Friday, March 31, 2006


CONGRATULATIONS to the winners of the 2006 Kiriyama Prize for Fiction and Nonfiction. The winner of this year’s fiction prize is Luis Alberto Urrea for his novel, The Hummingbird’s Daughter (2005), a story based on the life of Urrea’s great aunt who lived in Mexico in the 19th century.

The nonfiction winner is Piers Vitebsky for his well-researched and heartfelt portrait of life in one of the coldest places on Earth, The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia (2005).

2006 Kiriyama Prize Fiction Shortlist
The Hummingbird’s Daughter / Luis Alberto Urrea
The Lizard Cage / Karen Connelly
The Hungry Tide / Amitav Ghosh
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers / Yiyun Li
The Train to Lo Wu / Jess Row

2006 Kiriyama Prize Nonfiction Shortlist
The Reindeer People / Piers Vitebsky
Isami’s House / Gail Lee Bernstein
Crossing Three Wildernesses / U Sam Oeur
A Man With No Talents / Oyama Shiro
The Golden Spruce / John Vaillant

Thursday, March 30, 2006

An Appreciation: John McGAHERN 1934-2006

John McGahern, writer, born November 12, 1934; died March 30, 2006

NOVELIST and short-story writer John McGahern, arguably one of Ireland’s finest living storytellers, has died after a long battle with cancer in Dublin, Ireland. If you haven’t read any of McGahern’s novels or short stories before, his most recent and last work, Memoir (2005), is a good place to start. His works merit a wider readership than they have so far enjoyed. We will miss John McGahern, one of the world’s great writers.

McGAHERN John [1934-2006] Novelist, short-story writer, memoirist, playwright. Born in County Leitrim, Ireland. NOVELS That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001: published in the U.S. as By the Lake in 2002); Amongst Women (1990: winner of the Irish Times Literary Award; shortlisted for the 1990 Booker Prize for Fiction); The Pornographer (1979); The Leavetaking (1974; rev. 1984); The Dark (1965); The Barracks (1963: winner of the 1962 A.E. Memorial Award and the 1964 Arts Council Macauley Fellowship) STORIES Creatures of the Earth: New and Selected Stories (2006); The Collected Stories (1992); High Ground (1985); Getting Through (1978); Nightlines (1970) PLAYS The Power of Darkness (1991); The Rockingham Shoot (1987); Swallows (1975); Sinclair (1971) MEMOIR Memoir (published in the U.S. as All Will Be Well: A Memoir in 2006) (2005)

Novels: The Barracks (1963); Amongst Women (1990); That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001: published in the U.S. as By the Lake in 2002)
Stories: The Collected Stories (1992)
Memoir: Memoir (2005)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

POETRY ... Michael Symmons ROBERTS

“Angel of the Perfumes”
Michael Symmons Roberts

From the night-shift cement works,
dust built on fields, seeped
into buildings, coughed me awake.

It fused with fallen rain
to make a crust so thin one heel
could break the landscape open.

I held my breath
the sheet pulled up across my face,
afraid my lungs would set.

When you awoke the dust
cleared, I heard dawn crack
smelt on your hands burst

Fruit. Old skins, bruised black,
you split with thumbnails, found
seeds of new bodies, inside intact.

From Michael Symmons Roberts’s Soft Keys (Faber & Faber, 1993)

ROBERTS Michael Symmons [1963-] Poet, novelist. Born in Preston, Lancashire, England. NOVEL Patrick’s Alphabet (2006) POETRY Corpus (2004: winner of the 2004 Whitbread Award for Poetry; shortlisted for the 2004 Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection, the 2004 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and the 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize); Burning Babylon (2001: shortlisted for the 2001 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry); Raising Sparks (1999); Soft Keys (1993)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

NEW & RECOMMENDED ... First Novels

The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2006) / Olga Grushin
Moscow-born début novelist Olga Grushin’s The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2006) portrays the compromises of a middle-aged man and his eventual realisation. We are shaped by the choices (“choices that sometimes ambush a man so unfairly, without a moment’s warning, and wresting from him an almost instinctive reaction, in the space of a mere minute change the rest of his life”) we make in our lives and made to conform to society’s expectations. Her prose is gracefully descriptive and her characters are well fleshed out.

