Nikhil Singh guides the adolescent hero Taty through a unique universe of moustachioed wrestlers, a feline voodoo surgeon and marauding Buddhist Punks. Fresh and original fiction from South Africa. ‘A hallucinogenic post-apocalyptic carnival ride’

Image result for Nikhil Singh, Taty Went West
Nikhil Singh, Taty Went West, Kwani?, 2015., Rosarium Publishing, 2018.           

Taty is a troubled teen running away from home. She quickly finds herself kidnapped by a malicious imp in the dinosaur-infested Outzone. While confronting demons of her own, Taty finds herself in a chaotic world full of evangelizing robot nuns, Buddhist punks, and the ominous Dr. Dali. Nikhil Singh has created a truly unique universe with a bold, petulant heroine one can't help but cheer for. Called “a hallucinogenic post-apocalyptic carnival ride” by Lauren Beukes, Taty Went West is told with bold swagger and otherworldly imagination by one of Africa's most promising new writers. As Billy Kahora, managing editor of Kenya's Kwani Trust, says, “Savvy, ultra-modern, Taty straddles the mediated realities of our own continent and the groundbreaking possibilities of our ongoing universal imaginaries.”

A hallucinogenic post-apocalyptic carnival ride – Nikhil Singh has a strange and intriguing mind.’ - Lauren Beukes

‘Nikhil Singh writes a prose as lush and crocodile-infested as the rainforests in the Outzone.’ Mehul Gohil, winner of the 2010 Kwani? ‘The Kenya I Live In’ Short Story Prize
Travellers called the Zone ‘the Land of Strangers’: the place where anyone could escape anything, and where the lost things lay.
Taty is a troubled adolescent living with her equally troubled mother in the suburbs of the Lowlands. In a moment of uncontrolled anger she finds her life changed forever and, hiding a terrible secret, she becomes a runaway, heading West into the Outzone.
When she is captured by a malicious imp, befriended by an evangelising robotic nun and wooed by a transgender hoodlum, it soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary adventure story.
With moustachioed wrestlers, marauding Buddhist Punks, a feline voodoo surgeon and the enigmatic presence of the disfigured Dr Dali, Nikhil Singh has created a unique universe and a heroine whose petulant nonchalance hides a mighty spirit.
As Taty navigates the collapse of an already chaotic society, struggling against present danger while confronting the demons of her own past, her story is narrated in prose that soars with elegance and swagger in equal measure.
Taty Went West is an introduction to an electrifying new talent – an imagination unfettered by any known convention.

In South African author Singh’s transgressive debut, 16-year-old Taty runs away from home and finds more than she bargains for in the lawless jungle of the Outzone: “a forest of dead time, a necrotic wonderland, a province of waking coma where time itself had grown sickly and died.” Lured in by the gun-toting, sharp-clawed Miss Muppet, Taty is bopped on the head and whisked away to the jungle pleasure palace of “imp pimp” Alphonse Guava and his creepy companions, including a Religio Robot named Number Nun who has been hijacked and reprogrammed to serve Guava’s degrading desires; Michelle, a crucified girl who drags her cross behind her; “detachable Siamese” twins who can unjoin at will; and murderous zombie Typhoid Mary. Taty is pressed into a life of servitude as a “ghost girl,” providing psychosexual pleasure to a host of exceedingly strange clients. When Guava’s rival crime lord, Mister Sister, introduces his new pleasure provider, a symbiote that indelibly changes its hosts, this leads to all-out war. Singh has a gift for memorable visuals, but this circus sideshow frequently veers into the absurd, and the characters don’t demand much emotional investment. This is a series of set pieces designed to shock and assault the senses, a phantasmagorical confection that exhausts more than it intrigues. - Publishers Weekly

Sometimes a narrative begins in a familiar place: with someone embarking on a journey, for instance. Nikhil Singh’s novel Taty Went West is like that—the first sentence of the second chapter seems to usher the reader into familiar territory. “The piggy bank bought her a bus ticket to nowhere fast,” Singh writes, tapping into a longstanding tradition of young people venturing out into parts unknown. (As if to make this more explicit, Singh includes a nod to the Beat Generation later in the novel.) Taty is a young woman frustrated by suburban life, tuned in to her favorite songs on her Walkman. She’s in search of something bigger, a larger and more compelling world. This is a familiar story, right?
It’s not a familiar story. That bus ticket’s bought in the second chapter. The one before that sets up an altogether stranger milieu, and one that hints at the bizarre scenarios to come.“There had always been stories of lost cities in the jungle. Descriptions of vast structures hidden behind impenetrable veils of steaming foliage, their once-great plazas and floating pyramids now the haunt of monkeys, shades, and folkloric spiders.”

