Literary Inspirations for 2017

Murakami's 'Men without Women'; 'Lotus', the debut novel by author Lijia Zhang; and 'Exit West' by Mohsin Hamid are among the most anticipated books of 2017

Murakami's 'Men without Women'; 'Lotus', the debut novel by author Lijia Zhang; and 'Exit West' by Mohsin Hamid are among the most anticipated books of 2017

Literary Inspirations for 2017


By Hande Eagle

We are only one month into 2017 and it has already proved to be a year of turning points all around the globe. How do we come to terms with this period of social, economic and political change? How do we get over the winter blues? How do we nurture hope for the future? And most importantly, how do we keep on improving ourselves?

Well, the answer is pretty short; by reading. To quote Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore, “When old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders.” And, in a way, that’s also the essence of reading: it guides us to explore new ways of expression and to reach previously uncharted territories of emotion, inspiration and thought.

With this sentiment in mind, we wanted to share a selection of the most exciting, exhilarating and empowering works by both established and emerging writers. You never know, it might provide you with some clues as to what’s on the agenda at this year’s Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival!

Abandon by Bengali author Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay is a compelling novel about Ishwari, a woman who runs away from home, seeking to free herself from societal restraints and familial relationships to dedicate her time to writing a novel. Torn between her writing, life and her five-year-old son Roo, she embarks on an emotional journey. Translated by Arunava Sinha and due to be published by Tilted Axis Press in October, Bandyopadhyay’s tenth novel gives voice to the perpetual conflict between life and art.

Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up by Chinese British author Xiaolu Guo traces her memories of childhood, poverty, gender discrimination, underground art and censorship. When Guo was born she was handed over to a childless peasant couple in the mountains because her father had been imprisoned in a labour camp. Aged two and suffering from malnutrition, the couple found out where her grandparents lived and entrusted her with her grandmother; a woman who had suffered greatly in her marriage. Growing up in a fishing village on the East China Sea under the guardianship of her grandparents left unerasable marks on Guo’s mind. Extending from childhood to womanhood and artistry to motherhood, Guo’s memoir is a handbook of life lessons for people from all walks of life. Published by Chatto & Windus this title is already out.

The Sad Part Was by Thai writer, translator, independent publisher, graphic designer and filmmaker Prabda Yoon is a collection of postmodern stories that dips into pop culture, pushes the boundaries of punctuation, dallies with sci-fi and, in a metafictional twist, makes fun of Yoon’s own position as omnipotent author. Yoon’s narratives offer an oblique reflection of contemporary Bangkok life, exploring the bewildering contradictions of a modernity that is mismatched with many traditional Thai ideas on relationships, family, school and work. Translated from the Thai by Mui Poopoksaul and due to be published by Tilted Axis Press on 3 March, The Sad Part Was offers an entrancing and distinctive read.

The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, edited by award-winning British Egyptian playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, is a unique anthology celebrating the writings of both established literary heavyweights and emerging spoken word artists who blow away the narrow image of the ‘Muslim Woman’. Hear from users of Islamic Tinder, a disenchanted Maulana working as a TV chat show host and a plastic surgeon blackmailed by MI6. Follow the unexpected turns life takes as the dream roles of an actress with Middle-Eastern heritage turn to regular casting as a jihadi bride. Among stories of honour killings and love struggling for purchase in besieged locations, we find heart-warming connections and powerful challenges to the status quo. Due to be published by Saqi Books in April, this groundbreaking collection of stories from Algiers to Brighton transcends time and place, revealing just how varied the search for belonging can be.

Women Who Blow on Knots by bestselling Turkish author Ece Temelkuran chronicles a road trip taken by crafty Madam Lilla who is heart-broken and is determined to kill the man who abandoned her. On this trip from Tunisia to Lebanon, the almighty protagonist is accompanied by three younger women who are at least as emotionally wounded as her. An inner journey towards self-discovery begins for all of them as they try to understand how they want to be loved and solve the riddles that are men, their inner beings and each other’s secrets. Translated from the Turkish by Alexander Dawe and due to be published by Parthian Books for the first time in English in June, this is an empowering tale that challenges assumptions about politics, religion and women in the Middle East.

Lotus by Lijia Zhang is inspired by the author’s grandmother’s secret life, which she only found out about in 1998 when her grandmother was on her deathbed. Zhang’s debut novel follows Lotus, a young woman surviving on her wits alone as she escapes to the neon lights of Shenzhen, determined to get herself out of the brothel and forge her own path. With compelling insight into China, Lijia Zhang – a former rocket factory worker – reveals the surprising strength found in those confronted with impossible choices and what it means to be an individual in a society that praises restraint in and obedience from its women. Published by Henry Holt and Company, this incredible read has already hit the shelves.

