has rolled by again. Head over to Umamimart: Slightly Peckish to check out some som tum. You know, that Thai green papaya salad that we’re all crazy about!

In bookish news, I recently finished reading two books by Tan Twan Eng. Suffice it to say I’m totally enthralled by Tan’s work and as a consequence have started reading The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. Deeply disturbing but an episode in history that should not be forgotten.

I’m also still halfway through Steven Erikson’s The Crippled God which I haven’t touched in days. I blame the birth of my baby niece. Only one as cute as her can keep me away from one of my favourite writers and turn me into a baby-stalking paparazzi. I have so far avoided buying her anything pink but I may eventually succumb.

And I have also started Romesh Gunesekera’s latest novel The Prisoner of Paradise set in early 19th century Mauritius about forbidden passions and the search for freedom.

And finally, I caught up with Channel 4’s documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished, a follow up to last year’s scathing commentary on the brutal end to Sri Lanka’s internal conflict that lasted for 26 years. It’s disturbing and heartbreaking and ultimately makes me wonder who are the real winners of wars. Certainly not the common people. Although I agree the Sri Lankan government, as a legitimate governing body, needs to address and take responsibility for their brutal methods, executions, rapes, discrimination and censorship, ultimately Channel 4’s documentary fails to address the complex nature of the conflict, its beginnings and Sri Lanka’s mixed society and leaves me with more questions. Breaking down a war into simplistic sound bites doesn’t do anyone justice. And what about the LTTE, who hardly get a mention, and the Western countries that were supporting and running weapons for what is an officially recognised terrorist group? Check out what Vindi has to say about the doc.

I wrote a short paragraph about how you can all help with donations here. I have also donated to all three fund-raising sites and hope you will give as much as you can. I have put a British Red Cross button in the side bar to make things a little easier.

I just wanted to add Chika‘s post which might entice you to give a little more. You’ll be eligible to win a set of gorgeous sakura cooking ingredients. How can you resist, right?

Please also check out the various events organised by Umamimart and its writers if you are in the US.

You can also find comprehensive information in posts byAki and Makiko so please check them.

Places to donate:

she who eats
British Red Cross
American Red Cross
Australian Red Cross
Doctors Without Borders

Although everyone I care about and love are safe and sound in Japan, there have been non-stop aftershocks and another big earthquake near Tokyo and my heart goes out to the displaced and bereaved who also have to contend with fuel and food shortages, snow and adverse weather conditions and the unpredictability of the nuclear plant situation. It’s been heartening to see how many people have been trying to find ways to help in various blogs and on twitter. So please give generously.

Anjali Joseph, the author of Saraswati Park has an interesting article in The Independant about being what many would label a multicultural/exotic writer. In an age where there is increasing migration of skills and nationalities, globalisation, cross border living, the idea of the exotic is becoming diluted and eroded. This is a topic that is of great interest to me because it directly impacts my life everyday. There is a term called Third Culture Kids that was originally used in the US for kids from a military background whose families have been posted globally, who are originally from one country, grow up in another and finally settle in a third.

But Anjali Joseph has a bone to pick with being so labelled. Read her article, it’s good. Maybe it’s a marketing thing for publishers and journalists as they like labels, makes it easier to identify their target group and sell. Hanif Kureishi is probably the first to write about growing up mixed in the UK, not as an Asian, but as a Londoner in Buddha of Suburbia. There’s a difference there. Gurinder Chadha brought this to the screen first with Bhaji on the Beach and then Bend it Like Beckham. And let’s not forget the bittersweet comedy of East is East directed by Damien O’Donnell. There’s a new wave of British Asians that is creating a new literature. And what I like is that it echoes what all my British Asian friends have been telling me as we were growing up together and all the Asian rudeboys and girls I met at uni. So I’m certainly looking forward to reading what Joseph and her peers will be writing about. Not about the exotic but about the ordinary. Maybe it will give our lives more sense.

Some other books I’m looking forward to reading: Nikesh Shukla’s Coconut Unlimited (you can read a Metro article here), Gautam Malkani’s Londonstani, Niven Govinden’s Graffiti My Soul. An obvious choice for the American desi experience is Jhumpa Lahiri. Although I try to read as much South Asian and diaspora literature as I can, there are still many titles of which I’m unaware. So, any other recommendations?

