Umami Mart

It’s been a while, right? It doesn’t mean I haven’t been eating. At the end of last year, I did a runner for my birthday and flew to Perth with my friends and stopped in Hong Kong on the way back. It was 3 days of eating and sightseeing and boy did we manage to eat lots and lots of incredible Chinese food. And we insisted on only Chinese food. And we started with Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin-starred dim sum joint where you have to queue with the locals and there is no special treatment. But it is SO worth it. Check me out at Umami Mart: Slightly Peckish!

In bookish news, I finally finished parts 1 & 2 of Haruki Murakami’s chunkster, 1Q84. I’ll review it once I finish part 3 which I am dying to read. It’s proving to be one of my favourite Murakami novels at the moment. I’m currently trying to finish Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, my pick for this month’s book group which I can only describe as different.

Upcoming is a brand new literary festival hosted by Daunt Books, details here, on March 27th and 28th. Some quality sessions including one to celebrate Virago Modern Classics. Deborah Levy will be there and they will be discussing Barbara Comyns, one of my favourite authors! So do put it in your diaries. I recently swung by Daunt Books in Marylebone and got myself one of their canvas bags in navy and a copy of Sisters By A River.

I’m so glad that Virago is bringing Comyns back into print. I wouldn’t have discovered her if not for Simon T kindly sending me an out of print copy of Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead which was magnificent. More people need to read her!

Sisters By A River

Slightly Peckish Tuesday

20 August, 2013

Umami Mart

It’s been a while hasn’t it? But it doesn’t mean I haven’t been eating! On a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, I ate a lot of things in an incredibly short space of time. Check out the first in a series of posts on KL for Umami Mart: Slightly Peckish starting with Bah Kut Teh. Don’t know what it is? Then go and check me out!

In bookish news, I read quite a few books on holiday, mostly mysteries which was exactly what I needed. I finally finished the 5th book in the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, Dark Road to Darjeeling. I also began reading Ben Aaronovich’s urban mysteries featuring PC Peter Grant, Rivers of London, which lived up to all the hype and I went straight on to the second and third volumes once I got home. And I took my hardback copy of Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of Time all the way to Sri Lanka and Malaysia only to finish it once I got back to London. Don’t get me wrong, it’s exquisite but not one you want to read when you are in a hurry. And because de Kretser is such a fine writer, I dug out my copy of her first novel, The Rose Grower, and have just started it.

I only brought back a few books this time.

SL 2013 books

Island of a Thousand Mirrors
by Nayomi Munaweera which I actually got last November but didn’t manage to write about. This first novel has been garnering a lot of attention.

Doomsday by Mahasara Gunaratne, a whodunnit featuring Uncle Arthur set in early 20th century Ceylon. I’m thinking a Sri Lankan Agatha Christie, perhaps? Apparently it’s a series but I was unable to find the first volume. Can’t wait to tuck in.

And Shyam Selvadurai’s new novel, The Hungry Ghosts which I cannot wait to start.

Ghost Town

Rinder himself came of immigrant stock. He had clawed his way into society, had become a partner in the House of van Horn, had married into the family – all good reasons why others must be prevented from doing the same.

I get all excited about finding books to read whenever I plan a holiday just so’s I can immerse myself in the culture and history of the place I’m visiting . But my trip to New York was way too short and I only managed to read 1.5 books. Patrick McGrath’s Ghost Town: Tales of Manhattan Then and Now was a recommendation on Kim’s blog and was appropriate as I spent 4 days in Manhattan with no time to explore the other boroughs of NYC.

Ghost Town is a collection of three stories stretching from the American War of Independence to New York’s rising economic boom in the 19th century to the aftermath of 9/11.

The Year of the Gibbet
is a son’s lament on the downfall of his mother’s revolutionary activities in which he tries to expunge his guilt 50 years later. There is an immediacy to McGrath’s tale, as the British army advances on Manhattan, burning everything in sight, the locals struggling to cope with death and overcrowding, helping each other and covertly assisting General Washington’s troops. Edmund’s mother is a strong, patriotic woman intent on keeping her family together and fighting the British. Set at a turning point in New York’s history, McGrath manages to keep this story visual and lyrical.

