The Monthly Booking: August 2020

In my last post I mentioned that August is Women in Translation Month – the perfect opportunity to explore some of the incredible literature being written and translated by women (and support some independent presses while you’re at it!). Although I will be reading a couple of these titles in the coming month, my actual theme for August is slightly different.

As I’ve been looking forward to reading these four books for a while, and because travel doesn’t look very likely in the near future, I’ve decided to take myself to Asia in my next batch of summer reading. It’s a whirlwind mini-tour of the continent, with literature from Japan, China, Thailand and India on the list – happily, most of it translated.

This month’s fiction choice was inspired particularly by translator Arunava Sinha, who recently called out Western readers for their tendency to read books by Indian authors writing in English. There are actually more than 120 different languages in India – with thousands of variations on them – of which 22 are officially recognised. I’m certainly guilty of not reading any of these languages in translation, but found this list inspiring enough to want to change that.

Unusually for me, I’m also reading several digital copies this month, leaving me with a lack of real books to photograph. Hard copies will hopefully be returning in September.

In August I will be reading and reviewing:

Fiction

A Ballad of Remittent Fever by Ashoke Mukhopadhyay, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha (Aleph Book Company)

What the publisher says: ‘Distinctive and beautifully wrought, A Ballad of Remittent Fever is a stunning exploration of the world of medicine and the ordinary miracles performed by physicians in the course of their daily lives. Originally published in the Bengali as Abiram Jwarer Roopkatha, this is one of the most original novels to have come out of India in the twenty-first century.’

Non-fiction

The Bells of Old Tokyo: Travels in Japanese Time by Anna Sherman (Picador)

What the publisher says: ‘For over 300 years, Japan closed itself to outsiders, developing a remarkable and unique culture. During its period of isolation, the inhabitants of the city of Edo, later known as Tokyo, relied on its public bells to tell the time. In her remarkable book, Anna Sherman tells of her search for the bells of Edo, exploring the city of Tokyo and its inhabitants and the individual and particular relationship of Japanese culture – and the Japanese language – to time, tradition, memory, impermanence and history.’

Translation

Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana, translated from the Thai by Mui Poopoksakul (Tilted Axis Press)

What the publisher says: ‘In thirteen stories that investigate ordinary and working-class Thailand, characters aspire for more but remain suspended in routine . . . With curious wit, this collection offers revelatory insight and subtle critique, exploring class, gender, and disenchantment in a changing country.’

Small Press

The Book of Shanghai edited by Dai Congrong and Dr Jin Li (Comma Press)

What the publisher says: ‘The characters in this literary exploration of one of the world’s biggest cities are all on a mission . . . From the neglected mother whose side-hustle in collecting sellable waste becomes an obsession, to the schoolboy determined to end a long-standing feud between his family and another, these characters show a defiance that reminds us why Shanghai – despite its hurtling economic growth –remains an epicentre for individual creativity.’


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