Here is our annual Asian Books Survey 2013, in which we look at books published in reference, history, art, fiction and miscellaneous categrories for Asian Art, East Asian Art – Korea, Japan, and China – Islamic World Art, Himalayan and South Asian Art, and Southeast Asian Art.
The Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China
By Jung Chang, Jonathan Cape,
ISBN 978-0224087438, £20
Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) is the most important woman in Chinese history. She ruled China for decades and brought a mediaeval empire into the modern age. At the age of sixteen, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor’s numerous concubines and sexual partners. When he died in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband and made herself the real ruler of China – behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her officials who were all male.
In this new biography, Jung Chang describes how Cixi fought against monumental obstacles to change China. Under her the ancient country attained virtually all the attributes of a modern state: industries, railways, electricity, telegraph, and an army and navy with up-to-date weaponry. Jung Chang comprehensively overturns the conventional view of Cixi as a diehard conservative and cruel despot.
Jung Chang records the Empress Dowager’s conduct of domestic and foreign affairs and takes the reader into the depths of the Summer Palace and the harem of Beijing’s Forbidden City, where she lived surrounded by eunuchs – with one of whom she fell in love, with tragic consequences. Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries and eye-witness accounts, this biography may revolutionise historical thinking about a crucial period in China’s history.
Edited by Dieter Kuhn, Yale University Press,
ISBN 978-0300111033, £60
Over the past 50 years, archaeological explorations in China have unearthed a wealth of textile materials, some dating as far back as five thousand years. In this magnificently researched and illustrated book, preeminent Chinese and Western scholars draw upon these spectacular discoveries to provide the most thorough account of the history of silk ever written. Encyclopaedic in breadth, the volume presents a chronological history of silk from a variety of perspectives, including the archaeological, technological, art historical, and aesthetic. The authors explore the range of uses for silk, from the everyday to the sublime. By directly connecting recently found textile artefacts to specific references in China’s vast historical literature, they illuminate the evolution of silk making and the driving social forces that have inspired the creation of innovative textiles through the millennia.
From the Dragon’s Mouth:Ten True Stories That Unveil the Real China
By Ana Fuentes, CA Press,
ISBN 978-0142427385, US$16.95
This book is an intimate look into the China of the 21st century as seen through the eyes of its people. This is the first time that a book combines the voices of everyday Chinese people from so many different layers of society: a dissident tortured by the police; a young millionaire devoted to nationalism; a peasant-turnedprostitute to pay for the best education for her son; a woman who married her gay friend to escape from social pressure, just like an estimated 16 million other women; a venerable Kung-Fu master unable to train outdoors because of the hazardous pollution; the daughter of two Communist Party officials getting rich coaching Chinese entrepreneurs in the ways of Capitalism, amongst others.
The Artful Recluse: Painting, Poetry, and Politics in 17th Century China
By Peter C Sturman and Susan S Tai,
ISBN 978-3791352725, £40
Reclusion – the act of disengaging from worldly affairs for spiritual and moral cleansing – was a concept deeply associated with the ancient Chinese civilisation. The theme of reclusion, or yin, was especially prevalent during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, a period of unrivalled artistic achievement. This beautifully illustrated exhibition catalogue invites the viewer deep into the world of 17th century China. Nearly 60 hanging and hand scrolls, albums, and fans – many never seen before in print – reveal how the educated elite expressed their thoughts and ideals through depictions of the landscape, birds, flowers, fish, and insects. Accompanied by penetrating essays on the subject, these works celebrate the extraordinary skill with which the period’s artists communicated the simple pleasures of living with nature.
Masterpieces of Chinese Painting: 700 – 1900
Edited by Hongzing Zhang, V&A Publishing, ISBN 978-1851777563, £40
Painting has always been regarded by the Chinese as a supreme art, its merits equal to those of poetry and philosophy. The tradition can be traced over 2,500 years, but – from very early on – many Chinese paintings were made to be viewed on a temporary basis, displayed for just a few hours, or perhaps several weeks. The masterpieces of the form have been seen very rarely, and then only by few, particularly in the West. This spectacular book accompanies a major V&A Museum in London exhibition that brings together some of the world’s masterpieces on silk and paper – many of which will be displayed only for a short time. Presenting works from the richest and most representative collections in the world, the book is an authoritative guide to these great works, and includes the best paintings by the greatest masters as well as those by lesser-known artists. Written by a team of international scholars, the book explains the background against which Chinese painters worked, as well as the original social context of the paintings and their display in the palace, temple, studio or tomb.
Masterworks of Chinese Art: The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art
By Colin Mackenzi,
University of Washington Press,
ISBN 978-0615488820, £16.99
Including masterpieces from every period of Chinese art, the Chinese collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is celebrated as one of the finest outside Asia. This catalogue presents a selection of works ranging in date from the second millennium BC to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The selection is representative of the central traditions of Chinese art–ancient jade carving and ritual bronzes, ceramics, Buddhist sculpture, scroll painting, lacquer and textiles, and includes world-famous works such as A Solitary Temple in Clearing Mountains attributed to Li Cheng (c. 919-967) and the 12th-century Guanyin of the Southern Seas. Each work is accompanied by a short essay exploring its significance and aesthetic qualities, and an introductory essay provides an overview of Chinese art, focusing particularly on collecting and aesthetic taste. This book can be enjoyed not only as a stunning visual record of these masterworks but also as an informative introduction to Chinese art.
Avant-garde Art Groups in China, 1979-1989
By Paul Gladston, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-1841507156, £24.95
This book provides close personalized insights into the particular circumstances of artistic production in China during the decade leading up to the Tiananmen killings of 4 June 1989. The conversations are supported by an extended introduction, section introductions and comprehensive footnotes giving a comprehensive overview. No other source provides such detail. It is illustrated throughout with often previously unpublished photographs of the artists and artworks under discussion. Included is a critical account of four of the most significant avant-garde Chinese art groups and associations of the late 1970s and 80s. It is made up largely of conversations conducted by the author with members of these organisations that provide insight into the circumstances or artistic production during the decade leading up to the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. The conversations are supported by an extended introduction and other comprehensive notes that give a detailed overview of the historical circumstances under which the groups and associations developed.
The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-57
By Frank Dikötter, Bloomsbury,
ISBN 978-1408837573, £25
In 1949, Mao Zedong hoisted the red flag over Beijing’s Forbidden City. Instead of liberating the country, the communists destroyed the old order and replaced it with a repressive system that would dominate every aspect of Chinese life. In an epic of revolution and violence which draws on newly opened party archives, interviews and memoirs, Frank Dikötter interweaves the stories of millions of ordinary people with the brutal politics of Mao’s court. A gripping account of how people from all walks of life were caught up in a tragedy that sent at least five million civilians to their deaths.
Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century
By Orville Schell and John Delury,
ISBN 978-1408704974, £14.99
By now everyone knows the basic facts of China’s rise to pre-eminence over the past three decades. But how did this erstwhile sleeping giant finally manage to arrive at its current phase of dynamic growth? How, after such a long and painful period of dynastic decline, intellectual upheaval and revolution, foreign occupation and civil war, did a country once derided as the ‘sick man of Asia’ manage to break out of its old pattern of repeatedly failed reform efforts to burst forth onto the world stage with such an impressive run of hyper-development and wealth creation? The book examines the lives of 11 influential officials, writers, activists, and leaders whose contributions helped create modern China.
This fascinating survey begins with the lead-up to the first Opium War with Wei Yuan, the 19th-century scholar and reformer who was one of the first to urge China to borrow ideas from the West. It concludes in our time with human-rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, an outspoken opponent of single-party rule. Along the way, we meet titans of Chinese history, intellectuals and political figures.
China’s War with Japan 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival
By Rana Mitter, Allen Lane,
ISBN 978-1846140105, £25
Different countries give different opening dates for the period of the Second World War, but perhaps the most compelling is 1937, when the ‘Marco Polo Bridge Incident’ plunged China and Japan into a conflict of extraordinary duration and ferocity – a war which would result in many millions of deaths and completely reshape East Asia in ways which we continue to confront today. Rana Mitter’s book draws on a range of new sources to recreate this conflict. He writes both about the major leaders (Chiang Kaishek, Mao Zedong and Wang Jingwei) and about the ordinary people swept up by turbulent times. Mitter puts at the heart of our understanding of the Second World War that it was Japan’s failure to defeat China which was the key dynamic for what happened in Asia.
Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze
By Peter Harmsen, Casemate Books,
ISBN 978-1612001678, £20
This book describes one of the great forgotten battles of the 20th century. At its height it involved nearly a million Chinese and Japanese soldiers, while sucking in three million civilians as unwilling spectators. It turned what had been a Japanese adventure in China into a general war between the two oldest and proudest civilizations of the Far East. Ultimately, it led to Pearl Harbor and to seven decades of tumultuous history in Asia. The Battle of Shanghai was a pivotal event that helped define and shape the modern world. It demonstrated how technology had given rise to new forms of warfare, or had made old forms even more lethal. It was a dress rehearsal for World War II, or perhaps more correctly it was the inaugural act in the war, the first major battle in the global conflict. The rich cast included China’s ascetic General Chiang Kai-shek and his Japanese adversary, General Matsui Iwane, who wanted Asia to rise from disunity, but ultimately pushed the continent toward its deadliest conflict ever. In an ironic twist, Alexander von Falkenhausen, a stern German veteran of the Great War, abandoned his role as an advisor to the Chinese army and led it into battle against the Japanese invaders. Written by Peter Harmsen, a foreign correspondent in East Asia for two decades, and currently bureau chief in Taiwan for the French news agency AFP.
Wang Guangyi: Works and Thoughts 1985-2012
By Demetrio Paparoni, Skira, ISBN 978-8857215679, £60
The first monograph conceived for the international market devoted to one of the most important Chinese contemporary artists. Wang Guangyi is considered one of the emblems of new China – his work underlines the deep social changes in the country. Born in Heilongjiang Province in 1956, Wang Guangyi became one of the stars of contemporary Chinese art through his Great Criticism series. Through the juxtaposition of two definitely opposing ideologies, each represented through iconic symbols, Guangyi criticises Communism and consumerism while negating both by combining them skilfully. Stylistically merging the government-enforced aesthetic of Agitprop with the kitsch sensibility of American Pop, Guangyi’s work adopts the cold-war language of the 1960s to ironically examine the contemporary issues of globalisation. Through their critique, Guangyi’s paintings weave intricate narratives, implying the role of the artist as an active participant (both as subjugator and subservient) in economic and social policies.
