Kyung-sook Shin’s Please look after mom (or mother) wins the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2011

In late October last year, twelve books from across Asia were longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and in January, they were whittled down to an unusually long shortlist of seven. Today, one emerged the winner: And woo hoo! It’s our Shadow team’s pick, Kyung-sook Shin’s Please look after mom (or mother).

Now, I’ll have to wait to see what the judges say about their choice, but there you have it!

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

In the meantime, below is just a little info about the judges … and, in particular, about the chair, Razia Iqbal.


The judges for the 2011 prize were Razia Iqbal (Chair), BBC Special Correspondent; Chang-rae Lee, Pulitzer-prize finalist & author of The Surrendered; and Vikas Swarup author of Q&A, the movie adaptation Slumdog Millionaire.

Iqbal said recently that her criteria for judging were:

the quality of the reading experience; that you feel that the book coheres, that the structure of the novel was coherent.

The books she liked most when growing up were, she said, those with links to the Asian continent, such as books by Salman Rushdie and Hanif Kureishi who

wrote about what it meant to be Asian in a globalised world, what it meant to come from a multi-cultural city like London, which I could relate to. Their writing incorporated elements of polyphony and hybridity which were part of my own experience, whilst people like James Baldwin and Richard Wright reflected what it was to be an outsider. Literature allows you to navigate your place in the world in a profound way for a lot of people.

For reviews of all books by our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize team, see my Man Asian Literary Prize page.

Amitav Ghosh, River of smoke (Review for the Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize, 2011)

I’m rather sorry that I haven’t read Amitav Ghosh‘s Sea of poppies because, while River of smoke does work on its own, I think my experience would have been richer had I read the beginning of the trilogy. This shouldn’t affect its Man Asian Literary Prize chances, but you never know.

Giant water lilies, Pamplemousses

Giant water lilies, Pamplemousses Botanical Garden

I loved that the book starts in the gorgeous island of Mauritius which I visited for a couple of weeks in 2004. Pamplemousses Botanical Garden was one of the first sights we visited. It is full of wonderful exotic plants, particularly spices, that we hadn’t seen before. This sounds a bit nostalgic but it is relevant to a book that is, as the artist Robin Chinnery writes, about “flowers and opium, opium and flowers”.

Let me explain. The story centres on three boats – the Ibis, the Anahita and the Redruth. The first two are involved in the opium trade – one English owned, one Indian owned – while the Redruth is involved in plant collecting and trading. The novel is primarily set in Canton in the lead up to the first Opium War of 1839-1842. At the time of the novel, the Chinese are in the process of trying to ban the opium trade and consequently have forbidden foreign ships to enter the port. The result is that the traders are all in Fanqui-town (Canton’s foreign enclave) waiting for the situation to resolve in their favour, while their boats are moored in the Hong Kong-Macau area. The novel reminded me a little of Dickens, not just because of its length but also because of its large cast of characters, its plot encompassing nefarious deeds, conspiracies and adventures, the comic relief, and its socio-political themes. There is also colourful language, satire and irony. Of course, Ghosh is writing historically while Dickens was exploring his own place and time, but that’s a minor difference.

The story is told from two main points of view. One is a traditional third person story of the opium traders, seen mainly (but not only) through the life (and eyes) of the Indian opium trader, Bahram Modi. The other combines the opium story with the plant story, through letters written from a young gay artist in Fanqui-town to his botanist friend, Paulette and her employer Mr Fitcher, on Redruth. He, Robin Chinnery, describes the hunt for the elusive golden camellia, while also providing a (semi)outsider’s perspective on the unfolding events in the opium trade crisis. I enjoyed Robin’s generally cheery voice and his colourful descriptions of life in Fanqui-town but I wonder whether the novel needed this extra layer to provide this added perspective? Paulette, the recipient of his letters, is largely silent and seems to add little to the narrative.