What happens when you take someone familiar and place them in an utterly alien setting? Taty Went West is, in its own way, a series of variations on that theme of contrasts: the known world meeting the impossible world; the transcendental colliding with the sordid; the speculative meeting the delirious. In Taty Went West, a robot can evoke the divine, and a monstrous presence can be the agent of liberation. This is a novel that abounds with contradictions, taking them to absurd ends.
Although the milieu of Singh’s novel could roughly be described as psychedelic science fiction (complete with nods in the direction of William Burroughs and the Grateful Dead), that doesn’t quite get at its fundamental strangeness. Much of the novel finds Taty attempting to deal with some sort of perilous situation, at times facing horrific danger, and grappling with betrayals, violence, and horror around her. After leaving home, she is kidnapped by a mysterious group led by Alphonse Guava, “the imp pimp,” who tells her that she has considerable psychic abilities, able to transmit certain feelings, emotions, and sensations to the people around her.
What transpires from there, more or less, is Taty’s quest for her own freedom. Complicating matters is the presence of bizarre alien symbiotes, whose presence slowly transforms their hosts into something inhuman, a process that can only be staved off by the consumption of an absurdly large number of carrots. If this seems like Cronenbergian body horror by way of Eugene Ionesco, you’re not wrong. It’s par for the course here: that adorable creature you encounter on a given page might be what it seems to be; it also might be something immensely powerful and twice as malicious. That’s the kind of book this is.
The contrasts continue. Most of the characters have names that come off as overly stylized, the stuff of fables or children’s stories: Dr. Dali, Number Nun, Miss Muppet, and Bronski Glass all come to mind. But this is also a novel in which the threat of violence (particularly sexual violence) is present for many of the characters. (In a 2016 conversation with Geoff Ryman, Singh discussed this aspect of the novel.) The cumulative result is jarring—cartoonish one moment, harrowingly visceral the next. But that juxtaposition has been in place from the outset: this may be a novel with ancient cities, mysterious beings, and adventure—but escapism it is not.
Outside of writing, Singh’s body of work includes forays into film, music, and illustration—specifically, a comics adaptation of a novel by the similarly hard-to-define Kojo Laing. That same multifaceted approach can be seen in a distilled form within this novel, both literally (through both illustrations and cues for music in the prose) and metaphorically. Singh has endeavored to combine theoretically incompatible strands of literature: the picaresque blended with New Wave science fiction blended with absurdist comedy blended with realistic looks at trauma and its aftereffects. Does it all neatly flow together? No, but the risks that Singh takes here succeed more often than not, and the result is a deeply singular and highly compelling literary debut.-

In search of reference points for Nikhil Singh’s energetically transgressive first novel, perhaps cued by the 40-odd black-and-white illustra­tions scattered throughout the text, I find my­self reaching as much for graphic novels as the prose kind. Think of Grant Morrison circa The Invisibles or Alan Moore circa Lost Girls, mix with a shot of Shea & Wilson’s Illumina­tus! Trilogy and a dash of Bryan Catling’s The Vorrh, and you’ll be somewhere in the right neighbourhood. Lauren Beukes’s cover-blurb accurately refers to Taty Went West as a “car­nival ride.” It’s a story of invasion and trans­formation, and its mode is excess: memorable set-piece imagery, showy exploitation, and sometimes questionable taste.
First published in Kenya in 2015 by Kwani?, it is now brought to the UK and US on the heels of its shortlisting for the Nommo Award for best African SF novel. The titular (anti-) heroine is a disaffected teenager fleeing “the locked-down routines of the Lowlands,” seek­ing a new self, lured by the music of holo-pop singer Coco Carbomb to the lawless jungle Outzone. In fairly short order, Taty finds her­self kidnapped by Miss Muffet – a plump, pale, clawed woman who emits a pheromone that makes her impossible to dislike – and deliv­ered into the unsavoury clutches of “the imp pimp,” Alphonse Guava, who coerces Taty into a form of psychic prostitution. Arrayed around Alphonse is a court of equally outland­ish characters, including Number Nun, a repro­grammed ex-missionary robot with porcelain skin; the Sugar Twins, a Siamese pair who can conjoin or separate at will; and Typhoid Mary, a blind zombie with Kewpie doll heads where her eyes should be. But no sooner have we met this merry band than we watch them stomped and scattered by a rival crime boss, Mister Sis­ter, who introduces what he claims is an inter­dimensional infection into the Outzone, in the form of a metaphorically potent symbiote that promises perfect bliss, but in fact transforms its hosts into versions of itself. In a last, des­perate, and somewhat mysterious attempt at vengeance, a partially transformed Alphonse charges Taty with delivering a letter to the postbox of a dead god in the Outer Necropolis.
This perhaps makes the novel sound more action-packed than it feels. Singh’s style is lav­ish, as excessive as the situations and actions it describes; narrative is something that happens to the characters every so often, in between descriptions, rather than being driven by the characters. While many of those descriptions are good, fresh and unexpected, without warn­ing they veer into the cartoonish or questionable. To pick a page more or less at random:
The Dead Duck Diner capsuled a corner just two fingers short of the waterfront. It gleamed like the wet fin of some imaginary car, all sleazy chrome against the fast-forward de­cay of the esplanade. Festooned with rotis­serie jungle chicken, pink-on-green neon and loud checkerboard trim, it bubbled with all the indigestible traffic from the strip. You name the parasite and their umbilical leav­ings would be smeared along the linoleum counter-tops: robo-jox, the bitchdoctors, all the sailor drek, cyborg love bunnies, bible jerk-jumpers, jewel shifters, soldier-camp dropouts, alien trannies, cannibal hobo freak shows, keyboard cowboys, jungle mummies, the whole carnival sucked through the place like a vacuum cleaner and gathered like gunk in the filters.
That “capsuled” and “two fingers short” are effective and efficient, as is the wet fin, arguably to the point of making the rest of that sentence redundant. And I like the list, in principle, but I wince slightly at the casual juxtaposition of the fantastic and the insulting, in particular with respect to “alien trannies.” (Singh identifies as “whatever I like,” and there is a character, later in the book, described by the blurb as “transgen­der,” although within the text they identify as having multiple personality disorder; the execu­tion seemed to me more M. Night Shyamalan’s Split than Matt Ruff’s Set This House in Order.) Over and above all of this, you need a certain sen­sibility to enjoy the fact that the quoted paragraph continues in similar vein until very nearly the end of the following page, when something happens.
I enjoyed such paragraphs more than not. And the central section of the novel in particu­lar, in which Taty flees the symbiont infestation and journeys into the depths of ancient ruins to deliver the aforementioned letter, provides an effective framework for the ugly fecundity of Singh’s imagination, and depth to Taty as a char­acter. There aren’t that many SF novels being published with quite this level of commitment to sheer unironic pulpy invention, and taken at that level Taty Went West verges on the heroic, but it’s never a comfortable reading experience, and doesn’t always feel quite thought-through enough: it is perhaps ultimately a little more inva­sive than transformative. -

Nikhil Singh is an artist, writer, musician and film-maker. They have fronted the critically acclaimed South African art-rock bands, The Wild Eyes and Hi Spider, as well as released a plethora of solo albums under the moniker, “Witchboy." They have recently written and directed a feature-length film, Trillzone (2014), which was commissioned by the South African National Arts Festival as part of a J.G. Ballard symposium. As an artist, they have illustrated the graphic novels, The Ziggurat and Salem Brownstone, which was longlisted for The Branford Boase Award. Their work has also been featured in Pictures and Words: New Comic Art and Narrative Illustration, Dazed, I-D Online, Creative Review, The Times (UK), Mail & Guardian (UK), The Independent (UK), Rolling Stone (SA), GQ (SA), and featured as part of the COMICA festival exhibition at the ICA.