The British Presence in Macau 1635-1793
Roderigo Miguel Puga, Hong Kong University Press,
ISBN 978-9888139798, £34.50
For more than four centuries, Macau was the centre of Portuguese trade and culture on the South China Coast. Until the founding of Hong Kong and the opening of other ports in the 1840s, it was also the main gateway to China for independent British merchants and their only place of permanent residence there. Drawing extensively on Portuguese as well as British sources, The British Presence in Macau traces Anglo-Portuguese relations in South China from the first arrival of English trading ships in the 1630s through the establishment of factories at Canton and the beginnings of the opium trade to the Macartney Embassy of 1793. Longstanding allies in the west, the British and Portuguese pursued more complex relations in the east, as trading interests clashed under a Chinese imperial system and as the British increasingly asserted their power as ‘a community in search of a colony’.
Short Cuts: Artists in China
By Thomas Fuesser and Lorenz Helbling, Skira, ISBN 978-8857214863, £48
The first, intimate visual documentation of artists who have influenced and transformed the Chinese art scene over the last two decades German photographer Thomas Fuesser has been following artists in China since 1993, when he was first invited by Dutch curator Hans van Dijk (19462002) to join a group of foreign journalists and photographers to visit the up-and-coming members of the then fledgling Beijing and Shanghai art scenes. Reports on this visit, by New York Times art critic Andrew Solomon and several others, later played a major role in the making of prominent artists, such as Fang Lijun, Wang Guangyi, and Yue Minjun. Over many years, Fuesser has developed close and enduring professional relationships with the artistic community in China. His portraits tell their stories and depict their work and personalities in an entirely distinct style, documenting a part of contemporary history and an immensely dynamic time in China. Recording the lives and thought processes of leading artists, such as Ai Weiwei, Cai Guo-Qiang, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Peili, Feng Mengbo, Wu Shanzhuan, and Zhou Tiehai, Short Cuts, inspired by Robert Altmans concept of multiple parallel destinies that interact, provides a fascinating visual insight into the heart and soul of Chinese society.
Ming! Porcelain for a Globalised Trade
By Eva Strober, Arnoldsche,
ISBN 978-3897903890, £49.50
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) is regarded as one of the most glorious in Chinese history, especially in regards to porcelain. The Ming-dynasty vase is a popular cliché even for those who are not familiar with the history of Chinese ceramics. This publication looks at the Ming myth, by presenting the internationally recognised collection of Chinese ceramics at the Dutch Ceramics Museum Princessehof. The rich and varied inventory of Chinese export ceramics for the Southeast Asian market, primarily from the former Dutch colony of Indonesia, is presented here in context for the first time. The founding of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602 also finally opened up the European market for Ming porcelain. Most significantly the blue and white Kraak porcelain, which was an exotic decorative luxury in wealthy households and features prominently in Dutch still lifes of that era.
Celestial Horses and Long Sleeved Dancers
By Robert D Jacobsen, Paragon Books, www.paragonbooks.com, US$125
Numbering over 250 works spanning nearly 1,500 years, the David
W. Dewey Collection of ancient Chinese tomb sculpture represents nearly all figural types, stylistic traditions and themes, providing a comprehensive visual record into the customs and fashions, inventions and beliefs of ancient China’s ruling elite during the golden age of the Silk Road.
Japan and Korea
Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art
Edited by Timothy Clark, C. Andrew Gerstle, Aki Ihigami, Akiko Yano, British Museum Press, ISBN 978-0714124766, £50
In early modern Japan, 1600–1900, thousands of sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced, known as ‘spring pictures’ (shunga). Frequently tender, funny and beautiful, shunga were mostly produced within the popular school known as ‘pictures of the floating world’ (ukiyo-e), by celebrated artists such as Utamaro and Hokusai. Early modern Japan was certainly not a sex-paradise; however, the values promoted in shunga are generally positive towards sexual pleasure for all. Official life in this period was governed by strict Confucian laws, but private life was less controlled in practice. Shunga is in some ways a unique phenomenon in pre-modern world culture, in terms of the quantity, the quality and the nature of the art that was produced. This catalogue of a major exhibition at the British Museum marks the culmination of a substantial international research project and aims to answer some key questions about what shunga was and why it was produced. In particular the social and cultural contexts for sex art in Japan are explored. Erotic Japanese art was heavily suppressed in Japan from the 1870s onwards as part of a process of cultural ‘modernisation’ that imported many contemporary western moral values. Only in the last 20 years or so has it been possible to publish unexpurgated examples in Japan and this ground-breaking publication presents this fascinating art in its historical and cultural context for the first time. Drawing on the latest scholarship from the leading experts in the field and featuring over 400 images of works from major public and private collections, this landmark book looks at painted and printed erotic images produced in Japan during the Edo period (1600-1868) and early Meiji era (1868-1912). These are related to the wider contexts of literature, theatre, the culture of the pleasure quarters, and urban consumerism; and interpreted in terms of their sensuality, reverence, humour and parody. Accompanies the exhibition at the BM.
Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art
By Andreas Marks, University of Washington Press,
ISBN 978-0966285987, £16.99
Modern Twist explores the evocative, sensual, and sculptural power of contemporary bamboo art. Bamboo is a quintessential part of Japanese culture, shaping the country’s social, artistic, and spiritual landscape. Although bamboo is an abundant natural resource, it is a challenging artistic medium with fewer than 100 professional bamboo artists in Japan today. Mastering the art form requires decades of meticulous practice while learning how to harvest, split, and plait the bamboo. The book features 17 of these artists and 38 of their innovative and imaginatively crafted sculptures. Two of the artists have been named Living National Treasures by the Japanese government: Katsushiro Soho and Fujinamu Noboru. Modern Twist celebrates artists who have helped to redefine a traditional craft as a modern genre, inventing unexpected new forms and pushing the medium to new levels of conceptual, technical, and artistic ingenuity.
Art and War in Japan and its Empire: 1931-1960
Brill, ISBN 978-9004229006, US$178
Art and War in Japan and its Empire: 1931-1960 is an anthology that investigates the impact of the Fifteen-Year War (1931-1945) on artistic practices and brings together 20 scholars including art historians, historians, and museum curators from the United States, Canada, France, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. This will be the first art-historical anthology that examines responses to the war within and outside Japan in the wartime and post-war period. The anthology will scrutinize official and unofficial war artists who recorded, propagated, or resented the war; explore the unprecedented trans-nationality of artistic activity under Japan’s colonial expansion; and consider the role of today’s museum institutions in remembering the war through art.
Everyday Life in Joseon-Era Korea
Edited by Michael D. Shin, Brill, ISBN 9789004261129, US$135
Everyday Life in Joseon-Era Korea shows how the momentous changes of the time transformed the lives of the common people. In 23 chapters, the book covers topics ranging from agriculture, commerce, and mining to education, marriage, and food culture. It examines how both the spread of Neo-Confucianism in the early Joseon period and its decline from the seventeenth century impacted economic and social life. The book also demonstrates that much of what is thought of as ancient Korean tradition actually developed in the Joseon period. Chapters in this book discuss how customs such as ancestor worship, the use of genealogies, and foods such as kimchi all originated, or became, widespread in this era.
Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom
By Soyoung Lee and Denise Patry Leidy, Yale University Press/Metropolitan Museum of Art, ISBN 978-0300197020, £45
This catalogue accompanies the Met’s in New York current exhibition. The Silla Kingdom, which flourished in Korea from 57 BC to AD 935, is known for its intricately crafted ornaments, many in resplendent gold, and for the creation of prominent Buddhist temples. Silla focuses on the striking artistic traditions of the Old and Unified Silla Kingdoms (4th-8th century), and is the first publication in English to explore the artistic and cultural legacy of this ancient realm. Among the topics explored are Korea’s position as the eastern culmination of the Silk Road in the first millennium and the character and evolution of Buddhism, as illuminated by objects from major monuments, temples and tombs. The book also presents new research about Silla’s ancient capital, Gyeongju, which is known for the Gyerim-ro Dagger, as well as the pottery, glass and beads discovered in tombs located there. The volume is a good introduction to the glory that was the Silla kingdom.
By Andreas Marks, Brill, ISBN 9789004191464, US$129
The Tokaido highway, connecting Edo with Kyoto, was the most vital thoroughfare in Japan. Its cultural presence in pre- to early-modern Japanese society led to the publication of woodblock print series, such as the widely known landscape prints by Hiroshige, that took this famous road as their theme. The prints of Utagawa Kunisada, the most sought-after woodblock print designer of his day, represent a different treatment of the Tokaido, in which popular kabuki actors in specific roles are paired with Tokaido post stations. This study discusses the phenomenon of serialisation in Japanese prints outlining its marketing mechanisms and concepts. It then proceeds to unravel Kunisada’s pairings of post-stations and kabuki roles, which served as puzzles for his audience to decipher. Finally, this study analyses Kunisada’s methods when he invented and developed these patterns.
From Postwar to Postmodern: Art in Japan 1945-1989
By Doryun Chong, edited by
Michio Hayashi and Fumihiko Sumitomo,
Duke University Press/MoMA,
ISBN 978-0822353683, £26.99
A trove of primary source materials, From Postwar to Postmodern, Art in Japan 1945-1989 is an invaluable scholarly resource for readers who wish to explore the fascinating subject of avant-garde art in post-war Japan. In this comprehensive anthology, an array of key documents, artist manifestos, critical essays, and roundtable discussions are translated into English for the first time. The pieces cover a broad range of artistic mediums, including photography, film, performance, architecture, and design, and illuminate their various points of convergence in the Japanese context. The collection is organised chronologically and thematically to highlight significant movements, works, and artistic phenomena, such as the pioneering artist collectives Gutai and Hi Red Center, the influential photography periodical Provoke, and the emergence of video art in the 1980s. Interspersed throughout the volume are more than 20 newly commissioned texts by contemporary scholars. Including Bert Winther-Tamaki on art and the Occupation,
and Reiko Tomii on the Yomiuri Independent Exhibition, these pieces supplement and provide a historical framework for the primary source materials.