When a novelist writes a work of historical fiction, I wonder s/he has chosen to set a story in a past time – and look to see whether there is some application to the story in the novelist’s own time. In this case there is, for Ghosh’s target is the complexities of international trade, and the hypocrisies and fallacies that are still evident in the notion of “free trade”. He shows that “free trade” is rarely free or equal to all parties. The opium trade (and the British East India Company’s involvement in it) is perfect for this with its additional moral problem involving trading (or is it smuggling – the line is a fine one) a product that is injurious and that was, in fact, banned in England. Towards the end of the novel, the traders discuss their response to the Chinese Commissioner Lin’s demand that they give up their opium cargoes. The American Charles King appeals to their “better” natures:

‘ … Are you not aware that with every shipment you are condemning hundreds, maybe thousands of people to death? Do you see nothing monstrous in your actions?’

‘No, sir,’ answered Mr Burnham coolly. ‘Because it is not my hand that passes sentence upon those who choose the indulgence of opium. It is the work of another, invisible, omnipotent: it is the hand of freedom, of the market, of the spirit of liberty itself, which is none other than the breath of God’.

Guess who wins the argument?

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

The most interesting character in the book is Bahram, the Indian opium trader who is only just accepted by the British traders. He is a complex character whose nature, motivations and flaws we come to know well. His flaws as a husband, father and businessman are many, but so are his strengths as an employer and friend. We  feel for him as he has to make a difficult decision and wish he were a little braver, a little wiser. He is testament to Ghosh’s ability to draw a flawed but sympathetic character.

A major pleasure in the book is the writing. Ghosh is a versatile writer who can slip from the breezy, colloquial vernacular of Robin to the formal tones of the English merchants. His grasp of the period is breathtaking. I gave up “Googling” the unfamiliar words and just let them flow over me, because the context made them clear:

On reaching the enclave the lascars and lime-juicers had gone, as was their custom, straight to the shamshoo-shacks of Hog Lane, so as to get scammered as quickly as possible.

In other words, as soon as they got off the boats, the sailors went to the pubs and got drunk (by drinking too much “stagger juice”).

There were, though, occasional lapses into didacticism. They were rare but they jarred when they occurred. An example is a little aside describing the Spanish silver dollar.  Mostly, though, Ghosh does show rather than tell and the novel is full of colourful detail about food and dining, art, plants, boats and business.

River of smoke is not a perfect novel but is a great read – for its description of a fascinating period in history, for its lively portrayal of characters you would recognise today, and for its exploration of issues (still) relevant now. My overall assessment? Read it.

For reviews by other team members, please see my Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 page.

Amitav Ghosh
River of smoke
London: John Murray, 2011
ISBN: 9780719568992

Announcing the “Shadow” Man Asian Literary Prize 2011

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Our announcement …

In a carefully co-ordinated announcement across three continents – Europe, North America and Australia – I am now able to announce that the Shadow team’s winner for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize is: Please Look After Mother (or Mom) by Kyung-sook Shin.

It was – and was not – an easy decision. It was an easy decision because some of the Shadow team loved the book, and it was not because others did not. However, when we tallied our individual rankings Kyung-sook Shin’s book came out on top. I’m not sorry, of course, because I liked it. Members of our team described it as ‘a heart-warming story of family’, ‘a deceptively simple novel’,  and ‘a splendid work of literary fiction.’

I managed to read 6 of the 7 shortlisted books. (My review of Amitav Ghosh’s River of smoke will be posted in a day or so). I did find it somewhat hard to rank them as, I think, did most of our members. Here is my assessment of their prize chances (which, funnily enough, roughly equates with my rankings):

  • My top choices: Please look after mother (or Mom) and Dream of Ding Village. 
  • My runners up: Rebirth and River of smoke
  • Dark horse: Wandering falcon
  • My long shot: The lake

Unfortunately, I only managed to read a few pages of The sly company of people who care.

The formal stuff…

The ‘Shadow’ MAN Asian Literary Prize is entirely independent of the official MAN Asian Literary Prize, whose winner will be announced on Thursday March 15, and of the MAN Group. The ‘Shadow’ Prize is intended to highlight the main Prize by broadening the discussion about the long- and short-listed titles via the social networking community. Links to all ‘Shadow’ Jury reviews and interviews can be found on my Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize page.