Ahmad Shamlu - "this is a case of reverse lycanthropy… Shamlu is actually more animal or monster by nature but sometimes believes or pretends that he is human"

Image result for Ahmad Shamlu, Born Upon the Dark Spear,
Ahmad Shamlu, Born Upon the Dark Spear, Trans. by Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh, Contra Mundum Press, 2015.   

Chasm. Mist. Dark Song. Hour of Execution. Behind the Wall. These are just some of the poetic titles of Ahmad Shamlu (1925-2000) that together form the cipher to one of the most powerful figures in modern world literature. Brought together here in translation for the first time, these selected works provide a gateway to the paradoxical imagination of an author who traverses immense distances of oblivion and light. On the one hand, Shamlu is known as a poet of night-raids and prison cells, dead-ends and burial orations, one for whom endlessly doomed horizons always keep him close to themes of martyrdom, fatality, rage, atrocity, and struggle. And yet, he is also the writer immortalized under the pen-name "Daybreak," a figure of illumination and ecstatic intensity who once declared himself the "vanguard of the sun" and who threatened to "hang the devil's lantern from the porch of every hidden torture chamber of this oppressive paradise." In a space caught between honor-codes and devastation, futility and apotheosis, one finds the poetic verses of Shamlu as among the first in a bloodline unbound-by-world.

"this is a case of reverse lycanthropy… Shamlu is actually more animal or monster by nature but sometimes believes or pretends that he is human"

Samad Alavi: Review of Born Upon the Dark Spear: Selected Poems of Ahmad ...

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Ahmad Shamlu, The Love Poems of Ahmad Shamlu, Trans. by Arthur Lane and Firoozeh Papan-Matin, IBEX Publishers, 2005.

Ahmad Shamlu (1925-2000) is among the most celebrated figures of contemporary Iranian literature. The poems presented here, capture ShamluÂ’s unique depictions of love. The narrator in these poems is a man intoxicated by the love of a woman; a woman whom we meet in the body of his love poetry; a female presentation whose characteristics are not fixed.
Due to Shamlu's widely recognized prominence within the intellectual opposition, the mainstream approach to his poetry has largely evaluated it in terms of the socio-political background of the poet's era. Taking issue with this limiting approach, the present work emphasizes an alternative reading of Shamlu, based on a primarily aesthetic analysis of the theme of aphrodisiac love in his poetry. More specifically, the present text is focused on the poet/lover's meditation on a beloved elevated to the stature of a goddess. This woman's metaphoric identity casts her as the muse and the audience. She is, with all her attendant dangers, the poet's realization of beauty and desire for being.The Love Poems of Ahmad Shamlu incorporates poems that trace the development of the relationship among the lover, the beloved, and love, in ShamluÂ’s poetry. The selection includes poems that go back to the beginning of ShamluÂ’s career when he was still experimenting with language and style in search of his own poetic voice. The chapters preceding the poems in translation, provide some insight into the life of Shamlu as well as his poetry.This work has valuable scholarly and pedagogic implications. While it is a contribution to the scholarship on the work of Shamlu, it also provides a concise translated collection that can be useful for students of Persian language and literature. This work can also serve as a textbook for courses in comparative and Persian literatures. Considering the growing interest in Persian poetry during the recent years, this book will further be of interest for audiences beyond speakers of Persian.

Given that little of Shamlu's work is readily available in English, one can only hope that this volume of love poems will be followed by collections of his broader work that will help Americans learn more about a rich culture often reduced to hysterical stereotypes by politicians and cable news commentators. --Foreword Magazine
Adolescence is a universally grave hour. Mine was made graver by a revolution in 1979 in my beloved birth country of Iran. The mutiny I felt within had an echo in the world without. On the streets, martial law was in effect. Tehran was burning, bleeding.
A popular American belief holds that the act of writing can somehow save the writer. But having written a couple of books and countless essays, I disagree. What saved me was not writing, but reading.
The belief that writing can bring one back from the brink existed in Iran, too. I avidly kept a diary, and wrote poetry. Eventually, a painter took me seriously and introduced me to a literary critic: a dour, lanky man with a Che Guevara mustache, a dramatic head of salt-and-pepper curls and a memorably hoarse voice. In his kitchen — immaculate enough to conduct surgery in — he proceeded to do exactly that to the dozen poems I read him. A minor grunt here, a sigh of boredom there, each to emphasize an imperfection in what I'd composed. In the end, he only said: "You must read. You must do nothing but read. Read the great modern poets. Above all, read Ahmad Shamlou." - Roya Hakakian