The Silver Way: China, Spanish America and the Birth of Globalisation, 1565–1815 by Peter Gordon & Juan José Morales is a cleverly and succinctly penned piece of research about a trading route that was discovered between Spanish America and China that ushered in a new era of globalisation long before London and New York rose to international prominence. This route, ‘Ruta de la Plata’ or ‘Silver Way, was not only a catalyser of economic and cultural exchange but it also built the foundations for the first global currency and led to the rise of the first ‘world city’. And yet, for all its importance, the Silver Way is too often neglected in conventional narratives on the birth of globalisation. Already published by Penguin China, this little book of big ideas in which Gordon and Morales re-establish Silver Way’s fascinating role in economic and cultural history is globally available as an e-book. If you want to get hold of a paperback copy in the UK, you’ll have to wait until June 2017.

Pachinko by Korean American author Min Jin Lee is a sweeping family drama set in 20th century East Asia. The novel follows a Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them. Thus unfolds a profound story – one which delves into questions of faith, family and identity – and shakes the reader to the core. Published by Head of Zeus and due out on 23 February this novel is bound to be one of the most intriguing titles of this winter.

White Tears by notable British/Indian novelist Hari Kunzru is a feverish tale of two twenty-something New Yorkers: Seth, awkward and shy, and Carter, the trust fund hipster. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Rising fast on the New York producing scene, they stumble across an old blues song long forgotten by history – and everything starts to unravel. Carter is drawn far down a path that allows no return, and Seth has no choice but to follow his friend into the darkness. This potential bestseller will be published by Hamish Hamilton on 6 April.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by prominent Indian author Arundhati Roy comes out in June after a long but worthwhile wait. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of her debut masterpiece, The God of Small Things, this second novel conveys a spectacular cast of unforgettable characters, caught up in the tide of history and in search of a place of safety, meaning and love. Due to be published by Hamish Hamilton on 6 June, this is a title that is bound to rock the shelves and warm the hearts.

Men without Women by renowned Japanese author Haruki Murakami is his first new story collection in more than a decade. It features seven short stories about the lives of men who, one way or another, find themselves alone. Sharing the same title as Ernest Hemingway’s collection of fourteen short stories first published in 1927, the stories pool together vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and The Beatles. Translated from the Japanese by Phillip Gabriel and Ted Goossen, this contemporary classic will be published by Harvill Secker on 9 May.

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag is a brilliant novella tracking the Indian economic boom through the life and rising circumstances of one family, written in the Kannada dialect. It was excerpted in Granta’s India issue last year and will be featured in The Paris Review next year. It has already been longlisted for the International DUBLIN Literary Award. Translated by Srinath Perur and due to be published on 20 April by Faber & Faber, the novel has been referred to as “one of the best novels to have come out of India in recent decades” by Pankaj Mishra.

The Impossible Fairy Tale by emerging Korean author Han Yujoo tells the story of the nameless ‘Child’, who struggles to make a mark on the world, and her classmate Mia, whose spoiled life is everything the Child is not. At school, adults are nearly invisible and the society the children create on their own is marked by soul-crushing hierarchies and an underlying menace. Then, one day after hours, the Child sneaks into the classroom to add ominous sentences to her classmates’ notebooks, setting in motion a series of irrevocable events. Translated from the Korean by Janet Hong and published in May by Tilted Axis Press, this is a fearlessly experimental debut novel.

The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam – acclaimed author of Maps for Lost Lovers and The Blind Man’s Garden – is a brave, timely, searingly beautiful novel about a community consumed by religious intolerance. Set in contemporary Pakistan, this eye-opening novel has been published by Faber & Faber.

Salt Houses by Palestinian American poet Hala Alyan explores the story of a Palestinian family in the wake of war: caught between present and past, between displacement and home. If you are looking for a lyrical and heart-breaking story that challenges and humanises age-old conflict you won’t want to miss this dazzling and elegant debut novel due to be published by Hutchinson on 18 May.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – the internationally bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist – is a love story set in a country teetering on the brink of civil war. Nadia, a sensual and fiercely independent woman, and Saeed, a gentle and restrained man, meet and embark on a furtive love affair. As unrest rears its head in the city and streets turn into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispered tell-tales about doors that can whisk them far away. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and take a chance. Due to be published by Hamish Hamilton on 2 March, Exit West has been named as one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by TIME Magazine, The New York Times and the Huffington Post.

The Red-Haired Woman by Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk tells the story of a well-digger and his apprentice looking for water on barren land. Set in mid-1980s Istanbul, Master Mahmut and his apprentice use ancient methods to dig new wells. This is the tale of their back-breaking struggle as well as an exploration – through stories and images – of ideas about fathers and sons, authoritarianism and individuality, state and freedom, reading and seeing. Translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap, this intriguing novel will be published by Faber & Faber in September 2017.

The next literature event at Asia House is on Wednesday 8 February with critically-acclaimed author Lesley Downer. She’ll be discussing love, romance and marriage in 19th century Japan. Book now