I would like to thank all the members of the Shadow team: Lisa at ANZLitLovers; Matt at A Novel Approach; Fay at Read, Ramble; Stu (who is now hosting a Shadow International Foreign Fiction Prize) at Winston’s Dad, and Mark at Eleutherophobia.

Special thanks to:

  • Kevin from Kevin from Canada whose concept of the Shadow Giller Prize provided our inspiration;
  • Matt who designed the Logo;
  • Mark who has coordinated the press releases across the globe; and last but not least
  • Lisa for asking me to join the group.

All we have to do now is wait until Thursday to see what book the official jury chooses! And whichever it is, it’s sure to be a good’un!

NOTE: There will be no Monday Musings this week: the announcement of our Shadow Man Asian winner has overshadowed it! Watch this space again next week!

Yan Lianke, Dream of Ding village (Review for Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize, 2011)

Yan Lianke's Dream of Ding Village

Bookcover courtesy Grove / Atlantic Inc.

As I started reading Yan Lianke‘s Dream of Ding Village, I was reminded of a favourite novel of mine, Albert CamusThe plague. However, as I read on, the similarity started to fade – or, perhaps it’s just that the particularity of Lianke’s conception took over. Both books explore a community living with a highly contagious, deadly disease, and both can be “read” through the lens of a wider political interpretation, but the two stories are told differently. For a start, Camus does not make his political “reading” literal while Lianke closely intertwines the political with the personal in his novel. No wonder this novel was published in Hong Kong and banned in China!

The story was inspired by the fallout that occurred from Henan Province‘s plasma economy, 1991-1995, in which Chinese were encouraged to sell their blood plasma. According to the Wikipedia article, it is estimated that over 40% of the blood donors (sellers) contracted AIDS, due to the low health and safety standards applied to the campaign. It’s a tragic story and Lianke uses it to tell a cautionary tale about a rush to progress that seems to cast humanity to the winds.

So, how does he tell it? The story is narrated by the dead son of “blood kingpin” Ding Hui. Qiang was poisoned in an act of revenge for his father’s role in bringing “the fever” (HIV/AIDS) to Ding Village. In the clear, non-judgemental voice of a child, Qiang proceeds to chronicle events in the village as the disease takes hold, using occasional flashbacks to fill in the gaps. His is not a schmaltzy or sentimental voice. It’s simply the voice of an omnipotent narrator who happens to have also been part of the story, before the novel starts, and whose “existence” initiates its dramatic denouement. It’s an interesting device that nicely balances involvement with distance. We get close, but not too close, to the people and events.

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

The novel is told in 8 Volumes, and progresses chronologically from the appearance of the fever to when its impact on Ding Village is complete. Qiang tells his story primarily through the actions and behaviour of his grandfather, a man who hangs onto his ethics throughout the crisis while trying, mostly against his better judgement, to remain loyal to his two self-centred sons. A difficult task for the hard-working man entrusted with caring for the school and being its teacher when qualified teachers couldn’t be found. While Grandpa does his best to support the villagers in their darkest time, his oldest son Ding Hui engages in scam after scam (such as selling the government’s “free” coffins and organising “marriages” between dead people) to feather his own nest and further climb the greasy pole of bureaucracy.

Along the way, the stories of other villages are told, such as that of the adulterous couple Ding Liang and Lingling who, having uninfected spouses, decide to find affection in each other’s arms. It’s hard to feel they deserved the disapprobation they received (from most, though not all, in the village), but, speaking novelistically, they usefully represent the breakdown in normal codes of behaviour. Early in the novel, there is a respite from the horror when Grandpa invites all infected villagers to live at the school – and for a while a real community develops among the sick and dying. It doesn’t last of course and, as in The plague, bad things start to happen as the villagers respond to their disastrous situation. Graves are robbed, buildings ransacked, and, in a terrible scenario, the village is denuded of all its trees by villagers needing to make coffins. Black humour is never too far from the tone, and this tree-felling scene provides a perfect example.