Also, the DSC South Asian Literature Prize shortlist has been announced. I haven’t read any of the titles, have you?

I grew up mixed: in Sri Lanka, Japan, Thailand and the UK. My views are mixed, my history’s mixed and I belong to no one country. But it’s only as I grow older that I’ve become more comfortable in my skin. I pick and choose what I like, and I like it that way. There’s a wonderful initiative happening in Japan as mixed marriages have increased and there are a lot of mixed folk out there. Check out Hafu. Hooray!

I had grand plans for this year’s Persephone Reading Week hosted by Claire and Verity but only managed to finish one book, Good Evening, Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes which was a delightful volume of short stories. I tried hard to finish A Very Great Profession: The Woman’s Novel 1914-1939 by Nicola Beauman but I’m still only half-way and couldn’t quite finish this weekend. No matter, I can now read it slowly and not feel rushed (but when did I ever read fast?) It’s a brilliant study of women’s literature which Beauman has resurrected with Persephone Books and there is ample discussion and quotations taken from the books which illustrate the evolution of interwar literature, mainly from a woman’s perspective. And who better than Beauman to do this, as she is probably the most knowledgeable of writers when it comes to this subject. For lovers of the interwar period and women’s fiction, A Very Great Profession will put a huge dent in your wallet and increase your TBR pile enormously. What I also find fascinating, and at the same time a little sad, is that the plight of many women do not seem all that different from the current situation (there have been huge changes, but you would be surprised at how many of the sentiments I have come across in my life I find in the literature dating back to the 1920s and 30s. Shocking, I know.)

Anyway, speaking of fascinating things, the first UK Book Bloggers’ Meet-up happened this Saturday. We all met in the Persephone Bookshop on Lamb’s Conduit Street before heading across to The Lamb for some sustenance both liquid and bookish. It was really wonderful to meet so many of you that I’ve become friends with since I started blogging. A big thank you to Simon from stuck in a book for organising this special event.

And of course, I will leave you with some books I got on the day:

Black Venus by Angela Carter which I won from Claire of Paperback Reader
26a by Diana Evans which I got for the bloggers’ book swap on Saturday from Polly of Novel Insights

And of course some Persephones:

Every Eye by Isobel English
A Woman’s Place 1910-1975 by Ruth Adam
Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting by Penelope Mortimer

And I’ve had my first plagiarism alert thanks to a kind reader. Someone called ‘Megan’ has ‘borrowed’ this review and posted it on a book review site word. for. word. Not impressed. Why would you do this? How difficult is it to write your own review? As you can tell, it pissed me off a little. The review site has corrected the error and taken her off the list. Naturally.

Ugh, when I read articles like this which was posted on the Literary Saloon, it makes me spit at the mouth and grow horns on my head. So I’m going to rant and get it out of my system.

Frankly, all literary festivals are indulgent. You need to make time to go there, pay money to listen to authors and maybe even have to buy some books and spend even more time queuing to get them signed. But you know what, like all the arts, we need it. It’s one of the many things that make life worth living. It’s food for the soul. I’ve only recently started to go to literary festivals and haven’t even made it to the big ones in the UK such as Hay, Cheltenham or Oxford, but I’ve had the good luck to have parents living in Sri Lanka and my annual holiday home is in January because I can’t take Christmas off. So imagine my delight when I found out about the Galle Literary Festival.

It’s still in its infancy (4 years), and I’ve only been twice, but each year, there is more topical diversity, larger audiences and, most importantly, the organisers have made sure that there is more given back to the community. There are year-long programmes benefiting the children of Galle, and during the festival there are opportunities for them to interact with the visiting authors. And all provided gratis. I think the organisers have done a tremendous job amid very harsh criticism. Especially from people who have come and enjoyed the festivals themselves. Like at any festival, you’ll get your it-crowd who are only there to be seen and photographed, but the majority of people there love books. Otherwise why would you sit through hours and hours of people talking about things in which you have no interest? I certainly wouldn’t.

