage and the exuberant annual visits of her friend the Begum, Isambard Wilkinson became enthralled by Pakistan as an intrepid teenager, eventually working there as a foreign correspondent during the War on Terror. Seeking the land behind the headlines, Bard sets out to discover the essence of a country convulsed by Islamist violence. What of the old, mystical Pakistan has survived and what has been destroyed? His is a funny, hashish- and whisky-scented travel book from the frontline, full of open-hearted delight and a poignant lust for life.
By William Dalrymple and Anita Anand, Bloomsbury, ISBN 978408888827, £9.99
This history of the Koh-i-Noor, arguably the most celebrated and mythologised jewel in the world, explores the complicated history of the jewel. On 29 March 1849, the ten-year-old maharaja of the Punjab was ushered into the magnificent Mirrored Hall at the centre of the great fort in Lahore. There, in a public ceremony, the frightened but dignified child handed over great swathes of the richest country in India in a formal Act of Submission to a private corporation, the East India Company. He was also compelled to hand over to the British monarch, Queen Victoria, perhaps the single most valuable object on the subcontinent: the celebrated Koh-i Noor diamond. The Mountain of Light. The history of the Koh-i-Noor that was then commissioned by the British may have been one woven together from gossip of Delhi bazaars, but it was to become the accepted version. Only now is it finally challenged, freeing the diamond from the fog of mythology that has clung to it for so long. The resulting history is one of greed, murder, torture, colonialism and appropriation told through an impressive slice of south and central Asian history.
A Thirst for Empire
By Erika Rappaport, Princeton University Press, ISBN 9780691167114, £30
How the global tea industry influenced the international economy and the rise of mass consumerism Tea has been one of the most popular commodities in the world. Over centuries, profits from its growth and sales funded wars and fuelled colonisation, and its cultivation brought about massive changes – in land use, labour systems, market practices, and social hierarchies – the effects of which are with us even today. This book takes an in-depth historical look at how men and women – through the tea industry in Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa – transformed global tastes and habits and in the process created our modern consumer society. Between the 17th and 20th centuries the boundaries of the tea industry and the British Empire overlapped but were never identical, and she highlights the economic, political, and cultural forces that enabled the British Empire to dominate, but never entirely control, the worldwide production, trade, and consumption of tea. Rappaport sees how Europeans adopted, appropriated, and altered Chinese tea culture to build a widespread demand for tea in Britain and other global markets and a plantation-based economy in South Asia and Africa.
Living with the Gods
By Neil MacGregor, Allen Lane, ISBN 978-0241308295, £30
One of the central facts of human existence is that every society shares a set of beliefs and assumptions – a faith, an ideology, a religion – that goes far beyond the life of the individual. These beliefs are an essential part of a shared identity. They have a unique power to define – and to divide – us, and are a driving force in the politics of much of the world today. Throughout history they have most often been, in the widest sense, religious. Yet this book is not a history of religion, nor an argument in favour of faith. It is about the stories which give shape to our lives, and the different ways in which societies imagine their place in the world. Looking across history and around the globe, it interrogates objects, places and human activities to try to understand what shared beliefs can mean in the public life of a community or a nation, how they shape the relationship between the individual and the state, and how they help give us our sense of who we are.
The Images Publishing Group, ISBN 9781864707120, $80
This book features an array of innovative projects, from commercial and residential innovation strategies to humanitarian works, such as emergency shelters made from paper and modular shelters for earthquake victims. Shigeru Ban’s visionary residential design philosophies encompass timber hybrid structures, including a building constructed from cardboard tubes; the tallest hybrid timber structure in the world for a residential tower in Vancouver; as well as the new home designed for the Aspen Art Museum, which features woven wooden cladding.
New Art, New Markets
By Iain Robertson, Lund Humphries, ISBN 9781848222175, £25
Originally published in 2011, the book introduced and examined three types of emerging markets for contemporary art: recently established, maturing and mature. This second edition updates the reader on these rapidly evolving markets and adds a vital new section on South America. The book is also concerned with how value in non-Western contemporary art is constructed largely by external political events and economic factors rather than aesthetic considerations. The book also considers whether new art markets grow better organically, driven by commercial imperatives, or with government intervention, constructing a cultural and economic infrastructure within which an art market can be placed.
Who Runs the Artworld: Money, Power and Ethics
By Brad Buckey, Libri Publishing, ISBN 9781911450139, £25
This book examines the economics and mythologies of today’s global artworld. It unmasks the complex web of relationships that now exist among high-profile curators, collectors, museum trustees and corporate sponsors, and the historic and ongoing complicity between the art and money markets. The book examines alternative models being deployed by curators and artists influenced by the 2008 global financial crisis and the international socio-political Occupy movement, with a particular focus on a renewed activism by artists. This activism is coupled with an institutional and social critique led by groups such as Liberate Tate, the Precarious Workers Brigade and Strike Debt.