It’s all powerful stuff and is conveyed through strong writing that uses physical description to underscore the devastation occurring in the village. I particularly liked the paradoxical use of the sun, gold and yellow throughout the novel to convey on one hand, warmth, prosperity and harmony, and on the other drought, desiccation and oppression, with the latter becoming precedent as “the fever” and associated corruption take hold:

Translucent, pale yellow and green leaves shimmered in the sunlight like golden offerings.


… leaving Grandpa standing in the middle of the road, beneath the blazing sunshine, like a small clay figure of a man that someone had left to dry in the sun. Like an old wooden hitching post bleached by the rotting wood that no one wanted any more.

Other colours also pervade the book such as blood-red suns and green leaves and grass, continuing the disconnect between life and death that characterises Ding Village in the throes of “the fever”.

There’s something about the form though that puzzled me and that’s the use of italics. Sometimes they are used for Grandpa’s dreams – dreams that are often prescient, occasionally surreal – and sometimes they are used for flashbacks. But sometimes I couldn’t quite work out the reason, other than that they were possibly for ideas or events slightly out of kilter with the narrative point at which they occur. I’m not sure that the differentiation, except perhaps to delineate Grandpa’s dreams, serves the novel well.

This is a minor quibble though in a book that explores how greed leads to skewed values (“I spent my whole life doing philanthropy” says the serial scammer Ding Hui) and provides an opening for political corruption. Fast economic progress, Lianke seems to be saying, cannot be simply or easily pasted over cultural traditions that have taken centuries to build … but his vision is not, I think, completely hopeless. “A cool breeze”, he writes near the end, “carried the mingled scents of rotting plants and newly sprouted grass across the plain”. Let’s hope that “newly sprouted grass” gets the upper hand.

For reviews by other members of the Shadow Man Asian Prize jury, please click on my Man Asian page.

Yan Lianke
Dream of Ding Village
(trans. by Cindy Carter)
New York: Grove Press, 2009 (2005, orig. Chinese ed.)
ISBN: 9780802145727

Jahnavi Barua, Rebirth (Review for the Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize, 2011)

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

What a shame Jahnavi Barua‘s novel, Rebirth, is, to the best of my knowledge, available “for sale in the Indian Subcontinent only” (backcover). Our Shadow Man Asian team had real problems tracking this one down, but I’m very glad we did manage to obtain some copies, eventually, because this is a beautiful book.

The title, Rebirth, might give you a sense of its subject matter – but, then again, it mightn’t! The novel – novella really – is a first person monologue by a mother to her unborn child. The child is waiting to be born – not reborn – but there is a sense that for the mother, Kaberi, a rebirth might be in the offing as she explores the state of her shaky arranged marriage, and of some tricky or unresolved relationships with family and friends.

While set in India – in Bangalore and Guwahati (in the troubled province of Assam) – this novel does not have the noise and energy that often accompanies stories from the subcontinent. It’s quiet and contemplative. Moreover, while it is imbued with gorgeous descriptions of the plants and landscapes of India, and while it refers to the ongoing political unrest in Assam, it is not specifically Indian in theme. Its story is universal, that of the desire for love between husband and wife, and of the love of a mother for her child. And here is the difficult part, because it is hard to describe this largely plotless novel without making it sound twee or mawkish, but somehow it is not that at all. Barua manages to find a voice for Kaberi that is tender but matter of fact, that is tentative but also confident. The progression is chronological, commencing with her husband leaving her for another woman at the beginning of the novel just as she discovers she is pregnant (after many years of trying). She doesn’t tell him – or her family and friends – for some long time as she considers her life. In the opening paragraphs we are given a picture of her as somewhat passive and inward-looking. Before her husband left, she says she

had been partial to the large soft sofa in front of the television, from where I had a good view of the screen, but from where I also looked inwards, into the heart of the house. I did not see much of the sky or buildings clustered around our own, but all that, anyway, did not cross my mind very often, so focused was I on your father and myself and the home we had fashioned together.