And going back to the article above, I love Ian Rankin and his books featuring John Rebus. They gave me the first taste of Scottish noir and I raced through them all when I was supposed to be writing my thesis. And Rankin is a brilliant writer. But I wouldn’t say that he’s the only A-list writer at the festival this year. I mean both Michelle de Kretser and Mohammed Hanif were short-listed for the Booker Prize. I don’t really have to say much about writer and biographer Claire Tomalin (who has won 4 major prizes including the Whitbread Book Award and was also shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize) and novelist and playwright Michael Frayn (who has won 5 major prizes including the Whitbread and was also short-listed for the Booker Prize) who are giants in the English literary world. And Wendy Cope? She’s one of the best poets writing in English that we have (and she has won 2 major awards and was short-listed for the Whitbread Poetry Award). And let’s not forget Shyam Selvadurai who also has 2 awards to his name and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize. I’m exhausted listing all these awards and I haven’t even named them all.

I suppose in this case, A-list means best-seller and not critical. I’m not panning Rankin, because I think he is an intelligent, sophisticated and literary writer (whatever that means and I don’t really want to go into the whole literary/genre controversy here), but I guess for some people, books that don’t exist on bestseller lists aren’t really A-list. But I doubt that’s how book lovers would rate authors. In fact, I didn’t go and see Ian Rankin talk because his session clashed with that of another up and coming author. A literary festival is somewhere where you go and learn about new authors as much as the established ones.

Frankly, calling these authors C and D-list, then writing an article that doesn’t even discuss the literary events apart from a few (and there were many extremely interesting events suited to all tastes) and concentrating your article on all the non-literary events (which I agree were brilliant and only enhanced the literary festival) just shows that maybe some people do only read nursery rhymes (and Ian Rankin). Obviously that hasn’t stopped them coming to the GLF every year and enjoying themselves. In fact, maybe they want to put people off to ensure tickets for next year’s festival.

During the GLF this year, Sunila Galappatti, the director of the festival invited one of GLF’s vocal critics on stage so that they could discuss what bothered him about the GLF in public. After almost an hour of arguing and getting nowhere, she asked him why he was here. And his reply? Because he liked coming to the festival. If you like it so much, why are your pissing on it?

I don’t think there can ever be a perfect festival. And in a highly literate country like Sri Lanka (over 90%), having a festival in English excludes a large percentage of people seriously interested in literature but who may not be so fluent in the language. And even if you do understand English, the festival is still closed to you. I understand the frustration. The price of tickets and rooms are just too high for local Sri Lankans and yes, if possible, something should be done to even it out. And this year, the organisers have provided a lot more free events, both literary and musical.

But the GLF is an international literary festival celebrating literature in English. Instead of going on and on about how insulting this festival is to Sri Lanka and its people (hello, the GLF is generating a lot of tourism and revenue for the country), why don’t these unhappy people organise a literary festival in Sinhala and Tamil? You won’t even have to invite these ‘imported’ authors. And you can get rid of all the expats and foreigners. Perfect.

But that doesn’t really solve anything, does it? The GLF doesn’t have to be the sole literary festival in Sri Lanka. What it’s done is opened the template to what a literary festival can achieve. And it’s modelled itself on the literary festivals that are so popular and successful abroad. And if Sri Lankans can take that and make something that can be enjoyed by everyone, then surely, that must be a good thing.

This GLF bashing seems to be a perrenial pastime for many journalists and attendees. And part of the reason is the language politics that still dominates Sri Lankan politics today. David Blacker, a Sri Lankan author, discusses this more eloquently here.

Anyway, enough with the ranting. I had a great time at the Galle Literary Festival this year. And I chose to go because I wanted to meet some of my favourite authors whose words have enriched my life and given me an insight into the world. And maybe I’ll never get the chance to meet them again, but to me, it was totally worth it. And yes, that includes spending my hard-earned cash.

*I have not been paid to advertise or promote the GLF.

Reading Patterns

31 January, 2010

This sums up exactly how I feel.

