Writers' picks of 2011
Author, The Fat Years
1. Mao's Great Famine by Frank Dikotter. The kind of archival research may no longer be possible. This was China's worst man-made, policy-induced famine, but authorities remain in denial by calling it 'a three-year natural disaster'.
2. The Opium War by Julia Lovell. The British empire in the 19th century would not have been sustainable without the opium trade, but people in Britian hardly know about it now. In China, generations were dosed on anti-imperialist Opium war stories. Lovell's book is a good place to start for trying to understand China's national psyche.
3. Lamp Lighters by Zhao Yuesheng. The first book - a collection of three long-form memoir-essays - by Zhao since he migrated to France about 20 years ago has developed a cult following on the mainland for its recollection of Zhao's mentors and friends, its touching evocation of the past and its fine writing.
Hong Kong writer
1. The Man Who Damned the Yangtze by Alex Kuo. Of water, math and metafiction, the perfect narrative poem for our times.
2. Glass by Sam Savage. Who can truly know the heart and mind of another?
3. The Longshot by Katie Kitamura. A startlingly original debut and a young author to watch.
4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Re-reading, again, this grand American novel that should occupy Wall Street.
5. Turn of Mind by Alice La Plante. A mature debut, courageously plunges into the Alzheimer sufferer's mind.
1. Britain after Rome by Robin Fleming. A history that restricts itself to physical evidence only. So no reliance on what monks and other commentators wrote about their world, which turns up surprisingly fresh view of the Dark Ages.
2. Asian Literary Review. Hong Kong is host to one of the world's more interesting quarterlies, this one dedicated to life and literature from Istanbul to Japan. The ALR is a gem.
3. Titanicus by Dan Abnett. I sometimes feel the more interesting stuff is being written in the genre end of the market. Dan Abnett is one of my favourites, and a compelling storyteller.
4. Access: Thirteen Tales by Xu Xi. One of the more pleasant evenings I've spent recently was listening to Xu Xi read from this new collection of short stories. Quirky portraits of the modern world.
5. Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu. Winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize this year, this is a deceptively quiet tale of human perseverance against bureaucracy.
Author, The Opium War
1 & 2. Forgotten Armies: Britain's Asian Empire and War with Japan and Forgotten Wars: the End of Britain's Asian Empire, both by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper. Combining astonishing archival research with fast-paced narrative, the books range between Asia's complacent Pax Britannica on the eve of the second world war and the region's horrifically messy post-war struggles for independence. Both books explain in eye-opening detail the inter-connectedness of these nations' histories and Britain's dubious imperial legacies.
3. Seen By a Bird by A Yi. I was excited to discover A Yi, a policeman-turned-novelist, this year. His genre is, broadly conceived, crime fiction but there is nothing generic about his writing. This short story collection he published this year gives a rare insight into the workings of the Chinese police system, but is also ambitious to achieve more. His writing evokes - with echoes of Marquez, Dostoyevsky and Kafka - China's heart of darkness: the ignorance and despair that trap the rural poor, and the violent rage lurking behind the phlegmatic front of the downtrodden and humiliated. He is a talent to be watched.