Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your update from Taiwan, India, and Finland!

This week, put on your walking shoes so we can follow Vivian Szu-Chin Chih, Editor-at-Large for Taiwan, through Taipei, from an international book exhibition to a history museum. Then we’ll zip over to India to meet Assistant Managing Editor Janani Ganesan for discussions about literary translation and, wait for it—bull fighting. And finally in Finland, Assistant Blog Editor Hanna Heiskanen has some Finnish Publishing Industry gossip for us. Cheers! 

Editor-at-Large Vivian Szu-Chin Chih reports from Taiwan:

As the Chinese Lunar New Year ushered in the Year of the Rooster, as well as the Ding-You Year (丁酉年) in the Chinese Sexagenary cycle, readers in Taiwan have been anticipating the annual Taipei International Book Exhibition, which is kicking off on February 8 and will last till February 13. The international event for book-lovers will take place at the Taipei World Trade Center, only a few steps away from the landmark 101 building. Among this year’s featured sessions are a forum specifically dedicated to children’s books in Taiwan and a discussion concerning how local bookstores can be redefined and reshaped, featuring several Taiwanese and Japanese speakers and the founding chair of the Melbourne Writers Festival, Mark Rubbo. The eminent Chinese novelist and poet based in the U.S., Ha Jin, will also deliver two speeches, one on the art of humor writing in fiction, the other to announce his two latest books, “The Boat Rocker” (《折騰到底》) and a poetry collection, “Home on the Road” (《路上的家園》). The female poet and publisher from Paris, Anne-Laure Bondoux, will travel to the island to attend the book exhibition as well, giving several talks including a discussion with the Taiwanese novelist Nathalie Chang.

The 90-year-old Taiwanese poet Luo Men passed away this January in Taipei. His poems are rich in imagery, with an emphasis on the spiritual search of the human mind. The TSMC Literature Award will see its fourteenth iteration this year, presented by the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company to encourage emerging young Sinophone writers in Taiwan and overseas. For 2017, all writers under the age of 40 composing in Chinese, traditional or simplified, are welcome to submit a piece of a novel. The deadline will be at the end of August. Since its establishment, the award has provided young Sinophone writers with a platform to debut their literary works. For example, the 2013 first-prize winner from Nanjing, Fei Ying’s novel, was published in Taiwan by INK this past week. One of the previous winners, Liou Dan-Chiou’s latest book on a couple surviving in the wild, is forthcoming, as well.

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the 1947 228 Incident followed by one of the longest martial law periods in the world, imposed upon the island by the Kuomingtang government. To help the society further comprehend this historical trauma and to commemorate the victims of the incident, the National Museum of Taiwan History in Tainan is holding an exhibition and a series of talks on the event. The exhibition will last until late May.

And in India, we catch up with Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor:

The southern state of Tamil Nadu seethed through the month of January in protest against a 2014 Supreme Court ban on the agrarian bull-fighting sport, jallikattu­—usually practiced in January, the month of harvest. When the protests were at their peak in Chennai, the capital city of the state, the issue was highlighted up north as well, at the Jaipur Literature Festival. In a panel titled “The Tamil Story”, writer Imayam first hinted at the ability of the youth to come together and rally against the ban. Writer Perumal Murugan pointed out that K. P. Rajagopalan’s short story “Veerammalin Kaalai”, [“Veerammal’s Bull”] which revolves around the sport, should have been translated into English for The Tamil Story, also the title of a recent anthology of Tamil short stories spanning a century. Murugan called for the story to be translated into other Indian languages as well, so the sport’s cultural context could be understood by the rest of the country, given it sensitively portrays how jallikattu is embedded in Tamil culture, as well as how caste politics operates in the sport.

An animal rights activist in the audience brought jallikattu up in another session on Cultural Appropriation—is it cultural interference to question cruelty against animals and doesn’t “tradition” get used as an easy excuse? Journalist and writer Mrinal Pande, who was on the panel, clarified that her integrity as a human demands that cruelty towards any living being should be stopped.

Meanwhile, The Wire recently published an excerpt from Vaadivaasal (Arena, 1940) by C.S Chellappa, translated from the Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman for Oxford University Press in 2013. “The novella beautifully captures the cultural significance of jallikattu in the life of rural Tamil Nadu, even if the ‘tradition’ is inextricably bound up with feudalism, caste hierarchies, masculinity and patriarchy”, reads The Wire’s foreword. The term vaadivaasal refers to the narrow gate through which bulls are released during the sport. This review of the translation by Tamil writer Ashokamitran, published when the book was released, contextualises Chellappa as an author.

We are thrilled that The Wire has also been reposting Asymptote’Indian Languages Poetry Special Feature—one poem a day since India’s Republic Day (January 26). The column, titled “This Republic of Verse,” features “dreamers, dissenters and rebels”, and concluded on February 1 with Jitendra Vasava’s “Living and Dying in a Foreign Tongue”.

On the heels of the tenth anniversary of the Jaipur Literature Festival follow three others. The Hyderabad Literature Festival (January 27–29) focused on Tamil this year, in its tradition of highlighting a different language each year. It featured a panel on “Endangered Languages of Tamil Nadu”. Younger literary festivals are afoot as well, with the second edition of the Kerala Literature Festival that opened February 2 in Calicut, and the debut Brahmaputra Literary Festival, which just concluded in Guwahati, Assam. With these new entrants, India now plays host to at least twenty literary festivals every year.

And Assistant Blog Editor Hanna Heiskanen updates us in Finland:

Book sales in Finland fell by three percent in 2016, says a report by the Booksellers’ Association of Finland. The overall bestseller of the year by a wide margin was, unsurprisingly, the Finnish translation of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Other popular books in translation show the nation’s fondness for crime literature: the Swedish Kristina Ohlsson and Lars Kepler, as well as Patricia Cornwell, each sold more than 20,000 copies of their latest books.

One of Finland’s most prominent contemporary authors, Sofi Oksanen, is taking part in a multinational theatre project running at the Akademietheater in Vienna, Austria through 11 February. The performance, titled Ein europäisches Abendmahl [A European Holy Communion], consists of texts written by European female authors. In addition to Oksanen, Jenny Erpenbeck, Nino Haratischwili, Elfriede Jelinek, and Terézia Mora were invited to contribute. The authors were not allowed to contact one another whilst writing, but were each required to feature two female characters in their texts. Oksanen’s section will contrast the narratives of an Eastern European egg donor and its recipient living in London.

FILI, Finnish Literature Exchange, has appointed Tiia Strandén as its new director. Strandén has worked at FILI since 2011 and has previously edited several anthologies of poetry.

And of course, as in many other places, the inauguration of Donald Trump continues to make waves in Northern Europe. The Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter lists seven books that “prophesied Trump” in a recent article, including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Warren Ellis’s comic Transmetropolitan, and Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, written in 1935It may not be happening in Finland, per se, but the ripples seem to be reaching farther and farther each day—all the way to Australia, at latest count.


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