Asia Literary Review, Spring and Summer 2008

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am

Asia Literary Review, Spring and Summer 2008

Various Print Work, HK$99

The latest incarnation of the Asia Literary Review is offered as a work in progress. Under incoming editor Chris Wood and consultant Ian Jack, former editor of acclaimed literary periodical Granta, the promise is for significant growth in 'stature, coverage and circulation' in the next 18 months.

If, as touted, the 2008 spring and summer issues are the baby steps on this journey, there is much to look forward to.

The spring edition celebrates the art of translation. It is an apt beginning for a journal that, one hopes, will offer readers a wide range of material otherwise beyond their grasp.

Priya Basil's essay 'Found in Translation' pays homage to the humble translator.

'Imagine,' she writes, 'embarking on an enterprise in which you can leave no trace of yourself; not a crime, rather a painstaking labour, requiring weeks, months, perhaps even years to complete.'

Similarly, Dava Sobel honours the art of translation in her essay, 'How to Find Your Longitude in Chinese'. In it she describes the amazing dedication of the Chinese translator of her book on astronomy, Longitude.

It is worth keeping these two essays in mind when reading the several works that have been translated in the Review.

One such offering is an excerpt from Chinese singer-songwriter Liu Jian's novel, Rock Soldier, in which Liu draws on his experience as a soldier in the People's Liberation Army. The story is translated by Rebecca Kanthor and it is a tribute to her efforts that the reader readily forgets the excerpt is not in its original language.

There are several pieces in the spring journal that inspire thought, including Saikat Chakraborty's work of fiction, Patterns. Seen through the eyes of a much-loved son, the story explores his relationship with his parents on a day that transforms his life forever. It effectively juxtaposes a child's safe and secure family environment with the harsh reality of the world beyond.

The personal and political mingle in a number of works in both spring and summer issues. One of the outstanding contributions in the summer edition is Jesse Chun's collection of photographs of Korean 'comfort women', who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during the second world war.

Titled Halmuhnee, meaning grandmother, Chun's set offers a beautiful depiction of these ageing women.

The way they light up each picture speaks of strength and pride and a sense of peace. Chun observes: 'In that smile, I catch a glimpse of her innocence. The purity that even a thousand men could not take away.'

Also included in the Review is Jeongshik Min's collective biography of the comfort women in poetic form, which has been reworked by Shirley Lee. It gives a haunting description of the abuse these women suffered and what it meant to them physically and emotionally.

Alongside the text are paintings - reproduced in miniature - by the women.

On a different tangent, but no less political, Rob Gifford explores the environmental woes of China in Yellow River Blues. Travelling from Madoi in the west, where the Yellow River begins, to China's east coast, where it 'ends with a whimper', Gifford speaks to several people directly affected by the demise of the waterway.

Maoism is also canvassed in Gifford's journey. As tourist guide Han Ning tells him: 'We just learn about it in school. We don't actually believe it.'

Photographer Graham Newman, meanwhile, heralds Nepal's new democracy in A Revolutionary Election - an election, as writer Subel Bhandari points out, that signified the end of the last Hindu monarchy.

Not all offerings in these editions of the Asia Literary Review are particularly strong. But having read them one comes away a little more contemplative, which is a reliable indicator of success.