Ah, we think … a person ripe for “rebirth”. And yes she is, but it is slow and undramatic as she gradually, by meeting friends, remembering her old childhood friend who’d died in a bombed bus in Assam, and reflecting on her marriage past and present, comes to a better understanding of who she is. Early in the novel she, a keen reader, says:

I will not buy a book today. I will try and live in my life instead.

As the novel progresses, we find that she is, in fact, stronger and more directed than we (and, more to the point, even she) had realised. She has, for example, written a book and organised for her friend Preetha to illustrate it. This is no simple thing, but her husband, “whose public manners were always nice”, knows nothing of this. Ah, we wonder, what is she saying about his private manners, the way he treats her? We learn, through more stories in the next few pages, that what she hasn’t received from him is tenderness and love. But we also receive a clear sense of strength growing in her:

I demand love. Now, especially now, at least now.

This comes about a quarter of the way through the novel … the rest explores, in the same quiet tone, how things fall out for Kaberi, how she confronts her fears and insecurities. Things do happen – her father dies and she returns home to Guwahati, she eventually tells her husband, family and friends about her pregnancy. You can’t hide that forever after all! In other words, there is a plot of sorts, but the story is mostly an internal one and the ending is appropriately open albeit also with some sense of things resolved.

A little over halfway though the novel Kaberi says:

Birds wheel around slowly in the cloudless sky. Seemingly aimless, but I know better; little happens in nature accidentally.

And, I’d say, little happens accidentally in the writing of this book. It has been carefully and subtly structured to lay the foundations for Kaberi’s growth, and this makes it an absolute pleasure to read.

For other reviews by the Shadow Man Asian team, please click on my Man Asian Literary Prize page.

Jahnavi Barua
New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2010
ISBN: 9780143414551

(Review copy supplied by Penguin Books via Lisa of ANZLitLovers)

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Update

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

The observant among you will have noticed that I haven’t done a Man Asian Literary Prize weekly round-up of reviews and news for a couple of weeks now. This is because our reviews have slowed down now to a crawl and hardly warrant a weekly post from me. The most recent reviews posted have been:

  • Jahnavi Barua’s Rebirth by Matt, of A Novel Approach and Lisa, of ANZLitLovers, both of whom are positive about the book.
  • Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mom by Fay, of Read Ramble. She’s written a rather passionate defence of the book, addressing the negatives put forward by some reviewers. This is probably the most controversial of the shortlisted books …

While I stopped posting regular roundups, I have been updating my page of reviews* as new reviews have (dribbled) come in. Please check it out whenever you wand to find team members’ reviews of the longlisted books. Some of our reviewers have been very assiduous, reading and reviewing most if not all of the books. As for me? I am currently reading two of the books and hope to review them before …

We make our shadow winner announcement. We plan to do this a few days before March 15, which is when the official announcement will be made.

Watch this space …

* Shortlisted books are indicated by an asterisk in this page.

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011: Reviews from the week January 15-21

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Logo by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Week 10 of our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 project and, as I reported last week, we are still reading and reviewing. We are, however, slowing down now as most of our team have finished, or nearly finished, their reviewing. This week:

  • Jamil Ahmad’s The wandering falcon (Pakistan) by Matt of A Novel Approach. He thought it was an interesting description of time and place, but as a whole it left him cold. I was so tempted to buy the Granta Pakistan issue the other day but the TBR pile is so-o-o high.

And, if you missed it, I posted my review of Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mom earlier this week.

Other Asian Literature News

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2012 has just been announced and the winner is Chinaman by Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilake. The novel is about a retired, alcoholic cricket writer. According to the article in the Times of India, Karunatilake was awarded the prize for “exploring cricket as a metaphor to uncover a lost life”. Ah, cricket … perhaps that means The sly company of people, which is also about a cricket writer, will win our prize! Just joking!

