Book reviews on Indian fiction and non-fiction from 2018, covering history, literature, sociology, art, culture and international relations.
Ha Jin may be known for his award-winning fiction, in particular Waiting which won the National Book Award for Fiction (1999) and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (2000), but his poetry collection is an ambitious and original volume that explores the irreplaceable significance of home, the honesty of writing, and the language for freedom.
The West tends to think and speak of ancient India as a spiritual lot, as a place and time which gives extraordinary importance to religion, and other dimensions of otherworldliness. The poet R Parthasarthy goes to the texts, different from the usual epics, that engage with love in all its corporeality.
Is poetry a potent enough protest to move the political needle? In other cultures—the Middle East comes to mind—poetry is fundamental. In a recent article in the BBC, somewhat controversially entitled “Why I became a jihadist poetry critic”, Elisabeth Kendall is quoted as “Anybody who’s spent time in the Middle East knows how important poetry is. Any tin-pot taxi driver in Cairo can recite poetry.” But in English, or in East Asia?
The “thousand star hotel” of the title is a metaphor of the night sky, the roof of the homeless. Bao Phi’s prose poem attributes this to a self-deprecating Vietnamese joke. Who knows? It is just one of perhaps one thousand metaphors, images and turns of phrase that sparkle in this new collection.
Hong Kong Women in Publishing is an organization that promotes the status of women working in publishing and related fields and publishes an annual anthology of members’ writing and artwork. Imprint 16 is the latest volume in the series.
Beautifully poised and profound, Louder than Hearts, a collection by Lebanese-born poet Zeina Hashem Beck, articulates the reverberations of home, exile and family history in the 21st century from the perspective of an Arabic woman, feeling her otherness and connection with communities locally and abroad, and her empathy towards the homelessness suffered by the refugees.