The Observations (2006) / Jane Harris
A new voice making splashes all over is Jane Harris’s The Observations (2006), an assured first novel made all the more entertaining by the plot twists in a Victorian setting and the compelling voice of its protagonist, a young Irish maid and her thoughts on the strange goings-on in an old mansion in provincial Scotland.

Monday, March 27, 2006


The Inheritance of Loss (2006) / Kiran Desai
Suite Française (trans. from the French by Sandra Smith) (2006) / Irène Némirovsky

Sunday, March 26, 2006


MORRISON Toni [1931-] Novelist; winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Born Chloe Anthony Wolford in Lorain, Ohio, U.S. NOVELS Love (2003); Paradise (1998); Jazz (1992); Beloved (1987: winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; shortlisted for the 2000 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award); Tar Baby (1981); Song of Solomon (1977: winner of the 1977 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction); Sula (1973: shortlisted for the 1974 National Book Award for Fiction); The Bluest Eye (1970) PLAY Dreaming Emmet (1985) NONFICTION Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) CHILDREN'S The Book of Mean People (with Slade Morrison and illustrations by Pascal Lemaitre) (2002); The Big Box (with Slade Morrison and illustrations by Giselle Potter) (1999)

Photo Credit: Guillermo Arias / Associated Press

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Alistair MacLEOD

ONE thing’s is for sure, Alistair MacLeod is one of Canada’s leading writers, one who is equally adept at both the novel and the short-story forms, though he is more well-known for his short stories.

MacLEOD Alistair [1936-] Short-story writer, novelist. Born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada. Novel No Great Mischief (1999: winner of the 2001 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the 1999 Trillium Book Award for Fiction) Stories Island: The Complete Stories (2000); As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories (1986); The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) Juvenile To Every Thing There is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story (with illustrations by Peter Rankin) (2004)

Novel No Great Mischief (1999)
Stories Island: The Complete Stories (2000)

Friday, March 24, 2006

WHAT I THINK ... Bookshops & Literary Fiction

MODERN BOOKSELLING needs a dose of optimism and fresh ideas if books are to gain bigger and wider readership. Publishers and booksellers always say that literary fiction is a tough sell. To promote and encourage the reading of literary fiction (so as to arrest its declining general readership), bookshops, Malaysian or otherwise, ought to think about including a couple of new subsections in the literary section. Bookshops have a responsiblity to educate a public that doesn't necessarily know what it will enjoy since growing a readership means a bigger customer base in the long term. Besides retailing books, it is vital that bookshops educate their customers because most of them do not really know what to buy. It makes sense in the long run to educate readers. I think Kinokuniya is doing a great job! I have a couple of suggestions that booksellers might like to mull over:
  1. AustLit fiction (Australian and New Zealand fiction: egs. include Geraldine Brooks, Peter Carey, Brian Castro, Kate Grenville, Shirley Hazzard, Elizabeth Jolley, David Malouf, Roger McDonald, Andrew McGahan, Eva Sallis, Carrie Tiffany, Brenda Walker, Patrick White and Tim Winton);
  2. Women’s fiction (both prizewinning and non-prizewinning fiction by women writers: egs. include Helen Dunmore, Shirley Hazzard, Andrea Levy and Valerie Martin);
  3. Prizewinning fiction (to include both novels and short-story collections that have won major literary prizes: Los Angeles Times Award, Man Booker Prize, Miles Franklin Award, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, Orange Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Whitbread Award); and
  4. Short-story collections and novellas (both prizewinning and non-prizewinning collections of short stories and novellas: egs. include Ann Beattie, Saul Bellow, Raymond Carver, Deborah Eisenberg, Mavis Gallant, David Leavitt, Yiyun Li, Alistair MacLeod, Valerie Martin, David Means, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, Joy Williams, Tobias Wolff and Richard Yates);
  5. Neglected gems of the past (to encourage the reading of notable books that somehow got neglected, that have withstood the test of time, left behind by the marketing juggernaut of modern business: egs. include Noel Barber, Elizabeth Bowen, Penelope Fitzgerald, John McGahern, Shirley Ann Grau, Bernard MacLaverty, Bernard Malamud, Grace Paley, V.S. Pritchett, Mordecai Richler, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Yates);
  6. Contrary to popular belief, excellent first fiction is still being written and published in these dismal times; however, sadly, most of them tend to get lost in the pile or submerged in the chaos of modern bookselling, especially in a culture that tends to promote established writers only, therefore, a section devoted to such works will work wonders in highlighting first-time writers and new writings (egs. include Naomi Alderman, Yasmin Crowther, Diana Evans, Dave King, Olga Grushin, Jane Harris and Carrie Tiffany); and
  7. Translated fiction (there’s a vast cornucopia of literature in translation by a number of publishers such as Arch, Faber & Faber, Granta, Harvill-Secker, Hesperus, Marion Boyars, Peter Owen, Portobello and Serpent’s Tail that ought to be read and enjoyed by more bibliophiles: egs. include Tahar Ben Jelloun, Javier Cercas, Ismail Kadare, Imre Kertesz, Andreï Makine, Javier Marías, Margaret Mazzantini, Haruki Murakami, Irène Némirovsky, Orhan Pamuk and Per Petterson). Excellent translators include Anthea Bell (German), Anne Born (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish), Andrew Bromfield (Russian), Linda Coverdale (French), John Cullen (French, Italian), Carol Brown Janeaway (German), Maureen Freely (Turkish), Edith Grossman (Spanish), Erdag M. Göknar (Dari, Turkish), Michael Hofmann (German), Margaret Jull Costa (Portuguese), Anne McLean (Spanish), Tiina Nunnally (Swedish), Ina Rilke (Dutch), Jay Rubin (Japanese) and Frank Wynne (French).