In Julius we encounter Noah van Horn as he facilitates his social mobility by building a house on prime Manhattan property. The much longed-for birth of his son Julius is tempered by the tragic death of his wife and the little boy is brought up severely by his father only cushioned occasionally by his three older sisters. This reminded me most of Edith Wharton’s New York. The middle class riding the crest of the industrialist wave, the establishment of founding families in one generation, New York was the the place to be if you wanted to marry up and become grand. Julius is the naïve rich boy living in a bubble when he falls inappropriately in love with Annie Kelly, an artist’s model. When his brother-in-law Max Rinder offers to help Noah, Julius’ mind cracks and he spends the next 20 years in a mental institution. It’s a bittersweet and haunting tale, the presence of prejudice and social ambition just lurking under the surface. This is probably my favourite of the three stories.

In Ground Zero, a psychiatrist treats a patient who is having trouble connecting with the opposite sex and falls for an escort. 9/11 looms large in the background as the characters try to move on with their lives, all the while trying to come to terms with what happened that day in their city and shattered so many lives. This was more Sex and the City albeit with some deeper themes, especially the notion of forgiveness, the capacity to hurt one another and the unreliability of people’s narratives.

I was expecting McGrath’s writing to be gritty (for no reason except that somehow I associate Manhattan with grittiness) and was surprised by the gentleness of his prose as I was by the physical ease and convenience of Manhattan itself when I visited. The stories aren’t too heavy even though some of the thematic strands are dark. What remains after finishing Ghost Town is a sense of nostalgia regarding Manhattan’s history and the love of the place felt by its inhabitants.

Slightly Peckish Tuesday

19 March, 2013

I delve into the London Ramen Wars again with a review of Tonkotsu in Soho. Have I converted you into a noodle slurper yet? Check me out at Umamimart: Slightly Peckish!

In bookish news, I recently acquired the following books. It’s been a while since I’ve done a drool worthy post which doesn’t mean that I haven’t been buying books. If only I had some self control. Le sigh.

These were kindly sent to me by publishers or bought by me:

Books March 1

These are from the library plus 2 Japanese manga:

Books March 2

And this one I liberated from my sister’s house to re-read:

Books March 3

I’ve also been reading a couple of books set in New York because I will be flying out to the Big Apple in a couple of days with my sister to see my friends and experience what to many is their favourite American city. I’ve finished Patrick McGrath’s Ghost Town and am now reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close both of which were recommended on Kim’s blog. No doubt I will find some books when I get there. I’m planning on visiting The Strand Bookshop and, because I’m half-Japanese, Kinokuniya (who can resist?) Any other recs?

Hello there. How are you?

I seem to have missed chatting with you all as the end of 2011 gathered speed and bulldozed all my me-time in a swirl of get-togethers, cocktails and lots and lots of comestibles. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t say no.

I’ll soon be off on my yearly trip to Sri Lanka and will be checking out the Galle Literary Festival again. This time, I have done NO preparation for the festival and will be going with the flow. I think this may be how 2012 will be for me. More chillin’, less frettin’.

I am, however, looking forward to seeing Katie Kitamura talk about her novel The Longshot. I got a copy for my brother-in-law who has given it a big thumbs up as an avid fan and practitioner of MMA himself. I will, of course, be borrowing the book from him once he’s finished, hehe. Juliet Nicholson will also be there to talk about The Great Silence: 1918-1920 Living in the Shadow of the Great War – a favourite historical period of mine. Richard Dawkins, John Boyne and D.J. Taylor will also be there. And I’m excited to seek more new Sri Lankan authors such as Randy Boyagoda and Roshi Fernando who will be talking about Sri Lankan writing in the diaspora. And this time, I’ll hopefully find out more about Sri Lankans writing in Sri Lanka. As usual, there will be panel discussions on literature, politics and war (as Sri Lanka recovers from its 30 year internal conflict) and documentaries about life in the north and the history of Dutch burghers. Lots of interesting stuff to look forward to.