Sometimes I make a silent list of what I’m going to read in the next few months but I’m so easily sidetracked, especially when I read a good book on an interesting subject. I want to know more about it so I start hunting down the books in the bibiliography or look up associated titles on the web and before you know it, I have built up another tbr pile from scratch. My thirst for knowledge seems insatiable, but I need to reprimand myself occasionally and tell myself that if I don’t actually read those books, it will remain just that: a thirst, unsatiated.

There’s something satisfying about having a reading plan, but I’ve only realised since joining all the challenges that I am beginning to feel a tad stifled (even though I chose the books myself and it’s from a list of books that I actually want to read and hence is in my tbr pile). I wonder what it is about being hemmed in on the straight and narrow that makes you want to kick aside the rails. I always envy the people who can stick to it until the end.

Maybe it’s just that up until now, I’ve always chosen what to read on a whim, on a feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I am excited about the books I’ll be reading and even within my lists, I’ve enough freedom to pick and choose what I like. Maybe I’m just a little ovewhelmed at all the books I feel I ought to read. We’ll see how it goes. What about you?

Blogging posts and comments

3 December, 2009

Claire from Paperback Reader has posted on an interesting topic: will blog for comments which I think a lot of bloggers have thought about at some point. I must admit that when I see the number of people who are reading my blog, I can’t help but get a little thrill. I started this just for myself and didn’t really expect people to read it. I didn’t tell my family or friends about it until about two months after I started blogging. I’m pretty shy so although I’ve been reading many book and food blogs, I tend to lurk rather than comment. But sometimes, I find I can’t help myself from commenting because they are talking about books I love or am interested in or food that I can’t help but want to eat. And it’s such a nice feeling when people begin to comment on my posts.

But for me, I have to keep reminding myself that I blog because I want to talk about the books I read and love (and sometimes get a bit annoyed with – I’m still struggling to deal with writing a negative review). I’m not a professional reviewer, but I read a lot and I buy books that I want to read so I feel I’m entitled to an opinion as a reader. And when I write my reviews, I really think about what I’m writing. There’s nothing flippant about my reviews, even though some of my posts may be humorous, although I suspect I may be the only one laughing…

But Claire has a valid point because, even though I write for myself, when I know that other people are reading my posts and wanting to interact with me, it makes me happy. And then you want to write more posts, even better posts that are entertaining and that will impart interesting information to others.

Everyone has their own reasons for blogging and I think it’s fine. It’s cool that they feel passionately enough about blogging that they will spend an hour or so trying to perfect their posts two or three nights a week instead of just spending that time sitting in front of the telly doing nothing. I just feel that occasionally it’s nice to remind yourself why you blog.

Discussing Feminism

25 November, 2009

I meant to put up a link to Book Snob‘s post a week ago but have been busy catching up on Nano, watching New Moon (don’t judge me!) and contemplating turning 36 (how did this happen?), so naturally I forgot… But I’m glad I did because this is such a great discussion on feminism and what feminism means to women today, and in the interim there have been so many more incredible comments which have been added to this post.

It’s quite topical as I have joined the year-long Women Unbound Challenge which started this month and have been thinking about feminism and what it means to be a woman in today’s society a lot more in the past month. Currently I’m reading Kristin Cashore’s Graceling in which there is an intriguing female protagonist which I think qualifies for this challenge.

So what are you waiting for? Go and check it out! Now!


Talking about Sri Lankan and diasporic literature, I’ve been a bit of a wuss and have been avoiding writing a review of this book because of the subject matter and the emotions that it entails. But V.V. Ganeshananthan has written a beautiful book and I’m not really doing it justice if I put it off any longer. Love Marriage is a truly accomplished debut novel from an author who I think will go on to greater things. Like A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam which I have raved on about in an earlier post, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a discussion at the Galle Literary Festival 2009 earlier in January between Ganeshananthan and Sanjana Hattotuwa who runs Groundviews, the Sri Lankan citizens journalism website.

