Friday, June 15, 2007

The quibble over Man Asia


The first prize has not been awarded yet and you would have probably heard that Nury Vittachi, co-founder of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and initiator of the prize, has been reportedly sacked from the festival's board due to his 'vociferous' opposition at the way the judges have been chosen - while the judges include men and women of Asian origin living in the West, few are Asia-bred and none live in Asia.

Another quibble: large parts of Asia have been excluded from the prize - Mongolia, Iran, the former Soviet republics and the Middle East have been excluded from the list. The comments by Peter Gordon, head of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival was quoted in the report: "Lines need to be drawn somewhere. If West Asia were included, wherever one draws the line - for example at the Red Sea - it would go through the middle of the Arabic-speaking world. It didn't make sense to have Jordan but not Egypt. As for the Central Asian countries, their literary traditions had ties to the Russian literary tradition and the current geopolitical borders might also cut across literary borders. Russia itself is geographically, and to some extent ethnically, as much Asian as European. We felt that a strict adherence to geography led to more inconsistencies than a partial adherence would."

Fascinating doublespeak! (You had a committee to draw that up, didn't you?! Now, for your next assignment, define a banana.)

Something has been bottled up for years, but I think there is a need for it to be said. We are too polite. 'Thou shall not criticise the efforts of others' is a religiously held commandment in the arts and literature, though bitching and backbiting is allowed. I suspect I am going to make myself enormously unpopular in certain circles. But Gordon's statement above requires some response.

I have never been to the Hong Kong Festival. Actually, I must confess, I have been avoiding it, especially after hearing comments from a prominent journalist who lived a major part of his life there. When asked (this was some years ago), he dismissed it as 'silly expatriate angst'. I was in Ubud for the first festival and I realised what he meant. An American writer, whom I had met earlier at the KL Fest, said to me, "Raman, tell me, am I the only one feeling out of place here?" This same sentiment was also reflected by another English couple (from Malaysia). I noticed it the first time I entered the door but I was too polite to say anything. It was like being invited to a function at a private club: sorry your father can't come in because ... er ... he is wearing a dhoti. (There is another story about the treatment of Indonesian writers during that festival but it is too distasteful to be repeated in print here, even for me.)

I am sure there are wonderful people behind Hong Kong and Ubud, and I have met some of them. But obviously there are some people who don't 'get it'. Hong Kong is China. Bali is Indonesia. And Mongolia is in Asia. Get use to it.

But I do like the concept of the Man Asia prize itself, though. All entries must have been previously unpublished in English. That should eliminate all that lobbying and campaigning by publishers, not to mention names of the usual suspects. Let's hope this award throws up some interesting ones.

By the way, Chinua Achebe has won the Man Booker International prize against a bunch of the usual suspects.

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A place in the dictionary

From The Guardian

These are some of the new words in Collins.

muffin top - the unsightly tummy bulge protruding over low-rise jeans
celebutantes - young heiresses who morph into celebrities
size zero - a model with a super skinny look
man flu - the male tendency to exaggerate the effects of a cold
manbag - the male version of the handbag
McMansion - a large, modern house with a mass-produced look.
McJob - (take a guess, it is a pejorative)
Gitmo - slang for Guantánamo bay

(Other words, thanks to Al Gore, include new phrases such as 'carbon footprint',
'carbon offsetting' and 'season creep')

Full story:,,2094602,00.html

Most definitive books of the 20th century?

From Guardian Unlimited

According to the results of a national survey announced at the Hay festival today, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four topped the survey to find the book that best defined the 20th century. This public vote was done online at Guardian Unlimited Books. They had to choose from a list of 50 books.

The top 10 books (in order of publication) were:

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

Strangely The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, the only book not originally written in English, is on the list. None of the other 'originally not in English' books made the cut. Not even Kafka's The Trial.

So there you have it. According to the survey Bridget Jones more defined the 20th century than Kafka. Or Lady Chatterley's Lover, for that matter. (Oh by the way, From Russia with Love was also in contention. Yeah, JamesBond rocks! Did you see the last movie?) See the full list of 50 titles readers had to chose from here (for a good laugh):,,2059060,00.html

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