Ahmad Shamlu, a noted Iranian poet with a free-flowing style who was both at odds with the Iranian monarchy and disappointed with the Islamic movement that ousted it, died on Sunday in a Tehran hospital. He was 74 and lived near Tehran.
He had long been ill, Iran's official news agency, IRNA, reported.
Mr. Shamlu was a longtime advocate of greater political freedom; some of his writings were banned both before and after the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979 in the Iranian revolution.
As a writer put it in a 1979 volume of the multivolume reference work ''Contemporary Literary Criticism,'' Shamlu's poetry, ''noted for its linguistic experimentalism and grand imagery, reveals his commitment to freedom of expression.''
He was given a Freedom of Expression award by Human Rights Watch, based in New York, in 1991.
After his death became known, a radio station in Tehran called him Iran's greatest poet and began broadcasting poems by him.
Mr. Shamlu ''has come more and more to view poetry as a mirror which the thinking poet, in an uncertain world, holds up to his own soul,'' Professor Karimi-Hakkak, who now teaches at the University of Washington, wrote. ''The sweeping energy of the young dreamer has gradually subsided into the brooding pessimism of the white-haired poet who knows -- or believes he knows -- that change will come only if thought accompanies action. His struggle, like that of his countrymen, now goes on below the surface.''
Professor Karimi-Hakkak quoted these lines from Mr. Shamlu's poem ''Poetry That Is Life'':
The subject of poets of yesteryear
was not of life. . . .
Today the theme of poetry is a different thing.
Poetry today is the weapon of the masses.
For poets themselves
are branches from the forest of the masses,
not jasmines and hyacinths of someone's
Mr. Shamlu caused a stir in Iran's literary world in 1956 with his poem ''The Fairies,'' which contains these lines:
The slaves gather, torch in hand
to burn the night off our land,
to force the chain-maker out,
chain him, drag him all about.
In those lines, Professor Karimi-Hakkak wrote, the poet ''assumes a degree of historical specificity that no one slightly familiar with the contemporary history of Iran can fail to interpret as the prophecy of an imminent revolution.''
Before the Iranian revolution, Mr. Shamlu's poetry was popular with young people, but his advocacy of more freedom led to repeated arrests and jailings, and he departed Iran voluntarily in 1977 for exile in the United States.
He returned in 1979, after the revolution, but he distanced himself from his disappointment with the new Islamic regime's authoritarianism (against which he spoke out) by concentrating on writing love poetry. And he spent his later years mostly in purely literary pursuits.
Besides writing poetry, he was also a translator, critic and author of books for young people, and one of Iran's foremost intellectuals.
He married three times and had four children.
Despite his worldly concerns and troubles, he could strike a lyric note, as he did in these lines:
At night,
When the silver moonstream
makes a lake of limitless plain,
I spread the sails of my thoughts
in the path of the wind.

Ahmad Shamlou - Iran's most celebrated contemporary poet

Ahmad Shamloo Poems - Poem Hunter

Obituary: Ahmad Shamlu | Books | The Guardian


Tanja Maljartschuk - With haiku-like precision, Tanja's deceptively simple writing style blends surrealism and magical realism with satirical wit, occasionally outlandish humor and poignant social commentary

Image result for Tanja Maljartschuk, A Biography of a Chance Miracle
Tanja Maljartschuk, A Biography of a Chance Miracle, Trans. by Zenia Tompkins, Cadmus Press, 2018.
read it at Google Books

A Biography of a Chance Miracle explores the life of Lena, a young girl growing up in the somewhat vapid, bureaucracy-ridden and nationalistic Western Ukrainian city of San Francisco. Lena is a misfit from early childhood due to her unwillingness to scorn everything Russian, her propensity for befriending forlorn creatures, her aversion to the status quo, and her fear of living a stupid and meaningless life. As her friends enter college, Lena sets forth on a mission to defend the abused and downtrodden of San Francisco--be they canine or human--armed with nothing more than an arsenal of humor, stubbornness, chutzpah and no shortage of imagination. Her successes are minimal at best, but in the process of trying to save San Francisco's collective humanity, she may end up saving her own. At first glance a crazy and combative girl, Lena just may be the salvation that the Ukrainians of San Francisco sorely need.
With haiku-like precision, Tanja's deceptively simple writing style blends surrealism and magical realism with satirical wit, occasionally outlandish humor and poignant social commentary. The German literary media has described her depictions of contemporary Ukraine as full of humor and absurdity, but "more exact and harsher" than those of her peers, comparing her to the 19th-century Russian satirist Saltykov-Shchedrin and hailing her as "a name to be remembered." This work, her most provocative to date, was a finalist for the 2012 BBC Book of the Year Award in Ukraine, and has been lauded as "simply ingenious" by fellow Ukrainian authors.

...a wonderful novel by one of the most talented and original contemporary Ukrainian literary voices -- Tanja Maljartschuk. You will irresistibly fall in love with the young protagonist, Lena, with her courage to face the harsh realities of life in her country, her charmingly optimistic and occasionally witty stubbornness in opposing the social forces of dominance and governance, and her idealistic determination to create a better world... - Zoran Zivkovic

…wise, loving and absurd. — Ericka Achermann

…Kafka and Thomas Bernhard send their regards… —Erich Klein

Here irony turns into sarcasm, the smile on your lips freezes… This is a wonderful and at once bitter book, a screaming indictment in prose…Lena rises above this tristesse, a female Don Quixote of the humiliated and affronted, like a hovering Chagallian angel… — Sabine Berking

…a great talent has entered onto the stage of world literature here!”  —Anne Hahn

With a surprisingly laconic wisdom, the young author manages to expose the entire absurdity of today’s Ukraine… A new strong voice—which, despite its youth, has already found its own style—has entered the literary scene here… —Andreas Pittler