Thursday, March 23, 2006


“A Myth of Devotion”
Louise Glück

When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.

Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness.

Gradually, he thought, he’d introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.

A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn’t everyone want love?

He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.

Doesn’t everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—

That’s what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there’d be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.

Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn’t imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.

He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
Persephone's Girlhood.

A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you.

but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you’re dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.

From Louise Glück’s Averno (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006)

GLÜCK Louise [1943-] Poet. Born in New York, New York,U.S. POETRY Averno (2006); October (2003); The Seven Ages (2001); Vita Nova (1999); Meadowlands (1996); The First Four Books of Poems (1995); The Wild Iris (1992: winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry); Ararat (1990); The Triumph of Achilles (1985: winner of the 1985 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry); Descending Figure (1980); The Garden (1976); The House on Marshland (1975); Firstborn (1968) ESSAYS Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry (1994: PEN/Martha Albrand Award for Nonfiction)

Poetry: Averno (2006); The Wild Iris (1992)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


The Inheritance of Loss (2006) / Kiran Desai
The March (2006) / E.L. Doctorow
The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2006) / Olga Grushin
Observations (2006) / Jane Harris
The Good Life (2006) / Jay McInerney
Suite Française (trans. from the French by Sandra Smith) (2006) / Irène Némirovsky

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


“Young Woman of the People” (1918)
Modigliani/Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Those with a predilection for Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920) and his masterpieces should check out the following biography:

Modigliani: A Life
Jeffrey Meyers
(Harcourt, 2006)

Monday, March 20, 2006


Empire of the Sun (1984) / J.G. Ballard
Birds Without Wings (2004) / Louis de Bernières
The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman (1992) / Louis de Bernières
Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord (1991) / Louis de Bernières
The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts (1990) / Louis de Bernières
Four Souls (2004) / Louise Erdrich
The Unconsoled (1995) / Kazuo Ishiguro
Every Light in the House Burnin’ (1994) / Andrea Levy
Dangerous Love (1996) / Ben Okri
Shantaram (2003) / Gregory David Roberts
The Counterlife (1986) / Philip Roth

Note: Books highlighted in green are not highly recommended

Sunday, March 19, 2006


The Short Day Dying
Peter Hobbs
(Faber, 2005)

HOBBS Peter [1974-] Novelist, short-story writer. Born in London, England. NOVEL The Short Day Dying (2005: shortlisted for the 2005 Whitbread Award for the Novel) STORIES I Could Ride All Day in My Cool Blue Train (2006)

Saturday, March 18, 2006


TWELVE novels have been longlisted for the 2006 Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia’s premier literary prize:

An Accidental Terrorist (University of Queensland Press) / Steven Lang
A Case of Knives (Allen & Unwin) / Peter Rose
Dead Europe (Vintage/Random House Australia) / Christos Tsiolkas
Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living (Picador/Pan Macmillan Australia) / Carrie Tiffany
Knitting (Penguin Australia) / Anne Bartlett
Prochownik’s Dream (Allen & Unwin) / Alex Miller
Sunnyside (Viking/Penguin Australia) / Joanna Murray-Smith
The Ballad of Desmond Kale (Vintage/Random House Australia) / Roger McDonald
The Broken Shore (Text Publishing) / Peter Temple
The Garden Book (Giramondo) / Brian Castro
The Secret River (Text Publishing) / Kate Grenville
The Wing of Night (Viking/Penguin Australia) / Brenda Walker