I’ve got myself a brand new spanking phone and hopefully will be able to twitter about the GLF if I can find free wi-fi.

And that’s not all. I’ll be taking a short trip to Bangkok where I’ll be stuffing my face with all sorts of Thai delights! That’s what my family do, you see. We travel to eat. Sticky rice and mango, here I come! And of course, pop into Kinokuniya to stock up on some Japanese books.

So I will leave you with a tentative list of books I’m planning to bung into my suitcase:

Dust of Dreams (Malazan 8) by Steven Erikson
Clash of Kings (Song of Ice and Fire 2) by George R.R. Martin
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – as I doubt I’ll finish it before I go
Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka – What? I still haven’t read this?
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – if it doesn’t push my suitcase over the weight limit
And a couple of mysteries I haven’t decided upon yet.

So what are you all up to? Any plans for the new year? Or is there a book I absolutely must take with me on holiday? Come on, spill!

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway is a series of vignettes written between 1957 and 1960 just before Hemingway’s death about his life in early 1920s Paris when he was still an impoverished and struggling writer.

My father read this last year when we visited Paris and kept raving on about it, so this year I decided to crack it open as we were visiting the French capital again. Don’t you feel like reading up about a place you’re going to visit? I always get the urge. Usually I’m all over the existentialists, but this year, we walked in the footsteps of Hemingway, even staying in a hotel on rue Vaugirard which goes all the way to the Luxembourg Gardens where Hemingway used to walk. The only place we didn’t visit was his local bar Closerie de Lilas (which my father managed to find after I’d already returned to London. Well done, Dad!)

Hemingway talks about the mechanics of writing, his daily rituals, how he and his first wife, Hadley, celebrated when he finished a story, betting on horses to make money for holidays, what they ate, drank and what was most interesting to me, was his friendships with other writers. There was Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein who he later fell out with (but she fell out with almost everyone), Ford Maddox Ford and of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald. In some ways it’s a romantic idea of a writer’s vision of Paris in the 1920s, and you begin to wonder how much of Hemingway’s recollection is remembered through rum-filled glasses, as he wrote A Moveable Feast almost 40 years after the events and just before his death.

Sylvia Beach and her bookshop, the original Shakespeare & Company where James Joyce used to frequent, then situated in the rue de L’Odeon, played an important part in young Hemingway’s life. I hadn’t realised that Beach’s bookshop was also a lending library and it was lovely to read how she would lend him books even though he didn’t have the money to pay. You get the feeling that the writers all supported each other because they knew how important books were.

I think what surprised me most about this collection was how romantic Hemingway came across. His softness and love of Hadley was surprising to me.

I really enjoyed this collection and recommend it to anyone who is going to visit Paris. It will give you a new perspective of the writer and the city. So of course now I have to get my mitts on The Paris Wife by Paul McLain about Hadley, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s first novel, and The Garden of Eden based on the breakup of his first marriage, just so I can steep myself further in the legend of Papa.

Also, Dolce Bellezza and A Book Sanctuary are doing a readalong this month, so if you are thinking of picking up A Moveable Feast, why not join them?

is all about Paris today. So check me out at Umamimart: Slightly Peckish!

The weekend before last my family and I made a flying visit to Paris. As we were travelling with my sister’s family, this time including my two little nephews, we did a lot more touristy things such as visit the Notre Dame and climb the Eiffel Tower. Even my brother-in-law who suffers from vertigo. Respect, ‘coz the lift kept climbing and climbing and it was a pretty gusty day. We also didn’t need to queue or pay at the Musée d’Orsay which we visited after a lovely dinner because luckily for us May 14th was La Nuit de Musée where lots of museums and galleries open their doors until the wee hours for free. I hadn’t been to the Orsay in 20 years and it was a revelation to see so many beautiful paintings by the Impressionists. I even rediscovered my favourite painting by Maurice Denis which I had copied for my grandmother as a kid. I had always wrongly assumed it was by Degas, so was flabbergasted. It was so beautiful.