A Biography of a Chance Miracle amounts to a biography of Lena (who insists on that name, rather than the Ukrainian variants everyone wants to impose on her, Olena or Olenka), who grows up, and struggles, in the newly independent Ukraine. The narrator only reveals herself very late in the novel, but her account is closely based on Lena's own memories -- though she also includes some bits and pieces that Lena remains unaware of and unfamiliar with, to round out the account.
       Above all else, Lena is obstinate, from early childhood on. She has strong opinions, and a clear sense of right and wrong, and doesn't necessarily think of possible consequences as she plows ahead. In childhood and youth, these set her somewhat apart, but don't seem particularly atypical. When she can't get into any of the university departments she hopes to study at -- philosophy being her top choice -- but rather winds up in the dreaded physical education department (and even that only thanks to a bribe), it's clear her adult life won't shape up much different. She eventually does find a variety of causes, which she throws herself wholeheartedly and, occasionally, even quite successfully into, notably "canine homelessness" (as she is horrified to find out how the stray pet population in her hometown is being dealt with) and then the treatment of the disabled, specifically as it pertains to a childhood friend of hers whom she makes it her mission to help.
       Lena wants to be a savior -- not of the world, as she realistically understands that there's only so much one can do, but at least in some small ways. Among her more harebrained ideas is that of selling miracles -- she's confident enough in her abilities to see herself as a miracle-worker -- but in modern-day Ukraine no one even believes in miracles any longer (though they're gullible about all sorts of other quackery, as Lena discovers) and she can't find any takers.
       Lena does have some ambition:
She simply wanted to be someone, someone specific -- not very great, but not small either -- and she wanted to do something.
       If something of an innocent in the ways of the world (or at least this Ukrainian world), she's not entirely guileless. And, as she explains to her college roommate:
     "I always wanted to help people."
     "You don't want to help them! You want to swindle them!"
     "You're right -- swindle them in order to help them. That's my goal !"

       Lena is certain she knows what's best and right, and storms ahead trying to convince everyone else of it. She meets with some success -- her dog campaign gets lots of attention and makes her a minor celebrity -- but also comes up against bureaucracy and the powers that be that are almost impossible to truly conquer.
       From early on, Lena also wants to escape, with ambitions of getting to America. Or out of the Ukraine, at least. She can't help herself, however, and the pull of everything that needs to be done back home keeps her from making good her escape -- even when, at one point, she's practically on the bus that could get her out of this sinkhole.
       The backdrop to this all is, of course, the newly independent Ukraine Lena grows up and lives in. Others -- like her parents -- still remember previous, older eras, Soviet or even Habsburg times; for Lena: "There was just this one". She lives in a small Ukrainian city called San Francisco, and the novel follows its transformations in the wake of the break-up of the Soviet Union, from her parents losing their jobs and trying to find new ways of making do (a buckwheat farm is one almost inspired plan they go all-in on, falling only ever so slightly (yet still catastrophically) short of making a success of it) to the shifting commercial sphere:
     In 1996, everything definitely went to pieces and San Francisco sank into the black waters of the free market.
       From modern-day bureaucracy to Ukrainian nationalism, racism, and corruption, A Biography of a Chance Miracle covers a great deal, maintaining a light-hearted tone -- not defeatist, but stoical, with Lena's outbursts of action standing in effective contrast to the general attitude.
       In its somewhat anecdotal presentation, A Biography of a Chance Miracle doesn't quite have the flow of a usual life-progression-story; a few too many threads dangle too loosely, including Lena's parents who pop up and out throughout the story. There are connections -- even from the near stand-alone opening spectacular (Lena's teacher making a memorable exit) --, and the idea of a flying miracle-worker, whose existence Lena firmly believes in, despite its unlikeliness, that repeatedly crops up helps bring the story to a nice close, but there's perhaps a bit too much of the episodic adventure-story to the novel as a whole.
       A Biography of a Chance Miracle isn't quite a picaresque -- Lena is too (if not entirely ...) harmlessly innocent for that --, nor is she entirely quixotic. Maljartschuk spells out the closest parallel, when the narrator describes first meeting Lena:
     The first thing that Lena said to me was, "If Schneider himself were to come from Switzerland now to have a look at his former pupil and patient, then even he would wave his hand dismissively and say, 'Idiot !'"
     What that was supposed to mean, I don't know. Presumably it was some quote, but I still haven't been able to figure out from where.

       (Maljartschuk announcing it and spelling it out so loudly like this is an example of how she doesn't quite trust her writing, or the reader, enough; a bit more subtlety would have served her well throughout the book.)
       Lena isn't quite Dostoevsky's Prince Myshkin either, but her story does resemble his in significant ways, and she is a similarly engaging, hopeless character.
       A Biography of a Chance Miracle is an appealing take on modern-day Ukraine, and a nice little life-of tale. A bit rough in some of the presentation and writing, it's still a vivid and entertaining story, with just enough poignancy to it. - M.A.Orthofer