The Beauty of the Moment: Women in Japanese Woodblock Prints
By Katharina Epprecht, University of Chicago Press/Rietberg Museum,
ISBN 978-3858813572, £34.50
During the heyday of the Japanese coloured woodblock print around 1800, an ordinary print filled the same purpose as modern commercial graphic art. Mainly because of European art lovers’ growing enthusiasm for these subtle, refined compositions, some artists and their work soon gained worldwide recognition and fame. Capturing the fugitive moment is a key element of Japanese woodblock prints, for which Japanese language has the term ukiyo-e, ‘images of the fluid, transient world’. Bijin-ga, ‘images of beautiful women’ is a specific kind of such prints, paying tribute to women by capturing a moment of irretrievable magic. This graceful look of a self-assured beauty in a moment of private intimacy has stimulated many artists to create their greatest works. The Beauty of the Moment presents around 100 Bijin-ga by the best known masters of Japanese woodblock printing. Included are particularly exquisite pieces using kirazuri, a technique using powdered brass or mica dust highly polished on a light film of glue to imitate gold dust on the surface of the print. This is the catalogue that accompanied the Rietberg exhibition.
Japonisme and the Rise of the Modern Art Movement: The Arts of the Meiji Period
By Gregory Irvine and Tayfun Belqin, Thames & Hudson,
ISBN 978-0500239131, £45
From the 1860s through to the early 20th century, the rise of Japonisme and the Art Nouveau movement meant that few could ignore or resist the obsession with all things Japanese. Superbly crafted and often highly decorated Japanese objects lacquer, metalwork, ceramics, enamels and other decorative items excited, stimulated and inspired Western artists and craftsmen to produce their own works. Arts of the Meiji period (1868-1912) were displayed at international exhibitions, galleries of influential dealers and at fashionable stores in London, Paris and Vienna. This book includes many examples of the superlatively designed and executed decorative arts of the Meiji periods from the Khalili Collection, the greatest collection of Meiji period art in the world. Artists such as Van Gogh, Whistler, Monet, Manet, Klimt and Schiele were all, to varying degrees, influenced by the arts of Japan. Van Gogh said that he owed his inspiration to Japanese art, but even he was probably not aware of just how much art in Europe had already been greatly influenced by that of Japan.
Passions of an Elegant Lady: Asian Textiles of the Hammonds Collection
By Clarissa von Spee, Walter Bruno Brix, Alan Kennedy, Dietrich Reimer,
ISBN 978-3496014768, £30
Complete with essays on the East Asian art collection at the MCH Foundation, the collector Magdalene C. Hammonds, and the development of East Asian textiles, this inventory catalogue traces the development of complex silk fabrics in China and Japan. Splendid costumes of the Noh theatre, robes and obi belts of elegant ladies, and Buddhist priests’ opulent garments provide fascinating insights into the technical sophistication and abundance of Chinese and Japanese patterns displayed in the collection.
Gutai: Splendid Playground
By Ming Tiampo and Alexandra Munroe, The Guggenheim Foundation,
ISBN 978-0892074891, £40
Published in conjunction with the first US museum retrospective ever devoted to Gutai, exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Gutai: Splendid Playground surveys the influential collective and artistic movement. This exhibition catalogue aims to demonstrate the range of bold and innovative creativity present in the avant-garde movement, to examine the aesthetic strategies in the cultural, social, and political context of postwar Japan and the West, and to further establish Gutai in an expanded, transnational history and critical discourse of modern art. Organised thematically and chronologically to explore Gutai’s unique approach to materials, process and performativity, this publication investigates the groups radical experimentation across a range of media and styles, and demonstrates how individual artists pushed the limits of what art could be or mean in a post-atomic era. The range includes painting (gestural abstraction and post-constructivist abstraction), conceptual art, experimental performance and film, indoor and outdoor installation art, sound art, mail art, interactive or playful art, light art and kinetic art. Illustrating both iconic Gutai and lesser-known works, this catalogue presents a rich survey reflecting new scholarship, especially on so-called late Gutai works dating from 1965 to 1972.
By Philippe Dagen, Michel Enrici and Ukai Satoshi, Actes Sud, ISBN 978-2330019099, £55
Lee Ufan is a major figure of Asian contemporary art and, in 2011, his exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, demonstrated the universal character of his creations. Born in Korea, he initially worked on poetry and philosophy. He went on to produce his first works in Japan before his reputation developed internationally. His classical training inspires universalism and artistic movements engendering form, space, and natural and human creations. His radical work, with its minimalist movement, seems directed at the music of the spheres rather than the murmuring of the world. He is never far from the headlines, and his sovereign work appears as an antidote to our image- saturated civilisation. This original monograph, the first published in French, brings together Lee Ufan’s complete iconography, as well as biographical documents.
The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia
By Andrie Lankov, Oxford University Press USA, ISBN 978-0199964291, £16.99
Andrei Lankov has gone where few outsiders have ever been. A native of the former Soviet Union, he lived as an exchange student in North Korea in the 1980s. He has studied it for his entire career, using his fluency in Korean and personal contacts to build a rich, nuanced understanding. Lankov substitutes clear analysis for the rhetoric surrounding this opaque state. After providing an accessible history of the nation, he turns his focus to what North Korea is, what its leadership thinks, and how its people cope with living in such an oppressive and poor place. He argues that North Korea is not irrational, and nothing shows this better than its continuing survival against all odds. Its leaders are not ideological zealots or madmen, but perhaps the best practitioners of Machiavellian politics that can be found in the modern world. Even though they preside over a failed state, they have successfully used diplomacy-including nuclear threats-to extract support from other nations. But while the people in charge have been ruthless and successful in holding on to power, Lankov goes on to argue that this cannot continue forever, since the old system is slowly falling apart. In the long run, with or without reform, the regime is unsustainable …
The Impossible State: North Korea Past and Future
By Victor Cha, Vintage,
ISBN 978-0099578659, £8.99
In North Korea, citizens found humming South Korean pop songs risk being sent to a gulag for six months of hard labour. Jail sentences are handed out if portraits of the late Kim Jong-il are not properly dusted. Shoot-to-kill orders are in effect for anyone caught trying to cross the Yalu or Tumen Rivers into China.Yet despite this, an oppressed, starving populace clings fiercely to its new Dear Leader, Kim Jong-un, and signs with the revolutionary slogan ‘We have nothing to envy’ line the streets of Pyongyang. So how did North Korea become this Impossible State? What does the future hold for a regime with terrifying nuclear ambitions and a seemingly endless war with its southern counterpart? Former White House adviser Victor Cha pulls back the curtain on the world’s most isolated country to provide an unprecedented and timely insight into North Korea’s history, present and future.
South and West Asia, Himalayas
Gandharan Buddhist Reliquaries
By David Jongeward, Elizabeth Errington, Richard Salomon. And Stefan Baums, University of Washington Press,
ISBN 978-0295992365, £50
Gandhara, the ancient name for the region around modern Peshawar in northern Pakistan, was of pivotal importance in the production of Buddhist texts and art in the first centuries. Since the mid-19th century, excavations of Gandharan monastery sites have revolutionised the study of early Buddhism. Among the treasures unearthed are hundreds of reliquaries – containers housing relics of the Buddha. This volume combines art history, Buddhist history, ancient Indian history, archaeology, epigraphy, linguistics, and numismatics to clarify the significance and function of these objects. The story begins with the Buddha’s last days, his death and funerary arrangements, and the distribution of the cremated remains, which initiated a relic cult. Chapters describe Gandharan reliquary types and subgroups, the archaeological and historical significance of collections, and the paleographic and linguistic interpretation of the inscriptions on the reliquaries. The 400 reliquaries illustrated and surveyed are from museums and private collections in Pakistan, India, Japan, Europe, and North America. Stone is the primary material of construction, along with bronze, gold, and silver. Shapes range from spherical and cylindrical to miniature stupas, a configuration that provides valuable information about the history of this Buddhist monumental form.
The Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Ancient Kashmir and its Influences
By John Siudmak, Brill,
ISBN 9789004243156, US$203
The Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Ancient Kashmir and Its Influences is primarily based on the study of the largely unpublished corpus of sculpture, mostly of stone, in the Sri Pratap Singh Museum in Srinagar, and of other examples in situ elsewhere in the valley. The disparate nature and fragmentary condition of these sculptures as well as their artistic and iconographical influences have for long defied accurate analysis. The method used in the classification of these sculptures is based on close analysis of their style concentrating on recurring features such as facial and physical typology, modelling, dress and ornamentation. Comparisons are made with other examples of Kashmir bronze, ivory and stone sculpture in private and public collections both within India and abroad.
Gandhi Before India
By Ramachandra Guha, Allen Lane, ISBN 978-1846142666, £30
The is the first volume of the definitive biography of Gandhi, one of the most remarkable figures of the 20th century, from the historian Ramachandra Guha, this book is one of the most remarkable and potent in the modern era. The new biography by Ramachandra Guha allows us to understand the personality and politics of Mohandas Gandhi and shows that Gandhi’s ideas were fundamentally shaped before his return to India in 1915. Gandhi Before India is the extraordinarily vivid portrait of the formative years he spent in England and South Africa, where he developed the techniques that would undermine and ultimately destroy the British Empire. Ramachandra Guha depicts a world of sharp contrasts between the coastal culture of Gujarat, High Victorian London and colonial South Africa, where settlers from India, Britain and elsewhere battled for their share of this rich and newly despoiled land. Drawing on many new sources located in archives across four continents, Guha sensitively explores the many facets of Gandhi’s life and struggles.
Mohan Samant: Paintings
By Ranjit Hoskote, Marcella Sirhandi and Jeffrey Wechsler, Mappin, ISBN 978-1935677314, £80
Mohan Samant (1924-2004) was among the earliest of the post-Independence modern Indian artists to train in India and settle as a successful mature artist in the West. He has been called ‘one of the few artists who has successfully made the bridge between Eastern and Western traditions’. Born in Mumbai, Samant received his diploma from the Sir JJ School of Art in 1952, where he had studied under S B Palsikar. That year he joined the Progressive Artists Group. Extended periods abroad – 1957-58 in Rome and travel in Europe and Egypt, 1959-64 in New York City – preceded his leaving Mumbai permanently for New York in 1968, where he lived until his death in 2004. These two volumes present a comprehensive overview of Samant’s life and work. Also included are essays on Samant’s place in the development of modernism in post-Independence India, a chronological survey of the styles, techniques and themes employed by the artist, and analyses of the media and techniques he utilised.
Midnight to the Boom
By Susan Beam and Homi K Bhabha, Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500238936, £29.95
Following independence in 1947, India’s artists faced a particular challenge: how to express the new nations distinctive character while entering a global discourse focused on modernisms universal premises of experimentation and shared human values. In the absence of a dominant aesthetic, painters could turn where they wished and blend as they liked from Abstract Expressionism to Tantric spiritualism; from Rajasthani painting to changes in India’s complex politics, religions, castes and daily life. This well illustrated study, published to accompany the exhibition organised by the Peabody Essex Museum in the US, surveys the three generations of artists responsible for these critical shifts in the development of India’s modernist art. It shows how their achievements and the country’s unprecedented boom ushered India’s modern and contemporary art into a new era of globalism, a soaring international market, and an explosion in the media and technologies of art.