Following in the footsteps of Shyam Selvadurai, Romesh Gunasekara and Michael Ondaatje, Ganeshananthan tackles Sri Lanka’s Sinhaha/Tamil ethnic conflict, probing its origins in a sensitive, yet hard hitting manner. You can’t really pussyfoot around such a bloody event that spanned almost thirty years, ending only with an aggressive and bloody offensive by the Sri Lankan government this year. You can’t really pick sides, your ethnicity dictating where you have to stand. But not everyone agrees with the hard lines taken up by the political, religious and ethnic factions and there are many vocal journalists and activists who are not afraid to make a stand and to call for justice. But everyone has lost someone they loved, been uprooted, lost their homes. No one remains unscathed.

Despite these dark and painful foundations, Ganeshananthan manages to weave a very human, and warm, story. Moving back and forth from newly independant Ceylon to Sri Lanka and then to contemporary USA, the past is bathed in sepia tones the colour of orange pekoe tea. But it’s not just the past, but also the current displaced Tamil diaspora in the US and Canada that feature largely in her tale. Many are brought up with stories that had escaped along with their narrators from the fiery inferno of a rioting country where grievances have lain long and simmering since Ceylon was held under the colonial yoke.

What I admire about Ganeshananthan’s writing is that she paints a convincing picture of the seductive pull of the Tamil Tigers when one’s cultural and national identities are brought into question, especially in her character Kumaran. Black July, when the rioting and massacres began in earnest against the Tamil people in retaliation for the murders of Sinhalese soldiers is brought back to life in a frightening and haunting manner. The aftershocks of such violence and the moment when irreversible choices are made reverberate throughout the novel. In contrast to the violent modern history of the country, Ganeshananthan also portrays a gentler, slower era when families were still living together and sharing their lives.

This novel made me ponder the complex nature of history with regard to cultural and ethnic differences. Sri Lanka’s war was one war amongst many that were and are still being fought in the present day. And I’m glad I read Love Marriage because it made me think about the nature of conflict and face what’s been happening in my father’s country. The war is over, but the struggle still continues until Sri Lanka becomes a country in which all the ethnic population can live in harmony, and respect and honour one another. It’s easier said than done, but I really hope that it will happen one day.

Love Marriage was longlisted for the 2009 Orange Prize.

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

One of my favourite books is the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. Narnia and Nancy Drew were the staples of my childhood reading. And ever since then I have been fascinated by stories set in other worlds. And that probably also fed my fascination of other physical worlds and led me to get a degree in astrophysics. Funny how one thing leads to another.

At school I read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Wizard of Oz (every book I could find in the series and there were a lot) and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern series recommended by one of my friends. I also loved reading mythology and remember being wowed by the story of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung during my music classes when I was nine. The Norse gods, the Roman gods, the Greek gods, the Egyptian gods all enthralled me. And as I’ve said in previous posts, I looooove vampires and werewolves and went through a phase where I only read them, which really worried my sister. I’ll post about them later as I think they deserve a post of their own.

Here are some of the writers and books that I think are incredible:

Science fiction and fantasy
Terry Pratchett (Discworld novels)
Scott Lynch (The Gentleman Bastards series)
Steven Erickson (Malazan Book of the Fallen series)
Steven Donaldson (Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series, The Gap series)
Jasper Fforde (Thursday Next series)
Neil Gaiman (Sandman graphic novels, American Gods)
Iain M. Banks (The Culture series)
Anne Rice (The Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, The Witching Hour)
Katherine Kerr (Deverry series)
Janny Wurts (The Wars of Light and Shadow series)

I’m sure I’ve missed out loads of my favourite books, but the writers I’ve listed above I’ll buy without even having to think twice. Try them if you haven’t, you’ll be impressed with the quality of writing.

There’s so much written about how sff books aren’t taken seriouly by the literati and major awards panels and I have to agree. There’s so many really well written books, a lot which are better written and more substantial than some of the literary novels out there, and I do feel that sff writers get a bum deal. Just because a story isn’t set in the real world doesn’t mean the story has no substance. Fiction is fiction after all. Realist novels are also figments of the writers’ imagination. So what’s the difference? It’s just something that annoys me whenever I start reading about it in the papers. Look at Ian Banks, he can write both literary and science fiction. And both are brilliant. Here’s a recent article about this in the Guardian.

What do you think?