Tanja Maljartschuk’s A Biography of a Chance Miracle is a novel following the life of Lena, a girl living in a provincial Ukrainian town nicknamed San Francisco by its long-suffering locals.  The story takes us from her early years, including some turbulent times at school and a loss of faith in her teens, before showing us what has become of her as an adult, with Lena forced to confront the realities of a world that doesn’t match up to the dreams she had of it.
However, what should be a rather bleak tale of a wasted life in a dull backwater is actually a rather entertaining affair.  Lena isn’t a woman to dwell on the dark side of life, and she makes the most of the limited opportunities that come her way, at times creating them herself.  There’s another reason why hers is a life less ordinary, though, as strange things seem to happen when she’s around, whether it’s the mysterious case of her disappearing kindergarten teacher or the story of a mysterious angel who seems to be following her around.  Lena is certainly a resourceful woman, but even she won’t turn down help from above.
While A Biography of a Chance Miracle focuses very much on the young woman, the novel is really all about Ukraine in the post-Soviet era.  Maljartschuk sets her character against a backdrop of a country where in order to survive, the people need to become resourceful and independent as quickly as possible.  In such an environment, as Lena discovers, the notions of good and evil take on a slightly different meaning:
There were all kinds of people and all kinds of stories.  Lena did her best to file all of them away in her head for statistical purposes in order to some day, down the road, understand where evil came from. At the time, it all seemed to come from poverty. Someone who’s constantly thinking about money doesn’t have the time to work on himself in order to become better because it’s easy to be evil.  You don’t have to exert yourself to be evil. But being good, on the other hand, requires a little effort. You have to have a clear head, sleep a minimum of eight hours a day, eat healthy, work out, and take walks in the fresh air, preferably in some park.  Per Lena’s modest statistics, people in her immediate world didn’t do any of this.
pp.45/6 (Cadmus Press, 2018)
There are certainly a fair few scoundrels introduced over the course of the book, but Lena somehow comes through fairly intact, even if her morals aren’t always quite what we’d expect.
Initially, Lena is unbowed by the pressures of the corrupt society she lives in.  Despite falling in with a group of fascists at university, she goes her own way, befriending a Jamaican student who has somehow found his way to Ukraine (and striking back at them when they attempt to discipline her for her subversive ways).  Standing up to the evil of bureaucracy is a different matter, though, and when she discovers a childhood friend in need of help, even her boundless enthusiasm and energy will founder on the rock of governmental Catch-22s…
One of the strengths of A Biography of a Chance Miracle is its light touch, with what could have been a grey tale enlivened by humorous touches.  Maljartschuk takes us through the town and introduces us to its inhabitants, and we spend our time strolling through the bazaar where many of them make a living, chatting to the professor flogging second-hand goods on the side, or being introduced to the quack making money from diagnosing fake illnesses.  Even the fascist student movement has its comical side, showing its pettiness in its announcements:
It was then that the Resistance Movement issued an operational directive prohibiting ny relations whatsoever between foreigners and Ukrainian girls.  In reality, the directive pertained only to Ishion and Lena because Ishion was the only foreigner in town and Lena was the only one who talked to him at all. (p.103)
However, Maljartschuk manages to alter the mood successfully as Lena’s youthful optimism is gradually ground down.  While she may have got away with being a free spirit for a while, the state eventually catches up with her, and the reader sympathises with her frustrations, with even small victories followed by crushing defeats in her quest to obtain the benefits her friend is lawfully entitled to.
For the most part, A Biography of a Chance Miracle is an entertaining read, but it doesn’t always quite hit the mark.  While Tompkins’ translation reads well, the writing is probably a little simple for my preferences.  In addition, despite the late reappearance of one of the characters introduced in the first few chapters, the story can appear a tad too episodic at times, one story following another without too much connecting them.  It is a novel, but there are times when it’s more like a collection of short stories featuring the same characters, and for me the book was occasionally caught between the two structures.
Overall, though A Biography of a Chance Miracle is an interesting look at life in post-Soviet Ukraine, showing how one woman does her best in the face of a lack of work and opportunities.  Hard work and intelligence will only get you so far in a society dominated by vested interests, but as Lena discovers, if you work at it, things might just turn out well – particularly if you believe in miracles. - tonysreadinglist.wordpress.com/2018/05/28/a-biography-of-a-chance-miracle-by-tanja-maljartschuk-review/

Tania Maljartschuk is one of the most prolific and audacious young authors currently writing in Ukrainian, whose hallmark style blends searing social commentary with heartwarming humor and an appreciation for the human condition. The author of eight books of prose, her work has been translated into ten languages and is widely available in German. Tanja's writing has been supported by various governmental and private fellowships from the Chancellery of Austria, the Academy of the Arts of Berlin, the Polish Ministry of Culture and KulturKontakt Austria, among others. She is a past winner of the Joseph Conrad Korzienowski Literary Prize (Poland-Ukraine) and the Kristal Vilencia Award (Slovenia). A Biography of a Chance Miracle, Tanja's first novel and sixth book, was a finalist for the prestigious BBC Book of the Year Award in Ukraine, an award she subsequently won in 2016 for her novel Forgottenness. Individual stories of Tanja's are available in English in the anthologies Best European Fiction, Herstories and Women in Times of Change, as well as in literary magazines such as World Literature Today ("The Demon of Hunger"), Words Without Borders, Belletrista ("Canis Lupus Famliaris") and Apofenie ("Losers Want More"). A Biography of a Chance Miracle is Tanja's first book to be made available in English; an English translation of her novel Forgottenness is in progress.


Tang Xianzu - He may not have been as prolific as William Shakespeare, and nor is he as internationally renowned, but Tang Xianzu, who, like the Bard, died in 1616., penned four of the most significant works in the Chinese operatic canon

Image result for The Complete Dramatic Works of Tang Xianzu
Tang Xianzu, The Complete Dramatic Works of Tang Xianzu, Bloomsbury China, 2018.
read it at Google Books

Tang Xianzu (1550–1616) is acclaimed as the 'Shakespeare of the East' and widely regarded as China's greatest playwright, yet his work has not reached Western readers in its entirety.
The Complete Dramatic Works of Tang Xianzu represents a literary landmark: this is the first English-language collection of the revered dramatist's most important works to be made available outside China.
Translated over two decades, the collection showcases the playwright's major pieces, including The Purple Flute, The Purple Hairpins, The Nanke Dream, The Handan Dream – and The Peony Pavilion.
The Peony Pavilion is the playwright's most celebrated work and has drawn comparisons to Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, Dante's Divine Comedy and John Milton's Paradise Lost.
Known for his lyrical use of metaphor, Tang Xianzu weaves the beauty of nature with the tragedy of emotion. His plays offer an extensive exploration of love, and remain at the heart of Chinese culture. This important collection represents an opportunity for a wider audience to discover the profound and poetic works of this classic playwright.

