Saturday, December 27, 2014

Frog by Mo Yan, Translated by Howard Goldblatt

Source: Goodreads
Mo Yan
Translated by Howard Goldblatt (from Chinese)
2015, I read an advanced review copy
389 pages, historical fiction, psychological, epistolic

Thank you to the Goodreads Firstreads program, through which I had the opportunity to read a free advanced review copy of this book. 

Tadpole, a Chinese playwright, is working on a play about the emotional fallout of the Cultural Revolution and the enforcement of the One-Child Policy. To organize his ideas, he writes a series of letters to his Japanese sensei describing his childhood memories and family stories. He focuses on the position of his aunt Gugu in their village community. A talented obstetrician, she was initially loved for her ability to save mothers' lives with new, modern medical techniques, but later she becomes the local face of the family planning commission. The novel, and Tadpole's play that is included at the end, explore the complexities of the political, moral, and medical situation created by the family planning policies of the Chinese state.

Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012.

Read a sample: 

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Friday, December 26, 2014

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

Source: Goodreads
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
Xiaolu Guo
Originally 2007, I read 2008
283 pages, romance, psychological

A young Chinese woman from a peasant background moves to London to study English for a year. Shortly after arriving, she meets a British man who is 20 years older than her, falls in love with him, and moves into his house.

In this novel, written in progressively better English, she recounts events from her English life as they relate to both her own personal development and her relationship with her lover, to whom the writing is addressed. Love and isolation and frustration and culture shock intermingle in this unhesitatingly truthful, intimate story.

Read a sample: 

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A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

Thursday, December 25, 2014

PK, directed by Rajkumar Hirani

India (Hindi), 2014
153 minutes, comedy, drama, satire, science-fiction
Rajkumar Hirani

PK (2014) on IMDb

Indian Science-Fiction 

An alien arrives in the Rajasthani desert in western India. The first man he meets takes his "remote control," the shiny medallion that allows him to contact his spaceship, leaving him stranded naked in the middle of the desert with nothing but an old radio. Without his remote control, without being able to communicate with the Earthlings he meets, somehow he must find a way to get back home.

In Belgium around the same time, a romance springs up between Jaggu, an Indian, and Sarfraz, a Pakistani. But when Jaggu tells her parents that she's in love with a Muslim, her father's Hindu guru attempts to break the couple up. The guru's plan works, and the heartbroken Jaggu returns to India to become a reporter in Delhi.

Delhi is where Jaggu encounters the strange P.K., a man who has a very different outlook on life that both rejuvenates and confuses her. When they discover that the guru that opposed Jaggu's marriage is the same person who has P.K.'s remote control, it's up to them to expose the truth and get P.K. home. 

Watch the trailer on youtube:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens), directed by Fabian Bielinsky

Source: IMDB
Nueve Reinas 
Argentina (Spanish), 2000
114 min, crime thriller
Director: Fabian Bielinsky
Nine Queens (2000) on IMDb

The con artist's big break

Marcos, an experienced con artist, takes on the young, inexperienced Juan as an apprentice for a day. A call from Marcos's estranged sister gives them a lead to a big opportunity - a forger has created an exact duplicate of a rare set of stamps, the Nine Queens, which he was trying to sell to a stamp collecting, exiled diplomat who will leave the country the next day. When Marcos comes into possession of the stamps, he engages Juan's help to pull off the con. But as the difficulty increases and obstacles keep falling in their way, it becomes more and more difficult to determine who, exactly, is conning who.

Watch the full video on Youtube:

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Şafak

Guest Post written by Tathagata Neogi

The Forty Rules of Love
Elif Şafak
Originally 2009, I read 2011
355 pages, Sufi romance

Parallel tales of love

On a chilly winter morning in the 13th century, a dervish named Shams of Tabriz arrives at the town of Konya in central Turkey. He had travelled all the way from Baghdad in order to meet the renowned philosopher Rumi, who is destined to be his spiritual partner. Eight centuries later in Massachusetts, Ella Rubenstein, an unhappily married mother of three, receives her first book manuscript for review, a novel named Sweet Blasphemy. The manuscript that she hesitantly starts reading narrates the story of Shams of Tabriz’s meeting with Rumi and how it transformed both their lives, and lives of those associated with them. Will it transform Ella’s life too? Will it change her perspective on life and help her to fall in love once again? 