Edited by Ranjit Hoskote, Prestel, ISBN 978-3791348339, £45
Atul Dodiya’s complex and vibrant works draw on western influences and eastern traditions. This book captures Dodiya’s enormous range – from his early photo-realist paintings depicting middle-class life to his daring and ingenious assemblages that brilliantly fuse European and Indian artistic styles, history, and cultural references. In addition to reproductions of Dodiya’s colourful art, this volume includes a brand new interview with the artist and brings together informed and thoughtful essays written by critics and curators.
Tribal Architecture in Northeast India
By René Kolkman and Stuart Blackburn, Brill, ISBN 9789004255968, US$169
Traditional houses among the tribal populations of northeast India have long attracted the interest of anthropologists and visitors. Until now, however, they have not been carefully documented. René Kolkman, a professional architect in Amsterdam, studied the homes of 37 different ethnic groups in Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. His detailed drawings, photographs and personal stories show us the diversity of living spaces in this fascinating cultural area. Longhouses and square houses, built on platforms, built on plinths and housing as many as 86 people, these traditional houses are distinct. And although they have changed and are changing still, each of these 34 individual house-types remains immediately recognisable.
Beyond Extravagance: A Royal Collection of Gems and Jewellery
Edited by Dr Amin Jaffer, Assouline,
ISBN 978-1614281290, £165
This large and extravagant book presents a journey through the history of Indian jewellery reflected in the Al-Thani private collection and presents the diverse traditions of Indian jewellery through pieces that span over 400 years. Featuring Golconda diamonds, Kashmir sapphires, Burmese rubies and Colombian emeralds, the collection shows the different eras and evolution in styles and techniques in court jewellery from the peak of the Mughal Imperial patronage to the rich commissions of Maharajas under the British Raj, the celebrated Indian commissions of Cartier to the inventive creations of the 21st century. Chapters on Mughal jewellery have been written by Dr Robert Skelton, a leading figure in the field and former keeper of the Indian Department at the V&A, and Michael Spink, who bring a breadth of experience and an acute understanding of the technique and technology of Indian jewellery production. Dr Jack Ogden, a renowned gemmologist and gem historian has written on the use of precious stones in Indian jewellery, while Dr Katherine Prior, co-author of Maharajas’ Jewels, and Judy Rudoe, curator of the 1997 Cartier exhibition at the British Museum, have explored the encounter between Indian jewellery and the West. Vivienne Becker adds meaning and relevance to the contemporary pieces in the collection.
Realms of Wonder
Jain Hindu and Islamic Art of India
Edited by James Bennett, Art Gallery of South Australia, ISBN 978-1921668166, A$49.95
This book accompanies the exhibition of the same name currently on show at the museum. It explores the rich heritage of Indian art, as defined by the great spiritual traditions of Jain, Hindu and Islamic belief. The catalogue presents, for the first time, highlights of the Art Gallery’s collection of Indian art in all its diversity, as well as featuring an important array of works of art from Australian private collections. James Bennett, Curator of Asian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia and the catalogue’s editor, has worked with eighteen of the foremost scholars in their fields of expertise, including writers from India, Australia, Europe and the United States, to convey a nuanced understanding of the significance and beauty of each object. Available on line from www.artgallery.sa.gov.au
Calcutta: Two Years in the City
By Amit Chaudhuri, Union Books,
ISBN 978-1908526182, £8.99
In 1999, Amit Chaudhuri moved back to Calcutta, the city in which he was born. It was a place he had loved in his youth and the place he had made his name writing about. But upon his return he discovered that the Calcutta of his imagination had receded and another had taken its place. Lyrical, observant and profound, Calcutta is a personal account of two years (2009-2011) spent in one of the least known, yet greatest cities of our time. Using the historic elections of 2011 as a fulcrum, Chaudhuri looks back to the 19th century, when the city burst with a new vitality, and towards the 21st, when – utterly changed – it seems to be on the verge of another turn. Along the way he evokes all that is most particular and extraordinary. From the homeless and the working class to the old, declining haute bourgeois; from the new malls and hotels to old houses being destroyed by developers; from politicians on their way out to the city’s fitful attempts to embrace globalisation, Calcutta brings a multifarious universe to life.
An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions
By Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen, Allen Lane, ISBN 978-1846147616, £20
When India regained independence from colonial rule in 1947, it immediately adopted a firmly democratic political system, with multiple parties, freedom of speech and extensive political rights. The famines of the British era disappeared, and steady economic growth replaced stagnation, accelerating further over the last three decades to make India’s growth the second fastest among large economies. Despite its current dip, it is still one of the highest in the world.
Drèze and Sen argue that the country’s main problems lie in the disregarding of the essential needs of the people. There have been major failures both to foster participatory growth and to make good use of the public resources generated by economic growth to enhance people’s living conditions; social and physical services remain inadequate, from schooling and medical care to safe water, electricity, and sanitation. In the long run, even high economic growth is threatened by the underdevelopment of infrastructure and the neglect of human capabilities, in contrast with the holistic approach pioneered by Japan, South Korea and China. In a democracy, addressing these failures requires not only significant policy change, but also a clearer public understanding of the abysmal extent of deprivation in the country. Yet public discussion in India tends to be constricted to the lives and concerns of the relatively affluent.
Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire
By JP Losty and Malini Roy, British Library, ISBN 978-0712358712, £19.95
One of the most powerful and exotic of all the world’s great dynasties, the Mughals ruled India from 1526 to 1858. During this time they produced an astonishing number of rulers of outstanding ability, who operated in a hugely diverse and complex religious, linguistic and social environment. The Mughals were great patrons of the arts, using them to underpin their political position and leaving behind a particularly rich legacy of visual art. This book showcases the British Library’s extensive collection of illustrated manuscripts and paintings that were commissioned by Mughal emperors and other officials and depict the splendour and vibrant colour of Mughal life. The exquisitely decorated works span four centuries, from the foundation of the Mughal dynasty by Babur in the sixteenth century, through the heights of the empire and the ‘Great’ Mughal emperors of the 17th century, into the decline and eventual collapse in the 19th century. The lavish artworks cover a variety of subject matter, from scenes of courtly life including lively hunting parties and formal portraits of emperors to illustrations of works of literature, which manage to convey complex storylines in a single image, and dramatic panoramas of Indian landscapes. The development of a Mughal style of art can be traced through the illustrations and paintings, as can the influence of European styles, originally as imported exotica. Many of these works have never been published before.
Aghanistan: A Cultural and Political History
By Thomas Barfield,
Princeton University Press,
ISBN 978-0691154411, £11.95
Afghanistan traces the historic struggles and the changing nature of political authority in this volatile region of the world, from the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth century to the Taliban resurgence today. Thomas Barfield introduces readers to the bewildering diversity of tribal and ethnic groups in Afghanistan, explaining what unites them as Afghans despite the regional, cultural, and political differences that divide them. He shows how governing these peoples was relatively easy when power was concentrated in a small dynastic elite, but how this delicate political order broke down in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when Afghanistan’s rulers mobilized rural militias to expel first the British and later the Soviets. Armed insurgency proved remarkably successful against the foreign occupiers, but it also undermined the Afghan government’s authority and rendered the country ever more difficult to govern as time passed. Barfield vividly describes how Afghanistan’s armed factions plunged the country into a civil war, giving rise to clerical rule by the Taliban and Afghanistan’s isolation from the world. He examines why the American invasion in the wake of September 11 toppled the Taliban so quickly, and how this easy victory lulled the United States into falsely believing that a viable state could be built just as easily.
Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan
By William Dalrymple, Bloomsbury,
ISBN 978-1408818305, £25
In the spring of 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan for the first time. Led by lancers in scarlet cloaks and plumed shakos, nearly 20,000 British and East India Company troops poured through the high mountain passes and re-established on the throne Shah Shuja ul-Mulk. On the way in, the British faced little resistance. But after two years of occupation, the Afghan people rose in answer to the call for jihad and the country exploded into violent rebellion. The First Anglo-Afghan War ended in Britain’s greatest military humiliation of the nineteenth century: an entire army of the then most powerful nation in the world ambushed in retreat and utterly routed by poorly equipped tribesmen. The book is an analysis of the First Afghan War, told through the lives of characters on all sides and using contemporary Afghan accounts of
Crossing The Bay of Bengal: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrants
By Sunil S Amrith, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0674724839, £22.96
The Indian Ocean was global long before the Atlantic, and today the countries bordering the Bay of Bengal: India, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia are home to one in four people on Earth. The book places this region at the heart of world history for the first time. Integrating human and environmental history, and mining a wealth of sources, Sunil Amrith gives a revelatory and stirring new account of the Bay and those who have inhabited it. For centuries the Bay of Bengal served as a maritime highway between India and China, and then as a battleground for European empires, all while being shaped by the monsoons and by human migration. Imperial powers in the nineteenth century, helped by the force of capital and the power of steam, reconfigured the Bay in their quest for coffee, rice, and rubber. Millions of Indian migrants crossed the sea, bound by debt or spurred by drought, and filled with ambition. Booming port cities like Singapore and Penang became the most culturally diverse societies of their time. By the 1930s, however, economic, political, and environmental pressures began to erode the Bay’s centuries-old patterns of interconnection. Today, rising waters leave the Bay of Bengal’s shores especially vulnerable to climate change, at the same time that its location makes it central to struggles over Asia’s future. Amrith’s evocative and compelling narrative of the region’s pasts offers insights critical to understanding and confronting the many challenges facing Asia in the decades ahead.
The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas, at the Dallas Museum of Art
By Anne Bromberg, et al, Yale University Press/Dallas Museum of Art,
ISBN 978-0300149883, £45
In recent years, the Dallas Museum of Art has expanded its collection of South Asian art from a small number of Indian temple sculptures to nearly 500 works, including Indian Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, Himalayan Buddhist bronze sculptures and ritual objects, artwork from Southeast Asia, and decorative arts from India’s Mughal period. Artworks in the collection have origins from the former Ottoman empire to Java, and architectural pieces suggest the grandeur of buildings in the Indian tradition. This volume details the cultural and artistic significance of more than 140 featured works, which range from Tibetan thangkas and Indian miniature paintings to stone sculptures and bronzes.