The Purple Flute
The Purple Hairpins
The Peony Pavilion
The Nanke Dream
The Handan Dream

"Shakespeare of the East." - President Xi Jinping

"[Tang Xianzu’s] The Peony Pavilion is China’s most popular play… a deeply emotional and poetic work considered as the Ming dynasty’s literary high point." - Culture Trip

"The very moment William Shakespeare was sitting down to pen Romeo and Juliet, a Ming-dynasty Mandarin called Tang Xianzu was composing the most celebrated epic of Chinese opera." - The Independent

"One needs to read beyond Peony Pavilion to fully grasp the fascinatingly complex world of Tang Xianzu's Four Dreams and truly appreciate his literary mastery." - Tian Yuan Tan

Sample Pages Preview:
My hometown is by the beautiful Wujiang River. 
When I served as a singing girl in Jiankang, 
I often sang the song of"Cherish while Ye May" 
Till I was separated from my beloved one. 
After my youthful life was ruined, 
I seemed to be half-tinted with autumn bleakness. 
Later I served the young Crown Prince with all my heart, 
But was given the cold shoulder in the house of Prince Huo. 
Now that I am practicing Taoism, 
What's the use of talking about make-up? 
I am nothing but a lonely azalea. 
Shancai, go and see whether there are ladies burning joss-sticks in the Queen Mother Hall! 
Who will come after noontime? 
Have a look outside for all that! 
(Enter Zheng Liuniang and Huo Xiaoyu) 
ZHENG LIUNIANG (To the tune of Yijiangfeng): 
This is a clean and serene place, 
With tall green trees around 
And drifting white clouds above. 
Look, my daughter! 
Rising into the sky, 
The magnificent mansion 
Stands against the setting sun. 
When the beaded curtain is raised, 
Fragrant incense smoke permeates the place. 
Here comes Sister Shancai! 
SHANCM (Comes out and greets in a pleased surprise): 
It turns out to be Liuniang and Princess Xiaoyu! Judging from your headwear, are you married,Princess?

If they are their country’s respective greatest playwrights, Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu share more than status: both wrote during the same period, and died in 1616. One can see why excited comparisons between the two have prospered for so long.
Tang Xianzu was born in 1550 in Linchuan, now known as Fuzhou, in the Jiangxi province. He initially joined the civil service after passing China’s famous government examinations: the provincial exam at the age of 21, and the imperial one at 34. Despite leading a successful, if undistinguished, career as a minor official, he retired in 1598 to devote himself to writing. His reputation in China is that of a very straight, honest figure—one strictly against the bureaucratic corruption so typical of the time—and it is said he left government employment because his coworkers didn’t like him for it.
Although he was also a poet, novelist, doctor, astronomer, fortune teller, and geographer (!), Tang is known predominantly for four plays, banded together under the name The Four Dreams of Linchuan. The individual plays are: Zi chai ji (The Purple Hairpin), Nan ke ji (A Dream Under a Southern Bough), Handan Meng (Dream of Handan), and, most famous of all, the Mu Dan Ting (The Peony Pavilion).
First performed in 1598, the full text of that last work contains a grand total of 55 scenes, and can run, depending on the production, for more than 20 hours. Most performances however, do without its many subplots to focus on the two main characters: Du Liniang, the daughter of a governor, and Liu Mengmei, a scholar. The former dies after dreaming of meeting a young man in a peony pavilion; the latter meets and falls in love with her in a dream three years later. The rest of the play features resurrection, a disbelieving father, and a merciful emperor (among other things).
Why Tang Xianzu is considered China’s greatest playwright
There’s no going around it: the Mu Dan Ting is China’s most popular play, to the point of being included in the repertoire of every kunqu theater troupe. It also encapsulates why Tang Xianzu himself has been, since then, so revered: At once a deeply emotional and poetic work—considered the Ming dynasty’s literary high point—it also set its premise in direct opposition with the time’s feudal ethics. ‘True love’ is portrayed as a more worthwhile pursuit than simple observance of strict mores, and calls for freedom and emancipation. This spirit is followed through by the play itself, with Tang’s work flouting the period’s dramatic conventions, mixing—as Shakespeare did—‘low’ comedy with high tragedy.
Tang wrote and participated in his country’s literary Renaissance, when theater texts, rather than being read (as it was Chinese tradition), started to be adapted into popular operas. Although he regarded his works primarily as written plays, the adaptations cemented his fame—a popularity that lives on to this day. - Simon Leser

This year the Library celebrates one of the greatest literary figures of all time, William Shakespeare (1564–1616), with a major exhibition and a rich series of events and on-line resources. Coincidently, two other world-famous writers died in the same year: Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), and the Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖(1550–1616). To commemorate these two writers, the Library recently presented in its permanent free exhibition space, the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, the display Imagining Don Quixote, and is currently showing a selection of woodblock printed editions from Tang Xiangzu’s work. For those who cannot visit the British Library to see the display on Tang in person, this blog post presents some information on the exhibits.
Tang Xianzu is one of the greatest Chinese playwrights. He was a native of Linchuan, Jiangxi province, and worked as an official during the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1572–1620) of the Ming dynasty. Tang Xianzu’s masterpiece is called the ‘Peony Pavilion’ (牡丹亭 Mudan ting). The ‘Peony Pavilion’ was written and staged for the first time in 1598 and performed at the Pavilion of Prince Teng, one of the great Chinese towers in Southern China. It is still one of the most beloved and famous Chinese traditional operas today.

Tang blog 1 by Sara
Xu xiang mudan ting, 繡像牡丹亭, ‘Illustrated Peony Pavilion’ in 8 chapters, c. 1840, woodblock printed edition. In this illustration from a Qing dynasty edition of the text, we can see the opening scene, when the sixteen-year-old Du Liniang falls asleep in the garden and starts dreaming. British Library, 15327.b.15 Noc

The term ‘opera’ is often used in reference to Chinese theatre as it was common for dramatic performances to be highly choreographed and punctuated by singing and musical accompaniment. There are many forms of Chinese opera, but the ‘Peony Pavilion’ is traditionally performed as a kunqu or ‘Kun opera’, a style developed in the early Ming period, which combines spoken parts with singing and dance movements.

Tang blog 2 by Sara
The Peony Pavilion performed in Venice on 15th of June 2010 (photo by the author). The original version of the Peony Pavilion runs for 20 hours, and comprises a total of 55 scenes, but it is now usually performed in shorter adaptations.

The ‘Peony Pavilion’ is sometimes referred to as ‘A Ghost Story’, because part of it takes place in the underworld and the protagonist returns from the afterlife. It narrates the love story between a girl from a wealthy family, Du Liniang, and the scholar Liu Mengmei. After seeing Liu in a dream and falling in love with him, Du dies of sorrow. Her spirit keeps looking for the young scholar and the Judge of the Underworld promises to resurrect her so that she can see him again. After appearing in Liu’s dreams as a ghost, her body is exhumed by Liu and the couple live happily thereafter.