Note: The DSC prize is for novels exploring South Asian themes. The writer can be of any ethnicity or nationality.

Quick links to Man Asian Literary Prize posts

  • Click Badge in sidebar for all longlist views to date
  • Click Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 tag in the Tag Cloud for all my posts on tawkward.

Kyung-Sook Shin, Please look after mom (Review for the Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011)

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Am I right in thinking that mothers are more often the subject of novels and memoirs than fathers? Or, is it just that I’m a woman and am subconsciously (or even consciously, if I’m honest) drawn to the topic? Of course, with the Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize reviewing project I didn’t really have a choice. Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mom (or, mother in the British edition) has now been shortlisted for the prize. So, here I am again, reading about a mother!

And I liked it – for a number of reasons. But, before I explain that, a quick overview of the plot. The book commences with the line “It’s been one week since Mom went missing”. We learn pretty quickly that the mother and father had been in Seoul to visit some of their children and had become separated when trying to board the subway together, with the mother being left behind. The rest of the book chronicles the family’s search for the mother and, as they search, their reflections on her life and their relationship with her.

So, what did I find fascinating? Firstly, of course, is the fact that it is set in South Korea. I haven’t been there, and I don’t think I’ve read any Korean literature before, so I was predisposed to be interested before I started it. I wasn’t disappointed. The novel is contemporary but spans a few decades, decades in which many of the current parental generation were still living fairly traditional rural lives while their children were being educated and moving to the city to chase “bigger” dreams. Through flashback reflections of the various characters we learn about this time of transition, and the challenges both generations faced in coping with the change. We learn of the mother’s determination that her children be educated, the lengths she went to to obtain the money to pay for this education, and her disappointment when one daughter trained to be a pharmacist but then married and had three children in pretty quick succession. It’s a story that’s been repeated around the world over the last century or two, and the usual universals are there – the economic challenges and all those big and little conflicts that attend social change – but each situation has its particularity. In this book it’s in how this specific family functions – the mother’s determination springing from her own lack of education, the self-centred father’s unreliability resulting in increased poverty for the family, the sibling relationships characterised by a mix of mutual responsibility, love and exasperation.

The next thing of interest is the form. Readers here know I like books which play around with form and voice, and this is one of those books. The story is told in five parts, using four points of view and three different voices. Got that? To make it easy, I’ll list how it goes:

  • “Nobody knows”, told by the elder daughter (but second eldest child), Chi-hon, in second person
  • “I’m sorry, Hyong-chol”, told by the eldest child, son Hyong-chol, in third person
  • “I’m home”, told by the father/husband, in second person
  • “Another woman”, told by the mother, Park So-nyo, in first person
  • “Epilogue: Rosewood rosary”, told by Chi-hon (again), in second person.

As is common in multiple point-of-view novels, the main narrative, the story of the search, progresses more or less chronologically through these parts, with each part also incorporating some back-and-forth flashbacks in which we learn about that person’s relationship with “mom”. This multiple point-of-view technique provides a lovely immediacy to the different perspectives. The choice of different voices – first, second and third – though, is an intriguing one. Here is how I see it. First person for “mom” makes sense since she is the subject. Second person feels like a half-way house between the intimate first person and the more distant third person. Using it for Chi-hon and her father, to speak about themselves, subtly conveys a tension between their responsibility for “mom” (which would be expected of their roles as elder daughter and husband) and their regret and guilt for their failings. Third person, on the other hand, seems appropriate for Hyong-chol who, as the oldest in the family, carries the major weight of familial responsibility into the future. It’s the most distant voice and gives, I think, a layer of gravitas to his role.