For what it is worth, this is what I think the shortlist will look like:

Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living (Picador/Pan Macmillan Australia) / Carrie Tiffany
The Ballad of Desmond Kale (Vintage/Random House Australia) / Roger McDonald
The Garden Book (Giramondo) / Brian Castro
The Secret River (Text Publishing) / Kate Grenville
The Wing of Night (Viking/Penguin Australia) / Brenda Walker

The shortlist will be announced on April 27, 2006, and the winner will be announced on June 22, 2006

Friday, March 17, 2006

MEMOIRS ... What makes a great memoir?

WHAT MAKES A GREAT MEMOIR? A successful memoir brings about an intimacy or affinity between two perfect stangers: the reader and the memoirist. These are some of my favourite memoirs of recent times:

1. Bertie, May and Mrs Fish (2005) / Xandra Bingley
2. A Lie About My Father (2006) / John Burnside
3. Running for the Hills (2006) / Horatio Clare
4. The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) / Joan Didion
5. The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe (2005) / Paula Fox
6. Borrowed Finery (2001) / Paula Fox
7. The Sailor in the Wardrobe (2006) / Hugo Hamilton
8. The Speckled People (2003) / Hugo Hamilton
9. Giving Up the Ghost (2003) / Hilary Mantel
10. Memoir (published as All Will Be Well in the U.S. in 2006) (2005) / John McGahern

Thursday, March 16, 2006


MEMOIRS on the sweet life abroad are now considered a lucrative genre of travel writing by itself. For those with a passion for things out of the ordinary, Frances Mayes’s stories of the good life in Tuscany conjure visions of good food, busy marketplaces, Cortona farmhouses, sun-drenched gardens, music, language, the quirkiness of the locals, sipping a cup of coffee or reading a book at a trattoria or café, terraced olive groves and the harvesting of olives, grapes and wines. Her new travellogue, A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller (2006), should make interesting reading for those who would like to explore what it means to be a citizen of the world, feeling at home wherever you are.

MAYES Frances [1940-] Memoirist, poet, essayist, novelist. Born in Fitzgerald, Georgia, U.S. NOVEL Swan (2002) POETRY Ex Votto (1995); Hours (1984); The Arts of Fire (1982); After Such Pleasures (1979); Sunday in Another Country (1977); Climbing Aconcagua (1977) NONFICTION Bringing Tuscany Home: Sensuous Style From the Heart of Italy (2004); The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems (1994) ESSAYS In Tuscany (2000) MEMOIRS Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy (1999); Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy (1996)TRAVEL A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller (2006)

An excerpt from A Year in the World: “Europe can be divided into two categories — countries with riotous balconies and geraniums and bougainvillea, and countries without. Italy falls into category one, and nowhere more so than in Taormina. Like Capri, Taormina is where the gods tumped over their baskets of blessings. The earth has not formed, nor can I imagine, a place more captivating. Taormina's wavering coast below the town, a limpid sea, the perfectly positioned Greco-Roman theatre, and craggy Monte Tauro … rising above the village would be stupendous enough, but that basket of blessings also deposited Mount Etna, often disappearing in mist and suddenly reappearing like a mirage in the distance. In winter, from a sunny window, you see the cone frosted with snow. Today the volcano is clear-cut in the blue air, and I easily imagine lava beginnng to ooze down the slopes. …

“There’s a reason we congregate in these hotspots — to worship beauty and to feel its effects light up the electrolytes in the bloodstream. I am here for another reason as well. I am reading and rereading the Sicilian writers, Leonardo Sciascia and Giuseppe di Lampedusa. A few months ago I came across a telling line in Sciascia’s The Wine-Dark Sea. After a funny, ironic exchange on the shortcomings of Sicilians, a character “brightens up at the sight of the sea off Taormina. ‘What a sea! Where else would you see anything like this?’” I suddenly thought I would like to read these native Sicilian writers in situ and try to see how the island affects their work, how their works are shaped by the place. I would like to know Sicily; what better way than through the insights of passionate writers?