And of course we hung out in our favourite square in St. Germain des Prés:

And I came back with these goodies:

And talking about everything French, BookBath and Thyme for Tea are hosting Paris in July again. I’m in. Are you?

Also, to celebrate the publication of her new book, London Walks!, badaude will be doing signings and talks and even a walk so do check her out. I’m really excited about this book!

On a slightly different note, Kals who blogs at At Pemberley has started a fascinating project, A Passage to the British Raj, on the impact of the British Raj and the East India Company on India, it’s subsequent independence and Partition. So do go and check it out!

I seem to be lucking out on excellent reading material at the moment. One after the other I’m dazzled and left gaping in astonishment at the scope of the story and the sophistication of prose. I have heard so much about The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and snapped it up at a charity shop many, many months ago. But I always seem to take time reading books from my TBR pile. Only when I was given the chance to see Kingsolver at the Southbank Centre did I think of picking up her book to read before the event. Of course, I’m a pretty slow reader so didn’t finish the book, but the first paragraph captivated me and I stayed captivated in the month it took me to finish the book (of course I was reading other books at the same time, I’m not that slow^^). But I didn’t want to hurry the book because I wanted to savour Kingsolver’s prose, which was tight, beautiful and without a single unnecessary word. I just loved everything about The Poisonwood Bible. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really in the mood to read a novel about Africa and I didn’t really know much about the history of Congo/Zaire. And I’m not such a fan of missionary fiction either. But a trusted friend of mine recommended her book and I had also heard so much about it.

Kingsolver somehow manages to turn a story of a zealous Baptist missionary in the 1960s who heads off to Congo to convert the Congolese to Christianity and save their souls as well as his own, towing a world-weary wife and four young daughters into an epic, yet intimate, tale in which you end up caring deeply about the characters. Nathan Price has wounds of his own from WWII and is afraid of nothing. His wife, Orleanna, is no longer in love with her husband but cannot escape to another life. His four daughters love and fear him at the same time. Nathan is a self-righteous misogynist who believes in his vocation to the detriment of all around him. Yet even though he preaches the love of Jesus, that love is seriously missing from his family life. Kingsolver deftly draws the turmoil, the silent accusations, the bickering in the family at the same time setting the story in the turbulent history of a changing Belgian Congo. The Price family go to Africa to change it but are forever changed by it.

The story is told in short chapters, giving each female family member a distinct voice that is very cleverly done. No one person is perfect. No one person is innocent, except maybe for the youngest child, Ruth May. We see each person as they grow and realise the predicament they are in within their own family and the world and how it affects the choices they make in their lives, even Rachel, the eldest daughter, hating Congo for disrupting her teens and her dream of becoming prom queen. Kingsolver describes her beautifully and you aren’t surprised by the woman she becomes.

We follow the course of Congo’s history and the birth of Zaire, American’s manipulations and betrayal and the predicament Africa is in because of its rich resources. The Poisonwood Bible isn’t just about the Price family and Congo, but about the nature of politics and political change. Reading this book, I felt angry and infinitely sad at the way Congo was played by the Western world, its people inconsequential. Yet wherever there is oppression, there is always revolution, and one is left hoping that things will balance out, even if not straight away.

I was inspired by the character of Anatole Ngemba, the intelligent, wise and passionate Congolese teacher ready to give everything for a fairer, democratic Congo for the Congolese people, ready to stand up for his beliefs and to protect his family, in complete contrast to Nathan Price. What a man.

The Poisonwood Bible is a brilliant, heartfelt and passionate love letter to Africa and the problems it faces. Kingsolver manages to combine a family saga, a political treatise and a love story into a wonderful book and I finished the book impressed that she was able to keep my interest engaged in what is a complex, multi-thread narrative. I can’t recommend this enough and have already given my copy to my father, who spent most of his career as an expert on Africa. I hope he likes it as much as I did.