Relating these works to one another through interconnecting narratives and cross-references, scholars and curators provide a broad cultural history of
Gendun Chopal: Tibet’s First Modern Artist
By Donald S Lopez Jr, Serinidia,
ISBN 978-1932476613, US$40
Gendun Chopel (1903-1951) is widely regarded as one of the most important Tibetan figures of the twentieth century, famous for his skills as a poet and infamous for his controversial views. In November 2003 an event was held at Trace Foundation’s Latse Library in New York to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth. It brought together from all over the world Tibetans who had known Gendun Chopel, as students, friends, and family members, as well as American, European, Chinese, and Tibetan scholars of Gendun Chopel’s life and works. This volume brings together their many insights into this multifaceted figure. Gendun Chopel was also a talented artist, developing a style previously unknown in the long and illustrious history of Tibetan painting. Presented here for the first time are Gendun Chopel’s remarkable watercolours and pencil sketches, works that attest to yet another of his many distinctions: as Tibet’s first modern artist.
The Illuminated Life of the Great Yolmowa
By Benjamin Bogin, Serinida,
ISBN 978-1932476668, US$60
Yolmowa Tenzin Norbu, renowned as a tantric adept, teacher, author, and painter, was one of the most fascinating figures of 17th-century Tibet, a century of towering Buddhist masters. He is particularly famous for his autobiography. Writing in a direct and candid style marked by profound insight and maverick humour, he explores the challenges of embodying the Buddha’s teachings. He accompanied his autobiography with his own full-colour illustrations. These images are the only known examples of a Tibetan visual autobiography. Yolmowa’s autobiography is translated here for the first time. Opening with an informative essay on his life and times, this volume brings to life all 44 of the autobiographical illustrations, presented here with explanatory essays providing detailed analyses of each. Benjamin Bogin is assistant professor of Buddhist studies in the Theology Department at Georgetown University.
The Place of Provenance: Regional Styles in Tibetan Painting
By David P Jackson, Rubin Museum of Art, ISBN 978-0984519057, £50
Historians of Tibetan painting struggle to establish such basic points as iconographical content, place of origin, age, religious affiliation, and painting school or style, especially when confronted by portable works that were removed from their original monasteries and scattered throughout the world. In this book, the authors locate paintings geographically using a method similar to that used for locating paintings in time. In both cases they identify the historical people connected with the painting by analyzing the portraits, inscriptions, and lineages that it contains. Then, by establishing where the key people involved in the painting lived and died, and with which monasteries and traditions they were most closely linked, they draw conclusions about the painting’s provenance and style, providing a bedrock of scholarship to support a new era in the field of Tibetan art history.
Celestial Realms: The Art of Nepal from California Collections
By Nancy Tingley, Crocker Art Museum, ISBN 978-1884038242, £23.99
The Kathmandu Valley is the most populated region of Nepal, and the Newar, probable descendants of the Kirati who settled in the Valley in the first millennium BC, have for centuries created the art featured in Celestial Realms. In addition to Hindu and Buddhist sculpture and paintings, tribal works from the middle hill region are also included, providing a contrast with Newar production. Nancy Tingley is an independent scholar whose most recent exhibitions include Arts of Ancient Viet Nam: From River Plain to Open Sea at Asia Society, New York, and Buddhas at the Crocker Art Museum.
Secrets of Tibetan Weaving: The Greensmith Collection
By Karma Trinley Darchen and
Rupert Smith, published by the Greensmith Collection
This is the revised, third edition of the book that documents a collection of Tibetan carpets and textiles along with illustrations of weavers and dyers. Chapters include The Origins of Tibetan Weaving, Looms and Techniques, The Making of Tibetan Rugs, Chequer Rugs (Shomig), Cushions, Gampa Dzong Carpets, Gyantse Carpets, Horse Trappings, Wangden Monastic Carpets.
Lacquerware Journeys: The Untold Story of Burmese Lacquer
By Than Htun, River Books, ISBN 978-6167339238, £35
This book is a record of both the famous and lesser-known lacquerware centres of Myanmar. Over a six-year period, the author and photographic team travelled to visit peoples such as the Gadu-Ganan in Sagaing division, or sites in Lower Burma in order to find the most beautiful and meticulous lacquerware. All types of lacquerware, whether plain black and red, elaborately gilded or intricately incised, are discussed and illustrated in over 660 photographs. The diverse and inventive shapes produced by the craftsmen of Myanmar are also recorded, together with makers’ marks and other fascinating inscriptions wherever found. In addition, new research from Lower Burma focuses on and provides detailed information about the lacquerware masters of this region and their workshops. Despite popular and scholarly beliefs that lacquerware came exclusively from Upper Burma, recent research shows otherwise. The author has carried out extensive interviews with the descendants of laquerware masters still living in small villages in this region which saw production spanning a period from the 1890s until the Second World War. Furthermore, the unusual meal carriers of Rakhine state on the west coast of Burma, its masters, their names and production sites are published here for the first time. This beautifully-illustrated book goes beyond the established centres of Burmese lacquerware such as Bagan and the Shan State to document the wide diversity of these unique works of art throughout the lesser-travelled and usually inaccessible areas of Myanmar.
Following the Cap-Figure in Majapahit Temple Reliefs
By Lydia Kieven, Brill,
ISBN 9789067183888, US$142
Subtitled A New Look at the Religious Function of East Javanese Temples, 14th and 15th centuries, this book follows male figures wearing a cap (cap-figures) in temple reliefs of the Javanese Majapahit period (circa 1300-1500) and leads to astonishing results on their meaning and function. The cap-figures, representing commoners, servants, warriors, noblemen, and most significantly Prince Panji, the hero from the East Javanese Panji stories, are unique to depictions of non-Indic narratives. The cap-figure constitutes a prominent example of Majapahit’s creativity in new concepts of art, literature and religion, independent from the Indian influence. More than that, the symbolic meaning of the cap-figures leads to an esoteric level: a pilgrim who followed the depictions of the cap-figures and of Panji in the temples would have been guided to the Tantric doctrine within Hindu-Buddhist religion.
Dutch Commerce and Chinese Merchants in Java
By Alexander Claver, Brill,
ISBN 9789004256576, US$190
Trading enterprise figures prominently in Indonesian history. Commercial activities penetrated deep into the economy, politics and society of the former Dutch East Indies. Dutch Commerce and Chinese Merchants in Java describes this, largely forgotten, world of commerce. During the period 1800-1942 this vanished world was, however, bustling. Merchants of very different background and stature cooperated and competed with each other. Trading relations were forged and dissolved, contracts were honoured and broken, fortunes were made and lost. Using unpublished archival sources in Indonesia and the Netherlands, Alexander Claver recounts the diverse trading mechanisms, complex credit relations and countless participants involved. How Dutch, Chinese, and Arab traders related to each other in such demanding business environment is the fascinating story of this book.
Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art
Edited by Reimer Schefold, Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300184952, £45
Eyes of the Ancestors takes an in-depth look at the Dallas Museum of Art’s world-renowned collection of artworks from Island Southeast Asia. Beautiful photography and essays by distinguished international scholars unlock the magic of the island cultures of Indonesia, Sarawak, and East Timor. Leading anthropologist Reimar Schefold introduces these texts, which investigate various indigenous art forms from a fresh art-historical perspective. They describe the contexts, purposes, and aesthetic influences of a range of objects, from intricately woven sacred and ceremonial textiles to carved ancestor figures. Also featured are gold and metalwork designs as well as weaponry and jewellery, most dating back more than a hundred years. An illuminating read.
Contemporary Indonesian Film
By Katinka van Heeren,
Brill, ISBN 9789004261501, US$134
This highly informative book explores the world of Post-Soeharto Indonesian audio-visual media in the exiting era of Reform. From a multidisciplinary approach it considers a wide variety of issues such as mainstream and alternative film practices, ceremonial and independent film festivals, film piracy, history and horror, documentary, television soaps, and Islamic films, as well as censorship from the state and street. Through the perspective of discourses on, and practices of film production, distribution, and exhibition, this book gives a detailed insight into current issues of Indonesia’s social and political situation, where Islam, secular realities, and ghosts on and off screen, mingle or clash.
The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts His Past
By Rithy Panh with Christopher Bataille, Clerkenwell Press, ISBN 978-1846689291, £11.99
From 1975 to 1979 ‘Comrade’ Duch was in charge of S 21, the security prison at the heart of Phnom Penh where 12,380 people were tortured and executed, having confessed to imaginary betrayals of the regime. After his film S21, which brought survivors and executioners from the Khmer Rouge era together, Rithy Panh decided to film Duch in prison. During 300 hours of filming he confronts the man in charge of the campaign of extermination, tries to understand his personal history, his ideology, his methods. He talks to him about how he recruited his torturers, but also about his passion for numbers, for order.The process of confronting Duch every day, his cruelty, his evasions, his laugh draws Rithy Panh back to the past and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge era.
Golden Parasol: A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma
By Wendy Law-Yone, Chatto & Windus, ISBN 978-0701186111, £17.99
At the time of Burma’s military coup in 1962, Wendy Law-Yone was fifteen. A year later, her father Ed Law-Yone, daredevil proprietor of The Nation newspaper, was arrested and his newspaper shut down. Eventually, Wendy was herself briefly imprisoned before managing to escape the country. Ed would spend five years as a political prisoner. But from the moment he was freed he set about forming a government-in-exile in neighbouring Thailand. There he tried, unsuccessfully, to stage a revolution. Yet even after emmigrating to America, he never gave up hope for the restoration of democracy in Burma. He died disappointed – but not before placing in his daughter’s hands an extraordinary bequest.
Ed had asked Wendy for help in editing his papers, but year after year she avoided the daunting task. When at last she found the confidence to take up the neglected manuscript, she discovered a captivating saga. Here was the forceful testimony of an ambitious, audacious, idiosyncratic and above all determined patriot whose career had spanned Burma under colonial rule, under Japanese occupation, through the turbulence of the post-war years, and into the catastrophe of a military dictatorship. The result of this discovery is Golden Parasol: a unique portrait of Burma, a nation whose vicissitudes continue to intrigue the world. It is also a powerfully evocative family memoir: a daughter’s journey of reconciliation that illuminates the twin histories of country and kin.