Tang blog 3 by Sara
Xu xiang mudan ting, 繡像牡丹亭, ‘Illustrated Peony Pavilion’ in 8 chapters, c. 1840, woodblock printed edition. British Library 15327.b.16, another copy of the same edition of the work as in 15327.b.15. Noc

The ‘Peony Pavilion’ is one of the so-called ‘Four Dreams’ (Lin chuan si meng), four of Tang’s most important plays in which dreams play a significant part in the story. They include also ‘The Purple Hairpin’, ‘The Dream of Handan’ and ‘The Dream of the Southern Bough’. The latter two in particular contain themes of rejection of traditional feudal values and the possibility of escape through love and compassion in order to achieve happiness.

Tang Blog 4 by Sara
The ‘Dream of Southern Bough’, in the collection Shi er zhong qu十二種曲, ‘Twelve operas’, by Li Yu, 1785, woodblock printed edition. British Library, 15327.a.3 Noc

The ‘Peony Pavilion’ has been translated into many languages and adapted several times for television and theatre productions such as contemporary opera, ballet and musical performances, both in China and abroad. The escape from the conventions of feudal society, the power of true love to conquer even death, and the cathartic role of dreams are central themes of the ‘Peony Pavilion’. Together they created a story that is universal and beloved by students, readers and audiences around the world.

Tang blog 5 by Sara
‘Die Rückkehr der Seele’ (The Return of the Soul), translated by Vincenz Hundhausen. Zürich/Leipzig, 1937. This edition of the ‘Peony Pavilion’, translated and edited by Vincenz Hundhausen, is accompanied by forty reproductions of Chinese woodcuts from the Ming period. British Library, 11101.f.28

Further reading:
Tan, Tian Yuan and Santangelo, Paolo 'Passion, Romance, and Qing: The World of Emotions and States of Mind in Peony Pavilion' (3 vols.),  in Emotions and States of Mind in East Asia, Vol. 4. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Tan, Tian Yuan, Edmondson, Paul and Wang, Shih-pe, 1616: Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu's China. London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2016.

China and Britain will honour their most famous playwrights, Tang Xianzu and William Shakespeare, with a series of events this year.
The dramatists were contemporaries who lived thousands of miles apart, and both died in 1616. This has led numerous scholars to conduct comparative studies of their works, which remain hugely influential to this day.
Shakespeare’s plays are a mainstay of the British school curriculum, while Tang’s best-known opera, The Peony Pavilion, continues to be performed worldwide.
Both were “great men in the circle of world drama”, said Aoki Masaru, the Japanese scholar and sinologist, who many credit as being the first to link the Bard with Tang in his 1943 book A History of Chinese Literary Thought.
To mark the 400th anniversary of the writers’ deaths, plays, seminars, book fairs and lectures will be held to celebrate their legacies in China and Britain.
“Celebrations for Shakespeare and Tang will be the highlight of China-British cultural exchanges in 2016,” said Xiang Xiaowei, minister counsellor for culture at the Chinese embassy in London.
The celebrations will include a special stage production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream Under the Southern Bough, which has been billed as “when Shakespeare met Tang”.
Aimed primarily at student audiences, the show is a blend of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Bard’s comedy of magic and mismatched love, and Tang’s A Dream Under the Southern Bough, an opera about a soldier’s fantastical journey through a kingdom of ants.
“Through art and performance, we can examine ourselves, our culture and our humanity,” the director, Steve Ansell, said. “And by examining the art and performance of another culture, we’re able to dynamically articulate our similarities and our individualities.”
The play, to be staged in Leeds, Edinburgh and three cities in China from July to September, is being organised by the University of Leeds Staging China, its Business Confucius Institute, and the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.
As the cast will mostly be made up of Western actors, the show will be a spoken-word performance with musical accompaniment. “Spoken word presents an opportunity to break with convention while still being inspired by it, and creates a new world for Tang’s characters to inhabit,” Ansell said.
Last month Zou Yuanjiang, a philosophy professor at the University of Wuhan and vice-president of the Tang Xianzu Research Society, was invited to talk on The Peony Pavilion at several British universities.
Such tours “not only illuminate the work of a legendary Chinese writer to audiences in Britain, but also have a great impact” among young Chinese people, said Li Ruru, a professor of Chinese theatre studies at the University of Leeds, who helped organise Prof Zou’s visit.
By comparing the literary greats “we’re raising awareness among British scholars and readers, so that they look more carefully at what is out there in terms of Chinese classics”, said Tian Yuan Tan of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, who co-wrote the book 1616: Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu’s China.
Adam Strickson, a fellow in theatre and writing at the University of Leeds, who has studied the works of Tang and Shakespeare, said both “shared a love for mixing the low life or the bawdy with the sense of a tortuous moral journey of self-discovery”.
They also use dense and layered poetry to go beyond the surface, he said, and the metaphor of the dream as a journey of confusion and enlightenment is central.
“I have the sense both were involved in a religious quest for meaning, and that this revolves around an exploration of loss, grief and reconciliation in the family.”
The difference, he said, is that Shakespeare’s works represent people of all backgrounds and classes, whereas Tang’s seem to reflect a more aristocratic and esoteric background. -

Tang Xianzu | ©Symane/Wikimedia Commons

Image result for The Peony Pavilion: Mudan ting

Tang Xianzu (1550-1616) is considered China's greatest playwright and is revered in a country of great literary and dramatic traditions. The writer's most famous works, known collectively as the Four Dreams, are still performed throughout China today on the Chinese Kun opera stage.

Oleg Woolf - Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz, a vivid, surreal evocation of a liminal world. The characters follow the trajectories of elementary particles, disappearing in one dimension only to reappear in another.”

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