I’ve got The Lacuna, which won the Orange Prize 2010, waiting on my TBR pile, and although I’ve got a lot of other titles to read before I get to it, I’ll be looking forward to reacquainting myself with Kingsolver’s beautiful prose.

Another one down for the TBR 2010 Challenge.

Paris Redux

17 August, 2010

So I went to Paris for four days last week with my family, something we do every few years. My parents met in Paris so it’s their favourite city in the world. We went in August this year so it was nice and empty except for tourists dotted here and there. But compared to London, there was enough breathing and walking space and we were able to get a table in any café and bistro we walked into. Nice one!

We each drew up a list of places we wanted to visit and of course, you’ve guessed mine: the Shakespeare and Company bookshop. Last time we arrived just at closing time and were unable to have a look, so this time, after a breakfast of tartines, croissants and café au lait while taking in the gorgeous view of Notre Dame, we trotted off to the famous secondhand bookshop bright and early. We spent a good hour there marvelling at the decor, the illustrations along the staircase by one of my favourite illustrators and writers Badaude and trying to figure out the sleeping arrangements of the tumbleweeds (aspiring writers who come to Paris in search of their muse and kip over at Shakespeare & Co in exchange for working in the shop and reading a book a day).

It’s a beautiful, cosy and welcoming place with lots of very interesting nooks and crannies filled with books. Lovely. Lucky for me I was born into a family of booklovers, but we had places to go and see, so I left with a copy of the poster (illustrated by Badaude again) of the biannual literary festival Festival and Co (where events are free!) which I sadly missed this year and also a copy of Shakespeare and Company’s literary journal, The Paris Magazine.

We stayed in a lovely hotel near the Odéon and because it’s very close to the Sorbonne and the University of Paris Medical Faculty, the streets were teaming with small bookshops from medical to architectural. Near our hotel we found two other English secondhand bookshops: The San Francisco Book Company and the The Berkeley Books of Paris! I’d heard of them but didn’t think I’d stumble across them.

And of course, how could we overlook my father’s favourite bookshop when he was a student there all those years ago, Gibert Jeune next to the Metro Saint Michel, with it’s iconic yellow signs.

We also had our after dinner coffees at a wonderful literary café, les éditeurs with book-lined walls and comfy red leather chairs:

I think I now understand why my parents are always going on about the Quartier Latin and Boulevard Saint Michel. Naturally we left Paris with a new nickname for my dad: Boule Miche! Vive la France and May 1968!

~  ♦  ~  ♦  ~  ♦  ~  ♦  ~  ♦  ~

On a different note, have you all had a chance to visit the BBC Archive – In Their Own Words: British Novelists site? Interviews galore! I’ll be spending the next few weeks with my ears glued to the screen.

Paris in July update

18 July, 2010

I’m in the middle of reading Muriel Barbary’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog which I’m lovin’, lovin’, lovin’. It’s such a cool and beautifully written book and I’m taking my time reading it.

In the meantime, I’ve booked a short trip to the beautiful city at the beginning of August with my parents and thought this book would be useful: 24 Hours Paris by Marsha Moore which I was lucky enough to win from Me And My Big Mouth. Our family’s been in love with Paris since before we were born so we’re pretty au fait with the place, but it doesn’t hurt to find new places to go, right? It’s a pretty nifty guide divided by hour, and believe me, there are tonnes of things to do 24/7.

One place I’ve got my eye on is the Albert Kahn Museum. I saw a documentary about him and his photographers who have amassed a huge collection of autochromes from around the world in the early 20th century. You see long forgotten people and cultures in COLOUR and they are beautiful.

And we’ll be stopping by for a Grand Marnier soufflé at Le Soufflé. Yum.

I’ve been meaning to visit the Catacombs at Denfert-Rochereau for years but I don’t think my parents are gothically inclined…

And I’ve saved the best for last: thank you BookBath and Thyme for Tea for the Tournée du Chat Noir torch light which I won for Paris in July. It’s amazingly stylish and will be very useful!