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A daring comic from Singapore

A daring comic from Singapore

...and other insights into international literary habits, including the novel that crosses Turkey’s divides

...and other insights into international literary habits, including the novel that crosses Turkey’s divides

October/November 2016

SINGAPORE

Sonny Liew’s graphic novel, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, unfolds as a series of interviews with the (fictional) protagonist, a comic-book artist through whose career we see Singapore progress from hardscrabble British colony to the financial hub it is today. Shrewd, playful and inventive, the book examines the costs and benefits of Singapore’s transformation over the past half-century – particularly to political and artistic freedom. Its controversial content led the National Arts Council to revoke a grant, which sent sales soaring. In July it became the first graphic novel to win the $10,000 Singapore Literature Prize for English-language fiction.

TURKEY

The latest novel by Elif Shafak, one of Turkey’s most successful writers, tells the story of three women – one religious, one staunchly secular and one seeking reconciliation between her Western values and Eastern spirituality. Shafak has frequently criticised the government for measuring women’s worth only in terms of motherhood. She also argues that Turkey’s polarisation hinders communication between women of different social and religious groups. In Three Daughters of Eve she has succeeded in reaching across at least some of those divides; the novel has been topping the bestseller lists for months.

MEXICO

The recent posthumous unveiling of a work by Carlos Fuentes, Mexico’s grand man of letters, was a special literary event. Fuentes died in 2012, but left behind the manuscript for Aquiles o El guerrillero y el asesino (“Achilles, or The Warrior and the Murderer”), which fictionalises the death of the real-life leader of a Colombian guerrilla group called M-19. Fuentes’s widow was reluctant to hand it over to the publishers until Colombia’s bruising conflict between leftist rebels and the government was nearing its end. Written in the voice of a dead man, the novel follows a dying conflict in a foreign land, but for Mexicans its meditations on narco-trafficking and violence feel as relevant as ever.

FRANCE

Rich countries should legalise outright the trade in drugs, sex and visas for migrants, say radical liberals. They argue that this would help destroy traffickers’ dark businesses, protect vulnerable people and inflict less harm on poorer countries. Such proposals horrify most French politicians. So Emmanuelle Auriol, an economist who studies the social consequences of economic policy, offers a politically more palatable liberal case in her book Pour en finir avec les mafias (“To Crush the Mafia”). She wants France to part-legalise illicit trades, such as dealing in cannabis: it would, she argues, free police and courts to crack down harder on the remaining illegal bits. The book has made a splash, winning a reformist broadcaster’s prize earlier in the year.

JORDAN

Al-Hudood, a political humour webzine, is based in Jordan. But while its writers initially focused on domestic issues, they couldn’t resist widening their satirical scope to the region as a whole. Its frequently updated page churns with blistering commentary on everything from government corruption to gender politics, drawing both laughter and outrage. Despite the occasional death threat and the retreat of other Arab satirists like Egypt’s Bassem Youssef, the readership of Al-Hudood has more than doubled this year; it now reaches 250,000 readers a week via Facebook alone. Censorship is a constant concern but, according to co-founder Kamal Khoury, the group has avoided trouble so far by adhering to one rule of thumb: God and the king are off limits, everything else is fair game.

FINLAND

Ice hockey isn’t a mere sport in Finland, it’s the national secular religion. So it’s no wonder one of the hot novels this summer has been Detroit, a tragic romance set in the American National Hockey League, home to many Finnish players. Katri Lipson – a doctor when not writing blockbuster novels – keeps a brisk pace as she drags her ill-fated characters through unrequited love, toward physical and professional ruin. Think Romeo and Juliet, light, on ice.

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