The King in Exile: The Fall of the Royal Family of Burma
By Sudha Shah, HarperCollins India,
ISBN 978-9350292266, £25.35
After a war against Britain in 1885, their kingdom was lost, and the family exiled to the secluded town of Ratnagiri in British-occupied India. Here they lived, closely guarded, for over 31 years. The king’s four daughters received almost no education, and their social interaction was restricted mainly to their staff. As the princesses grew, so did their hopes and frustrations. Two of them fell in love with ‘highly inappropriate’ men. In 1916, the heartbroken king died. Queen Supayalat and her daughters were permitted to return to Rangoon in 1919. In Burma, the old queen regained some of her feisty spirit as visitors came by daily to pay their respects. All the princesses, however, had to make numerous adjustments in a world they had no knowledge of. The impact of the deposition and exile echoed forever in each of their lives, as it did in the lives of their children. Written after years of meticulous research, and richly supplemented with photographs and illustrations, The King in Exile is an engrossing human-interest story of this forgotten but fascinating family.
Ancient Pagan: Buddhist Plain of Merit
By Donald M Stadtner, River Books,
ISBN 978 616 7339 32 0, £16.95
Pagan is the largest and most resplendent centre of Buddhist art in the ancient world. Indeed, nearly 3,000 brick monuments dot the landscape up and down the banks of the Irrawaddy as far as the eye can see. Construction at Pagan peaked between the 11th and 13th centuries, when the city was home to the country’s kings and its chief religious personalities. Local architects mastered complex brick vaulting techniques unrivalled in Asia, while mural painters and stone carvers fashioned a distinctive style of Burmese art. By the mid-14th century the capital had shifted north to what is now the Mandalay region, and the pace of building slowed dramatically. However, the city never lost its special religious and cultural significance, furnishing a field of merit to Buddhists old and new. Burma, now known as Myanmar, was terra incognita in Southeast Asia for many decades, but the lifting of travel restrictions has made this temple city now accessible. Dr. Donald M. Stadtner, has selected thirty-three monuments that highlight Pagan’s unique history.
Where China Meets India
By Thant Myint-U, Faber,
ISBN 978-0571239641, £9.99
From their very beginnings, the civilizations of China and India have been walled off from each other, not only by the towering summits of the Himalayas, but also by the vast and impenetrable jungle, hostile tribes, and remote inland kingdoms that once stretched a thousand miles from Calcutta across Burma to the upper Yangtze River. In the next few years this last great frontier will likely vanish – forests cut down, dirt roads replaced by superhighways, insurgencies ended – leaving China and India exposed to each other as never before. This basic shift in geography is as profound as the opening of the Suez Canal. What will this change mean? Thant Myint-U is in a unique position to know. Over the past few years he has travelled extensively across this vast territory. In a region of long-forgotten kingdoms and modern-day wars, high-speed trains and gleaming new shopping malls have now come within striking distance of the last remaining forests and impoverished mountain communities. And he has pondered the new strategic centrality of Burma, the country of his ancestry, where Asia’s two rising giant powers – China and India – appear to be vying for supremacy. Part travelogue, part history, part investigation, Where China Meets India takes us across the fast-changing Asian frontier, giving us an account of the region’s long and rich history and its sudden significance for the rest of the world.
Ceramics of Seduction
By Dawn Rooney, River Books,
ISBN 978 616 7339 39 9, £40
Ceramics of Seduction – Glazed Wares from Southeast Asia provides an opportunity to see and learn about the broad range of wares, mainly glazed produced in kilns located in five countries of present-day Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Laos. Each country developed a fascinating ceramics tradition that reflects the creativity of their people and the skills of their anonymous potters. To appreciate their beauty one should keep in mind the main characteristics of these wares: simplicity of form, the earthy quality of the clay and glazes, and restrained decoration. The book illustrates some 280 pieces from the Francisco Capelo collection, assembled in the last 15 years and by whom a short foreword is included. This book includes an insightful essay by Dawn F. Rooney, an eminent art historian of Southeast Asian art.
Illuminating the Life of the Buddha
By Naomi Appleton, Sarah Shaw and To Ill
By Naomi Appleton, Sarah Shaw and Toshiya Unebe, The Bodleian Library,
ISBN 978-1851242832, £35
This well-illustrated book investigates an outstanding 18th-century example of a samut khoi, a type of folding book found in Southeast Asia, which became particularly popular as a repository for the Buddha’s teachings. Written in Pali and produced in the Kingdom of Siam, its finely executed pictures, painted on khoi paper, show key incidents from stories of the past lives of the Buddha as he prepares for Buddhahood. These tales, historically one of the principal means whereby Buddhist teachings were communicated, known as Jatakas, are a favourite theme for manuscript art. Uniquely for such manuscripts, however, this samut khoi also offers an extensive series of scenes from the last life of the Buddha, including his final awakening and teaching, which is distinctive to the region. These related narratives all contribute to a superb example of eighteenth-century manuscript and calligraphic art. As well as affording great artistic opportunities for expressing the beauty of the Buddha’s words and achievements, samut khois are repositories for popular chants and short distillations of doctrine. This book describes the context to this unusually rich expression of Thai Buddhist creativity and, in retelling the stories depicted, reveals the continued appeal of its closely related art and narrative traditions.
Dragons and Lotus Blossoms:Vietnamese Ceramics from the Birmingham Museum of Art
By John A Stevenson and Donald A Wood, University of Washington Press,
ISBN 978-0295991627, £18.99
Vietnam created the most sophisticated ceramics in Southeast Asia. Though they borrowed from China, Vietnamese potters explored their own indigenous tastes and developed their own production techniques. Blessed with the smooth gray-white clays of the Red River Valley, they created pieces that are amazingly light and thin-walled, with skilfully painted, incised, and carved decoration. Two particularly popular decorative themes were dragons (from whom the Vietnamese believed they were descended) and lotuses (considered archetypal symbols of Buddhist purity, because the flower emerges unsullied from the mud). Through a series of judicious purchases that began in the 1970s, the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, has created an extraordinary collection of Vietnamese ceramic art. Essays by three noted experts introduce the collection.
Enlightened Ways: The Many Streams of Buddist Art in Thailand
By Heidi Tan, Asian Civilisations Museum, ISBN 9789810746285, US$35
This volume was published in conjunction with an exhibition organised by the Asian Civilisations Museum earlier this year in collaboration with the Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture, Thailand. It explores the many forms of Buddhist art in Thailand through more than 100 important works. Buddhist art in Thailand draws on both Hindu and Buddhist origins and also incorporates animistic traditions. Sculptures, paintings, ceramics, textiles, and furniture are used as examples to explore the wide range and diverse influences of this artistic tradition.
Deep S.E.A. Contemporary Art from South East Asia
By Primo Giovanni Marella, Damiani,
ISBN 978-8862082846, US$45
This explores what factors might distinguish the contemporary art of South East Asia from Western aesthetic paradigms, through the work of eleven artists from eight countries. The artists featured tackle such themes as identity and memory, emotional distance and diaspora, using a variety of media, from painting to performance documentation. Each is introduced by a local art critic with international stature; the artists include Aung Ko (Myanmar), Donna Ong (Singapore), Sopheap Pich (Cambodia), Natee Utarit (Thailand), Nithakhong Somsanith (Laos), Nguyen Thái Tuan (Vietnam), Khvay Samnang (Cambodia), Aditya Novali (Indonesia), La Huy (Vietnam), Ruben Pang (Singapore) and Isabel & Alfredo Aquilizan (Philippines).
Mantai: City by the Sea
By John Carswell, Siran Deraniyagala,
Alan Graham, Linden Soft Verlag,
ISBN 978-3929290394, £56
This is the publication of the long awaited results of the excavations at Mantai in Sri Lanka between 1980 and 1984. Supported by The Metropolitan Museum, New York, The National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, D.C., The Oriental Institute in Chicago, The British Museum, London, the Ford Foundation, New York, and other institutions, this site was excavated by an international team of archaeologists, experts and graduate students. It was unexpectedly terminated in 1984 by the sudden outbreak of civil war. However, the following year much of the material was rescued, forming the basis of numerous specialist studies. Edited by Professor John Carswell, Dr Siran -Deraniyagala and Alan Graham M. A., the book contains over twenty articles, many illustrated in colour, with numerous plans and text figures. It is a vital document for the history and exploration of Mantai since the early 19th century, and is a tool for any future excavators. Even more important is Mantai’s location as the crossroads of cultural relations between China and the Western world, and also between India and Sri Lanka, resulting in the survival of material evidence for over 1,500 years, until its demise in the early 11th century. Mantai is potentially one of the most important projects in historical archaeology today.
Textiles from Borneo: The Iban, Kantu, Ketungau, and Mualang Peoples
Edited by Heribert Amann, 5 Continents, ISBN 978-8874396511, £50
The textile art from northern Borneo, made by the Iban, Kantu, Ketungau, and Mualang tribes, is highly distinctive and extraordinarily rich. This book comprises more than 150 full-page colour photographs of textiles from one of the best private collections (Amann’s own) shed new light on this timeless tradition. The works are ceremonial textiles used in rites of passage – birth, marriage, death – dyed with natural colours and woven in traditional ikat techniques with many have never having been published before. Clothing worn during ritual ceremonies are also represented.
Arts & Crafts of the Islamic Lands: Principles Materials Practice
Edited by Khaled Azzam, Thames & Hudson,
ISBN 978-0500517024, £29.95
This book celebrates the thriving world of Islamic arts and crafts, as well as presenting the rich cultural, philosophical and historical heritage that contemporary artists and craftspeople still draw on today. Based on decades of research and expertise, and written by tutors at The Princes School of Traditional Arts, one of the worlds leading schools for the study of the traditional crafts of the East and West, it provides unparalleled and authoritative access to a glorious range of techniques, methods, materials and skills.
In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
By Mary McWilliam, et al, Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300176414, £55
A major philanthropist from the Boston area, Norma Jean Calderwood assembled an extensive collection of Islamic art, ranging from austere and powerful epigraphic ceramics of the 9th and 10th centuries to the introspective realism of late 19th-century portraiture. With more than 50 pieces of ceramics, the collection represents every significant period and technique in Persian pottery. It has particular strength in illustrations of the greatest epic poem in the Persian language, the Shahnama (Book of Kings) by Abu’l-Qasim Firdawsi, and also includes beautiful examples of album painting, drawing, and calligraphy. Nine essays by diverse experts explore issues of conservation as well as the cultural and historical significance of various objects in this largely unpublished collection. Topics include the influence of calligraphic line and physical gesture on Safavid drawings; figurative imagery on Iranian ceramics; and what cobalt pigment reveals about an object’s origins.
Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic
By Michael Axworth, Allen Lane,
ISBN 978-1846142918, £25
Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Tehran in February 1979 was a key moment in post-War international politics. A large, well- populated and wealthy state suddenly committed itself to a new path: a revolution based on the supremacy of Islam and contempt for both superpowers. For over 30 years the Islamic Republic has resisted widespread condemnation, sanctions, and sustained attacks by Iraq in an eight-year war. Many policy-makers today share a weary wish that Iran would somehow just disappear as a problem. But with Iran’s continuing commitment to a nuclear programme and its reputation as a trouble-maker in Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere, this is unlikely any time soon. The slow demise of the 2009 ‘Green Revolution’ shows that Revolutionary Iran’s institutions are still formidable.
Day of God: The Revolution in Iran and its Consequences
By James Buchan, John Murray,
ISBN 978-1848540668, £25
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a turning-point in modern history. The destruction of the Iranian monarchy not only upset the political order in the Middle East and brought on a quarter-century of warfare, but introduced a new way to look at history. In Days of God James Buchan lives each moment of the revolution through the eyes of ordinary people as he tries to answer his own troubling question: why did his friends, with their peculiar Iranian dreaminess and charm, act the way they did?
In the Shadow of the Sword
By Tom Holland, Little Brown,
ISBN 978-0349122359, £25
In the 6th century, the Near East was divided between two great empires: the Persian and the Roman. A hundred years on, and one had vanished for ever, while the other was a dismembered, bleeding trunk. In their place, a new superpower had arisen: the empire of the Arabs. So profound was this upheaval that it spelled, in effect, the end of the ancient world. But the changes that marked the period were more than merely political or even cultural: there was also a transformation of human society with incalculable consequences for the future. Today, over half the world’s population subscribes to one of the various religions that took on something like their final form during the last centuries of antiquity. Wherever men or women are inspired by belief in a single god to think or behave in a certain way, they bear witness to the abiding impact of this extraordinary, convulsive age, although as Tom Holland demonstrates, much of what Jews, Christians and Muslims believe about the origins of their religion is open to debate. The book explores how a succession of great empires came to identify themselves with a new and revolutionary understanding of the divine.
Travels in Arabia Deserta
By Charles Doughty, Preface by Rory Stewart, The Folio Society, 2 Vols, £495
Charles Doughty travelled on foot and rode by camel around an area the size of France, a region so desolate that it was occupied by just a few tens of thousands of people. Initially he travelled with the Haj, the sole Christian in a caravan of 6,000 Muslim pilgrims. At Madain Saleh, half-way to Mecca, he studied monuments left by the ancient Nabataean civilisation, before travelling into the desert interior alongside a Bedouin family and other nomadic groups. He reached the city of Unayzah, and finally Jeddah, in 1878. This Folio edition celebrates the masterpiece born from his journey and includes 48 pages of contemporaneous photography, many of which have never been reproduced before. Many are the work of the Bonfils family, who set up a studio in Beirut in the 1860s and photographed people, landscapes, townscapes and monuments.
By Hans Ulrich Obrist and Marina Abramovic, Flammarion, ISBN 978-2081301115, £50
The influence of cinema is evident in Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil’s work, which oscillates between a personal photographic journal and portraits featuring internationally renowned film stars, directors,
popular musicians, artists, architects, and choreographers. He uses an unusual technique of colouring gelatine silver prints by hand or drawing over colour prints of subjects ranging from self-portraits to landscapes to portraits. This technique was inspired by seeing Egyptian artists colour film posters in his youth. Using this techniquepart photography and part painting, he creates an imaginary reality that reflects both the paradoxes of the Middle East today and the flamboyant fantasies of the golden age of Egyptian film in the cosmopolitan prerevolutionary years in Cairo.
By Jjumpa Lahiri, Bloomsbury,
ISBN 978-1408828113, £16.99
From Subhash’s earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother’s sight. So close in age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass – as US tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India – their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will upend their lives. Udayan finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty. He will give everything, risk all, for what he believes, and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him: his newly married, pregnant wife, his brother and their parents. For all of them, the repercussions of his actions will reverberate across continents and seep through the generations that follow. Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portrayal of lives undone and forged anew, The Lowland is a deeply felt novel of family ties that entangle and fray in ways unforeseen and unrevealed, of ties that ineluctably define who we are.
By Mo Yan, translated by Howard Goldblatt, Seagull Books, ISBN 978-0857420763, £19.50
The winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature offer a Kafkaesque decpiction of Chinese village life. A benign old monk listens to a prospective novice’s tale of depravity, violence, and carnivorous excess while a nice little family drama – in which nearly everyone dies – unfurls. But in this tale of sharp hatchets, bad water, and a rusty WWII mortar, we cannot help but laugh. Mo Yan’s Pow! is a comic masterpiece and in this bizarre romp through the Chinese countryside, the author treats us to a cornucopia of cooked animal flesh, ostrich, camel, donkey, and dog, as well as the more common varieties. As his dual narratives merge and feather into one another, each informing and illuminating the other, Yan probes the character and lifestyle of modern China. Displaying his many talents as fabulist, storyteller, master of allusion and cliché, and more, the book carries the reader along quickly, hungrily, and giddily, up until its surprising denouement.
The Teardrop Island: Following Victorian Footsteps Across Sri Lanka
by Cherry Briggs, Summersdale, ISBN 978-1849534147
Mr Fernando led me into a dark room that was lined with book-cases and smelled of leather and damp. The polished, concrete floor of the library was covered with white jasmine flowers that had blown through the windows during the storm. He began to select from the shelves a collection of disintegrating books. ‘If you are going to read any of them, it should really be this one,’ he said as he passed me two thick volumes, embossed with gold lettering and spotted with damp. The work was simply called Ceylon and was written by an Irishman named Sir James Emerson Tennent, who had been sent to the island in 1845 by Her Majesty’s Government. The Teardrop Island follows in the footsteps of this man, along a route which takes Cherry to pilgrimage trails, into tea estates and rural regions inhabited by indigenous tribes, as well as through restricted areas of the former warzone, exploring contemporary culture via cricket matches and fortune tellers.
The Dark Road
By Ma Jian, Chatto & Windus,
ISBN 978-0701187538, £16.99
Meili, a young peasant woman born in the remote heart of China, is married to Kongzi, a village school teacher, and a distant descendant of Confucius. They have a daughter, but desperate for a son to carry on his illustrious family line, Kongzi gets Meili pregnant again without waiting for official permission. When family planning officers storm the village to arrest violators of the population control policy, mother, father and daughter escape to the Yangtze River and begin a fugitive life.For years they drift south through the poisoned waterways and ruined landscapes of China, picking up work as they go along, scavenging for necessities and flying from police detection. As Meili’s body continues to be invaded by her husband and assaulted by the state, she fights to regain control of her fate and that of her unborn child.
The Valley of Amazement
By Amy Tan, Fourth Estate,
ISBN 978-0007456277, £18.99
In fin-de-siècle Shanghai, Violet Minturn grows up at Hidden Jade Path, the city’s most exclusive courtesan house. But when revolution comes, she is separated from her mother and forced to become a ‘virgin courtesan’. Both Chinese and American, Violet moves between these cultural worlds, becoming a shrewd businesswoman who deals in seduction and illusion. But her successes belie her private turmoil. Violet’s need for answers propels her on a quest of discovery: a journey to make sense of her life, to right the wrongs of the past – to find love requited. Spanning 50 years and two continents, the book dramatises the collapse of China’s imperial dynasty and the secret life of the courtesan house. Unfolding old family secrets, this novel returns readers to the compelling territory of The Joy Luck Club.
The Case of the Love Commandos
By Tarquin Hall, Hutchinson,
ISBN 978-0091937423, £14.99
This is Tarquin Hall’s latest book featuring India’s most endearing PI – Vish Puri. When Ram and Tulsi fall in love, the young woman’s parents are dead set against the union. She’s from a high-caste family; he’s an Untouchable, from the lowest strata of Indian society. Fortunately, India’s Love Commandos, a group of volunteers dedicated to helping mixed-caste couples, come to the rescue. But just after they liberate Tulsi, Ram is mysteriously snatched from his hiding place. The task of finding him falls to India’s “Most Private Investigator”. To reunite the star-crossed lovers, Puri and his team of operatives must infiltrate Ram’s village and navigate the caste politics shaped by millennia-old prejudices.
Five Star Billionaire
By Tash Aw, Fouth Estate, ISBN , £18.99
Tash Aw charts the overlapping lives of migrant Malaysian workers, forging lives for themselves in sprawling Shanghai. Justin is from a family of successful property developers. Phoebe has come to China buoyed with hope, but her dreams are shattered within hours as the job she has come for seems never to have existed. Gary is a successful pop artist, but his fans and marketing machine disappear after a bar-room brawl. Yinghui has businesses that are going well but must make decisions about her life. And then there is Walter, the shadowy billionaire, ruthless and manipulative, ultimately alone in the world. The book charts the weave of their journeys in the new China, counterpointing their adventures with the old life they have left behind in Malaysia.
The Blind Man’s Garden
By Nadeem Aslam, Faber,
ISBN 978-0571287925, £18.99
Love is not consolation, it is light. This novel set in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the months following 9/11 is a story of war, of one family’s losses, and of the simplest, most enduring human impulses. Jeo and Mikal, foster-brothers from a small Pakistani city, secretly enter Afghanistan: not to fight with the Taliban, but to help and care for wounded civilians. But it soon becomes apparent that good intentions can’t keep them out of harm’s way… From the wilds of Afghanistan to the heart of the family left behind, their blind father haunted for years by the death of his wife, by the mistakes he may have made in the name of Islam and nationhood, Jeo’s steadfast wife and her superstitious mother – Aslam’s prose takes us on an extraordinary journey.
From the Fatherland, with Love
By Ryu Murakami translated by
Ginny Tapley Takemori, Charles De Wolf and Ralph McCarthy, Pushkin Press,
ISBN 978-1908968456, £20
The novel is set in an alternative, dystopian present in which the dollar has collapsed and Japan’s economy has fallen along with it. The North Korean government, sensing an opportunity, sends a fleet of rebels in the first land invasion that Japan has ever faced. Japan cannot cope with the surprise onslaught of Operation From the Fatherland, with Love . But the terrorist Ishihara and his band of renegade youths – once dedicated to upsetting the Japanese government – turn their deadly attention to the North Korean threat. They will not allow Fukuoka to fall without a fight. Epic in scale, the story is laced throughout with Murakami’s characteristically savage violence. It is both a satisfying thriller and a completely mad, over-the-top novel.