And last is the theme – or, should I say, themes? The lesser, if I can call them that, themes include the country-vs-city one, particularly in relation to values; literacy and education; and our mutual responsibility for others (something, the family discovers,”mom” took seriously for friends and strangers as well as her family throughout her life). The overriding theme, though, is that of guilt and regret, of having taken “mom” for granted. They all assumed she liked cooking and being in the kitchen, day in day out. The children forgot to call her regularly and didn’t always come home for special occasions. Her husband remembers all the times he failed to help her, while she would put herself out repeatedly for him. It’s a pretty common story but the way Kyung-sook Shin tells it – the form, the reflective tone, the characterisation, the setting – makes this universal story about, really, respect a very personal one. I admit to being a little choked up at the end!

I have one little query though, and that relates to the invocation of Catholicism in the end. “Mom” does, early in the novel, ask about a rosewood rosary, thus providing a link to the the Epilogue, but where did this interest in the rosary come from, given the frequent references to the more traditional ancestral rites during the book? Mom doesn’t explain it – “I just want prayer rosary beads from that country”, “the smallest country in the world”, she says. I assume it has something to do with the recent growth of Catholicism in South Korea. It didn’t spoil the book for me, but it provided a somewhat odd note. All I can say is read the book for yourself, and see what you think.

Please click on my Man Asian Literary Prize page link for reviews by other members of the team.

Kyung-Sook Shin
Please look after mom
(trans. by Chi-Young Kim)
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
ISBN: 9780307593917

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011: Reviews from the week January 8-14

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image created by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Week 9 of our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 project and the shortlist has now been announced, as I reported earlier this week. However, we are still reading and reviewing in preparation for announcing “our” Shadow winner in early March, just before the announcement of the winner. This week’s reviews are:

  • Amitav Ghosh’s River of smoke (India) by Matt of A Novel Approach. Like me, Matt has not read the first book (Sea of poppies) in the planned trilogy, but he says he is now sold on the trilogy. Can’t think of higher praise than that I reckon.
  • Yan Lianke’s Dream of Ding Village (China) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. She describes it as a “powerful book” that shows “how quickly a society can degenerate under pressure”.
  • Anuradha Roy’s The folded earth (India) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. Lisa calls this “a superb novel” and said she “enjoyed reading it the most”.

Shortlist news

Matt and Fay bravely posted their shortlist “picks” before the announcement, and Mark and Lisa discussed theirs in comments on Lisa’s blog. Stu and I did not have a go at shortlisting. Here is a summary of their selections:

  • Only one book was selected by all four – River of smoke – and it was selected by the judges.
  • Only one book was selected by only one, Matt, of the four – The lake – and it was selected by the judges, too!
  • Three books were selected by Fay, Mark and Lisa – Wandering falcon, The good Muslim and The sly company of people who care – and the first and third of these were also selected by the judges.
  • Please look after Mom was selected by Matt, Fay and Mark and by the judges.
  • Dream of Ding Village was selected by Matt, Fay and Lisa and by the judges.
  • The folded earth and The valley of masks were selected by Matt and Lisa but not by the judges.
  • Rebirth was selected by the judges but by none of our four, but then only one of them had read it due to limited availability for this title.
  • The colonel and IQ84 were not selected by our four or by the judges.

There’s a fair degree of unanimity regarding the shortlist, but this doesn’t mean that picking “our” Shadow winner will be straightforward. There are some strong feelings about some of the differences … Let’s just hope there won’t be blood on the floor! We’ll keep you posted!

Meanwhile, if you want a succinct rundown on the shortlisted books, you can read team member Mark’s article, “Your guide to the Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist”, in the online magazine, The Millions.

Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Shortlist announced

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image created by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

… And my preferred two books – those by Ahmad and Yoshimoto – of the three I’ve read are in the final seven books. Woo hoo … but I have a lot to read to catch up to the rest of the team.

The shortlisted books are:

  • Jamil Ahmad’s Wandering falcon
  • Jahnavi Barua‘s Rebirth
  • Rahul Bhattacharya’s The sly company of people who care
  • Amitav Ghosh‘s River of smoke
  • Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mom
  • Yan Lianke‘s Dream of Ding Village
  • Banana Yoshimoto‘s The lake

You can find our  Shadow team’s reviews by clicking the team logo in the blog sidebar or by clicking on the Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 page.