Unlike his Malaysian-Chinese compatriots, Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng who have become well-known for novels which fit pretty squarely into the English-language, Ng Kim Chew writes in Chinese from a base in Taiwan. Slow Boat to China is a collection of his short stories, the first book of his—as far as I can tell—to appear in English.
One would think—what with this year being the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare—that a treatment of the playwright in China would be inevitable. And so it has proved: Nancy Pellegrini’s The People’s Bard has just been released as the latest Penguin China Special.
Set in the Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan during the final years of the USSR, The Tale of Aypi by Ak Welsapar focuses on the lives of the inhabitants of a small Turkmen village on the banks of the Caspian Sea. As the story begins, the sleepy fishing village has recently been informed by the central government that everyone is to be relocated to a nearby urban center so that their land can be used for the construction of a new hospice.
Reading and translating Taiwanese poet Ling Yu reminds me much of American writer, environmentalist, and activist Terry Tempest Williams’s wisdom: There is an art to writing, and it is not always disclosure. The act itself can be beautiful, revelatory, and private.
In my opinion, Ling Yu’s poetry contains the above qualities: perhaps aware of how several poets in her country and language are prone to cultivating celebrity fame and fan culture, or capitalizing on Facebook or Twitter to sustain their poetic careers and publicity, Ling Yu strives to create a Beckettian lyricism and silence—in life and her art. What results is a poetic voice that often does not need to be loud or echoey in order to assert its confidence, passion, and weight. On the contrary, it may be heard and felt through the imagery or ambiance it evokes, hence an overall Impressionist effect that comes across as distinctly moving yet oblique.
A novel with a title like Pyre is unlikely to have a happy ending. Nevertheless, the journey towards this inevitable outcome delivers a disturbing insight into human bigotry and brutality whose application extends far beyond the novel’s treatment of inter-caste marriage in contemporary Tamil Nadu.