Read a sample: 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

I Am Istanbul (Istanbullu) by Buket Uzuner, Translated by Kenneth J. Dakan

Source: Everest Yayinlari
I Am Istanbul (Istanbullu)
Buket Uzuner
Translated by Kenneth J. Dakan (from Turkish)
Originally 2007, I read Everest Publication's 2008 version
421 pages, drama

The Airport: Land of Arrivals and Departures

Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul. On this day, as on any other day, it is crowded with people: people waiting for passport control, people running to catch their plane, people checking their makeup in the bathroom, people gazing at the arrivals board, people shopping for last-minute duty-free Turkish Delight. Airport staff greet them, direct them, flush toilets when they forget. On this absolutely normal day, a couple is about to be reunited and start a new life together: Ayhan, a Kurdish sculptor, and Belgin, a professor of genetics formerly based in New York. Are they ready for this tremendous change? And are they ready for what the airport will throw at them in the next few hours?

This novel explores the thoughts, feelings, and impressions of a wide range of Istanbullu who are only united by their common, anonymous presence in the airport at the same time. Can they find common ground in a moment of crisis?

Read a sample

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I Am Istanbul

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Source: Goodreads
Midnight's Children
by Salman Rushdie
Originally published 1981, I read 2013
647 pages, fantasy, history

A boy and his destiny

Saleem Sinai was born at the exact moment when India gained independence on August 15, 1947. This coincidence, he believes, binds his life and fate with that of the nation. It also gave him, and all of the other children born in that first hour of independence, special powers. Will these special children become the saviors of the new nation? Or will the nation turn against them? 

Read a sample or buy from Amazon: 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Adventures of Misfit Defne Kaman: Water by Buket Uzuner, Translated by Clare Frost and Alexander Dawe

Source: Everest Yayinlari
The Adventures of Misfit Defne Kaman: Water
by Buket Uzuner
Translated by Clare Frost and Alexander Dawe (from Turkish)
Originally published 2012, English edition 2014
376 pages, feminist fantasy, mystery

A Mystery Unfolding...

The police Sergeant Ümit Kaman is just counting down the minutes until his vacation and a chance to escape from the summer heat of the city when a missing person report draws him into a strange world in which anything is possible. The journalist Defne Kaman has disappeared, seemingly into thin air - many people watched her step onto a ferry, but no one saw her step off! Her mother and sister reassure the Sergeant that she disappears like this all the time, but her charismatic grandmother seems worried. She also seems to know more about the Sergeant than she has any right to know... such as his 2-year-old heartbreak over being separated from the woman he loves...

The plot thickens when the missing journalist appears before the Sergeant in a crowded street, silent and soaking wet, and thrusts a piece of paper into his hands before vanishing again. The paper is covered with codes... codes that might match the couplets of an ancient piece of Proto-Turkish literature that the Sergeant's friend Secondhand Semahat adores.... And then there is the dolphin that's acting strangely, and Defne's grandmother's strange influence - it can't just be charisma, can it?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Aguner Poroshmoni directed by Humayun Ahmed

Source: Wikipedia
Aguner Poroshmoni
Bangladesh (Bengali), 1995
123 min, war
Director: Humayun Ahmed
Aguner Poroshmoni (1995) on IMDb

The first film directed by the late Humayun Ahmed, a famous Bangladeshi novelist and director.

Caught in the middle of a genocide, one family struggles to survive

1971, East Pakistan: the Bengali guerilla fighters of the Mukti Bahini are engaged in a life-or-death struggle with the Pakistani army. In what was later termed a genocide, the Pakistani military had launched an operation to suppress the Bengali nationalist movement in May 1971. They targeted intellectuals, civilians, students, and activists, brutally murdering them and burying them in mass graves. Many women were captured and used as sex slaves by the soldiers. When the Bengali people realized what was happening, many fled to take refuge in India. Some returned with weapons as part of the Mukti Bahini, using acts of terrorism and guerilla warfare to counter the overwhelming Pakistani force. This struggle ended by the end of the year, with the result of Bangladesh gaining independence from Pakistan. The war, then, is called the Bangladesh Liberation War.