The Gurkha’s Daughter: Stories
By Prajwal Parajul, Quercus,
A disfigured servant girl plans to flee Nepal; a Kalimpong shopkeeper faces an impossible dilemma; a Hindu religious festival in Darjeeling brings with it a sacrifice; a Nepali-Bhutanese refugee pins her hopes on the West; a Gurkha’s daughter tries to comprehend her father’s complaints; two young Nepali-speaking immigrants meet in Manhattan. These are some of the stories describing and dramatizing the experiences of the Nepalese people and the Nepalese diaspora – the people whose culture and language is Nepalese but who are dispersed to India, Bhutan and beyond. Prajwal Parajuly blends rich colour and vernacular to paint a picture of a unique world and its people.
Alif The Unseen
By G Willow Wilson, Corvus,
ISBN 978-0857895691, £7.99
He calls himself Alif , few people know his real name, a young man born in a Middle Eastern city that straddles the ancient and modern worlds. When Alif meets the aristocratic Intisar, he believes he has found love. But their relationship has no future – Intisar is promised to another man and her family’s honour must be satisfied. As a remembrance, Intisar sends the heartbroken Alif a mysterious book. Entitled The Thousand and One Days, Alif discovers that this parting gift is a door to another world – a world from a very different time, when old magic was in the ascendant and the djinn walked amongst us. With the book in his hands, Alif finds himself drawing attention, far too much attention, from both men and djinn. Thus begins an adventure that takes him through the crumbling streets of a once-beautiful city, to uncover the long-forgotten mysteries of the Unseen. Alif is about to become a fugitive in both the corporeal and incorporeal worlds. And he is about to unleash a destructive power that will change everything and everyone – starting with Alif himself.
By Roshi Fernando, Bloomsbury,
ISBN 978-1408830406, £7.99
It is New Year’s Eve, 1982, and the whole gang is at Victor and Nandini’s house. The Godfather is on repeat upstairs. Baila music is blaring from the record player in the lounge. Poppadoms are frying in the kitchen. And Preethi, tipsy on youth and friendship and covert cigarettes out the window, just wants to belong. But what does that mean, to belong? From that New Year’s party to a family funeral, via ghetto blasters and growing pains, through 7/7 and the world according to Charlie Chaplin, life in all of its complexity happens to Preethi, Nil, Lolly, Rohan, and their tightly knotted Sri Lankan families in south London.
The Golem and The Djinni
By Helene Wecker, Blue Door,
ISBN 978-0007480173, £16.99
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899. Ahmad is a djinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world. The Golem & The Djinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.
A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki, Canongate Books,
ISBN 978-0857867971, £8.99
Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home. Within it lies a diary that expresses the hopes and dreams of a young girl. She suspects it might have arrived on a drift of debris from the 2011 tsunami. With every turn of the page, she is sucked deeper into an enchanting mystery.In a small cafe in Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao Yasutani is navigating the challenges thrown up by modern life. In the face of cyberbullying, the mysteries of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun and great-grandmother, and the joy and heartbreak of family, Nao is trying to find her own place –and voice – through a diary she hopes will find a reader and friend who finally understands her.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
By Mohsin Hamid, Hamish Hamilton,
ISBN 978-0241144664, £14.99
This is the follow-up to Hamid’s bestselling The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It is a tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by youths all over ‘rising Asia’. It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on the most fluid and increasingly scarce of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises alongside his, their paths crossing and re-crossing in a love affair sparked and snuffed out again by the forces that careen their fates along.
And the Mountains Echoed
By Khaled Hosseini, Bloomsbury,
ISBN 978-1408842423, £18.99
Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and stepmother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Abdullah, Pari , as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named, is everything. More like a parent than a brother, Abdullah will do anything for her, even trading his only pair of shoes for a feather for her treasured collection. Each night they sleep together in their cot, their heads touching, their limbs tangled. One day the siblings journey across the desert to Kabul with their father. Pari and Abdullah have no sense of the fate that awaits them there, for the event which unfolds will tear their lives apart; sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand. Crossing generations and continents, moving from Kabul, to Paris, to San Francisco, to the Greek island of Tinos, the book is full of profound wisdom, depth, insight and compassion.
Child of Vengeance: Warrior, Legend, Samurai
By David Kirk, Simon & Schuster,
ISBN 978-1471102424, £7.99
His name was Bennosuke, son of the great Munisai Shinmen, known throughout the empire as one of the greatest warriors who ever lived. His destiny was to become a great warrior like his father – a samurai, one of the most feared and respected in the world. But before fame comes action, and Bennosuke must prove himself on the battlefield before he can claim his inheritance. And in his way stands the vengeful Hayato, son of Lord Nakata, the face of the enemy, a man who is determined to kill Bennosuke. It is a battle between honour and vengeance, pride and reputation. And Bennosuke must look death in the eye before he can call himself a warrior.
The Iraqi Christ
By Hassan Blasim, translated by
Jonathan Wright, Comma Press,
ISBN 978-1905583522, £9.99
From legends of the desert to horrors of the forest, Blasim’s stories blend the fantastic with the everyday, the surreal with the all-too-real. Taking his cues from Kafka, his prose shines a dazzling light into the dark absurdities of Iraq’s recent past and the torments of its countless refugees. The subject of this, his second collection, is primarily trauma and the curious strategies human beings adopt to process it (including, of course, fiction). The result is a masterclass in metaphor a new kind of story-telling, forged in the crucible of war, and just as shocking.
The City of Devi
By Manil Suri, Bloomsbury,
ISBN 978-1408833933, £16.99
Armed only with a pomegranate, Sarita ventures into the empty streets of Mumbai, on the eve of its threatened nuclear annihilation. She is looking for her physicist husband Karun, who has been missing for over a fortnight. She is soon joined on her quest by Jaz, cocky, handsome, Muslim, gay, and in search of his own lover. Together they traverse the surreal landscape of a dystopia rife with absurdity, and are inexorably drawn to the patron goddess Devi ma, the supposed saviour of the city.
The Girl with the Golden Parasol
By Uday Prakash and Jason Grunebaum, Yale University Press,
ISBN 978-0300190540, £10.99
‘Just then, Rahul saw a spot of yellow far away… The yellow glowed beautifully in the morning light. There was something different about this particular yellow and was totally unlike all others. This one entered through his eyes, dissolved in his blood, and went straight to his heart.’ Uday Prakash’s novel of contemporary India is a tender love story – university student Rahul is swept away by a “sweet fever” of love for Analji, the enchanting girl with the golden parasol. But Prakash’s tale is set in a world where the 3,000-year-old Hindu caste system still holds sway and social realities doom the chances of a non-Brahmin boy who loves a Brahmin girl. The Girl with the Golden Parasol is the first English translation of Prakash’s work to be published in the US. His novel captures the profound contradictions of India today, where the forces aligned against change outweigh even the power of love.
Ramayana: A Retelling
By Dalhit Nagra, Faber,
ISBN 978-0571294879, £18.99
The Ramayana is one of the great epics of the ancient world, with versions spanning the cultures, religions and languages of Asia. Its story of Rama’s quest to recover his wife Sita from her abduction by Ravana, the Lord of the Underworld, has enchanted readers and audiences across the Eastern world for thousands of years. Daljit Nagra was captivated by his grandparents’ Punjabi version as a child, and has chosen to rejuvenate the story for a new generation of multicultural, multi-faith readers. By drawing on scenes originating in versions such as those from Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, as well as the better-known Indian Ramayanas, and by incorporating elements of Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain and secular versions, Nagra creates a consciously multicultural Ramayana.
For a Song and a Hundred Songs; A Poet’s Journey through a Chinese Prison
By Liao Yiwu, New Harvest,
ISBN 978-0547892634, US$15.60
In June 1989, news of the Tiananmen Square protests and its bloody resolution reverberated throughout the world. A young poet named Liao Yiwu, who had until then led an apolitical bohemian existence, found his voice in that moment. Like the solitary man who stood firmly in front of a line of tanks, Liao proclaimed his outrage –and his words would be his weapon. For a Song and a Hundred Songs captures the four brutal years Liao spent in jail for writing the incendiary poem “Massacre.” Through the power and beauty of his prose, he reveals the bleak reality of crowded Chinese prisons—the harassment from guards and fellow prisoners, the torture, the conflicts among human beings in close confinement, and the boredom of everyday life. But even in his darkest hours, Liao manages to unearth the fundamental humanity in his cell mates: he writes of how they listen with rapt attention to each other’s stories of criminal endeavours gone wrong and of how one night, ravenous with hunger, they dream up an ‘imaginary feast’, with each inmate trying to one-up the next by describing a more elaborate dish. In this important book, Liao presents a stark and devastating portrait of a nation in flux, exposing a side of China that outsiders rarely get to see. In the wake of 2011’s Arab Spring, the world has witnessed for a second time China’s crackdown on those citizens who would speak their mind, like artist Ai Weiwei and legal activist Chen Guangcheng. Liao stands squarely among them and gives voice to not only his own story, but to the stories of those individuals who can no longer speak for themselves.
By Ruchir Sharma, Penguin,
ISBN 978-0241957813, £10.99
Ruchir Sharma sets out to show why the economic ‘mania’ of the 21st century, with its unshakeable faith in the power of emerging markets – especially China – to continue growing at the astoundingly rapid and uniform pace of the last decade, is wrong. The next economic success stories will not be where we think they are. Sharma analyses why the basic laws of economic gravity (such as the law of large numbers, which says that the richer you are the harder it is to grow your wealth at a rapid pace) are already pulling China, Russia, Brazil and other vast emerging markets back to earth. Spending much of his professional life travelling in these countries as Head of Emerging Markets at Morgan Stanley, Sharma is uniquely placed to present a first-hand insider’s account of these new markets and the changes they are undergoing.
The World is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village
By Anna Badkhen, Riverhead Books,
ISBN 978-1594488320, £17.70
Here Badkhen recounts her life in Oqa, a rural village in northern Afghanistan. The main source of income in the village is to weave carpets and over the course of a year Badhken charts the lives of these ordinary Afghanis and follows their painstaking work. It is a picture of a remote and different world that rarely comes to the attention of the West.
The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India
By James Astill, Wisden,
ISBN 978-1408156926, £18.99
On a Bangalore night in April 2008, cricket and India changed forever. It involved big money, glitz, dancing girls and Bollywood stars. It was not so much sport as tamasha: a great entertainment. The Great Tamasha examines how a game and a country, both regarded as synonymous with infinite patience, managed to produce such an event. James Astill explains how India’s economic surge and cricketing obsession made it the dominant power in world cricket, off the field if rarely on it. Astill crosses the subcontinent and, over endless cups of tea, meets the people who make up modern India – from faded princes to back-street bookmakers, slum kids to billionaires – and sees how cricket shapes their lives and that of their country.