In the midst of this terrible situation, one family in Dhaka is trying to live life as normally as possible. But then the father brings home a man, a stranger that the family has never met before. They soon discover that he's a member of the Mukti Bahini. They must decide whether to help him and endanger themselves, or to make him leave and probably be killed. 

The full film (without English subtitles, unfortunately) on Youtube:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction Volume 1, Edited by Rakesh Kanna, Translated by Pritham K. Chakravarthy

Source: Goodreads
The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction: Volume 1
Editor: Rakesh Kanna
Translator: Pritham K. Chakravarthy (from Tamil)
Originally published 2008, I read 2011
400 pages, pulp fiction (crime, noir, science fiction, fantasy)

Curious about the super-popular but untranslated books in other languages?

Have you ever wondered about the popular books in other languages, the ones that don't normally get translated into English but sell thousands or even millions of copies? This anthology of short pieces of pulp fiction gives you the opportunity to access those stories from one of the major South Indian literary scenes. These are the books that you could buy at the grocery store or gas station if you were in South India and spoke Tamil, all presented in wonderfully readable English with a spunky gun-toting heroine on the cover.

The collection covers a wide range of genres, so there is something for everyone who likes pulp! My favorites were "Matchstick Number One" by Rajesh Kumar (a tale about family and political corruption), "The Rebirth of Jeeva" by Indra Soundar Rajan (a college student on a field trip discovers the truth about her past life!), "Dim Lights, Blazing Hearts" by Ramanichandran (a sort of Pride and Prejudice love story where the woman makes assumptions and acts on stereotypes), and "Sweetheart, Please Die!" by Pattukkottai Prabakar (a mystery about a college student's disappearance).

First few pages available from the publisher.

Buy from Amazon: 

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

Source: Goodreads
The Calcutta Chromosome
Amitav Ghosh
Originally 1995, I read 2009
320 pages, speculative, historical fiction

Fevers and Delirium 

What is the connection between a malaria-ridden Egyptian computer engineer in near-future New York, the Englishman who discovered the malaria parasite in Victorian Calcutta, and a young female reporter in 1995 Kolkata? This fascinating novel explores a web of investigations to discover the truth of a conspiracy theory about the discovery of the malaria parasite in a shadowy world where nothing is quite as it appears... or is it?

Read a preview from HarperCollins:

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Source: Goodreads
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou
Originally 1969, I read 1993
291 pages, Memoir

A Lyrical Memoir

A beautiful memoir in which Maya Angelou recounts her experiences growing up in the American South before the Civil Rights Movement, from her earliest years until she has a baby three weeks after graduating from high school at the age of 17. Contains some explicit material about childhood sexual abuse.

Read a sample or buy from Amazon: 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dil Chahta Hai, directed by Farhan Akhtar

Source: Wikipedia
Dil Chahta Hai
India (Hindi), 2001
183 minutes, drama/ romantic comedy
Director: Farhan Akhtar

Dil Chahta Hai (2001) on IMDb

Three friends graduate college, go on a trip together, find girlfriends, have fights, but come back together at the end. Friendship is awesome!

Watch the full movie on YouTube: 

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Dil Chahta Hai

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Story of the Weeping Camel, directed by Byambasuren Davaa

The Story of the Weeping Camel 
Mongolia, 2003
93 minutes, docudrama
Director: Byambasuren Davaa

A family of nomads living in the Mongolian desert are in the midst of camel birthing season. After a long and a difficult delivery, the last mother in the herd refuses to recognize her calf, a rare and valuable white camel. When the family's attempts to reconcile the two fail, they send their two boys to find a violinist who can perform a ritual. The trip to town and exposure to technology that they have never seen before (especially television) are a treat and learning opportunity for the younger of the two. Finally they find a violinist, but will they be able to save the calf?