Book Review: Threads of Silk

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Threads of Silk is a new historical novel written by Amanda Roberts — blogger at TwoAmericansinChina.com — and published by Red Empress Publishing, which is sure to fascinate fans of Chinese history. The novel is about one woman’s perspective in the twilight of the Qing Dynasty (which ended in 1911), and is full of historical details. The author certainly did her research; the world of Threads of Silk is grand and exotic and rings true.

The story opens in rural Hunan and is told through the character of Yaqian, a poor girl who raises silkworms and enjoys her simple life in the countryside. After being taken up by upper class mentors, she learns embroidery and is eventually taken to Peking where she stays for the bulk of the novel. The capital city is full of politics, treachery, funerals, the aging dowager empresses, the final child emperor, and there’s even a prince. Yet this is no fairy tale by any means.

The start is somewhat on the slower side, focusing on the atmosphere of the time, and the narrative pace eventually picks up. The bulk of the tales take place within the Forbidden City, a most fascinating setting, although there is a sense that all what goes on in all of China is crucial.

Year by year Yaqian survives and grows. It’s the details that makes the stories feel truthful. Roberts paints an era of intrigue with Han Chinese versus Manchu. Much of the book is also focused on cruelty towards women, and there is ample material full of foot-binding and all the minor crimes that were part of society at the time. Ultimately, the strength of the main character shines through. Especially when it comes to the overlap of politics and family…

The country of China irrevocably changes in the course of these pages, but overall it is a human story about the people who are caught up in history. Right up until the end.

The novel covers such a grand and ambitious scope that it occasionally feels like there is a checklist of historical events to go through. It does work, and it is somewhat the point of the novel to show how a woman of humble origins would have witnessed all that occurred. For the most part the flow works with Yaqian’s life, and the exposition is part of the interest in reading Threads of Silk.

Available on Amazon

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End of the Tour: Shenzhen Writers Night

Discover AndExperiencE ASIA

 

Last weekend I hosted the “Shenzhen Writers Night.” It was something I was thinking about for a while, as a sort of ending to my book tour of the past year. And I wanted to create a special reading atmosphere, so I broadened the event to include other talented authors I know in Shenzhen and South China.

If I do say so myself, I think it went very well. I found a good space at the youth hostel in the OCT area, which is Shenzhen’s own answer to a hipster neighborhood. Me first, I tried out at reading from the last chapter of my novel in order to signify the end. A spoiler if you may, but I had never read that aloud before. The array of talent and creativity from the other authors was amazing; the stories and the poetry and the performances. It went by faster than I realized…

Although this was supposed to be the end of my tour, now everyone keeps asking me when there will be another reading. So, guess I’ll have to do it again! After learning a lot about how to organize and promote such events, and thinking about more writers to showcase from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, I certainly have some ideas.

Ah, a better picture from Friday's #reading

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By the way, the event was even reviewed on the site BASEDtraveler and That’s PRD magazine — here are the two pieces complete with appropriate links from all the participants, so please do check out more from these great writers:

 

 

http://www.basedtravelershenzhen.com/shenzhen-writers-night

Shenzhen Writers Night

by Rachel Dillon

Friday 3rd June saw the first ever Shenzhen Writers Night, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it. It was held in the community room of the YHA Youth Hostel in OCT Loft, a lovely area full of arts events and exhibitions, cafes, restaurants, shops and bars, and was an eclectic mix of writers from all over the world with all different styles and genres of writing.

Organised by Ray Hecht, an American who has lived in Shenzhen for about seven years, he opened the event with a reading from his novel South China Morning Blues. Unusually, he read the final chapter, giving us a flavour of the whole book and a taste for more. Luckily he had a few copies for sale. My copy is on my nightstand, waiting to be read.

Next was Amada Roberts of Crazy Dumpling fame. You can read my review of her first cookbook here and she has just published the sequel, aptly titled Crazy Dumplings 2: Even Dumplinger. However, she decided that cookbooks weren’t exactly riveting listening for an audience so she read an excerpt from her debut novel, published under her pseudonym Leigh Anderson. The Vampire’s Daughter, a gothic fantasy romance, was quite a contrast from South China Morning Bluesespecially considering the part she read – a touch on the erotic side with a dramatic cliff hanger to keep the audience gasping for more. Read my review of The Vampire’s Daughter here.

Lom Harshni Chauhan’s novel Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul is all about raising her daughter with Indian spiritual values while living in Shenzhen, where she has lived for the past 13 years. She read a humorous excerpt about how the name of the book came about during a conversation with her daughter where she declared that, “The body is the visa for the soul.” Very profound for a six-year-old.

The next person on stage was Adrian Blackstock, a musician who has lived in Shenzhen since 2012. He is currently working on an album due to be released in July this year. Called VaChina, it is a musical celebration of China, Africa, Virginia (where Adrian is from originally) and where all humans began. Adrian chose to recite the lyrics of two of the songs from his upcoming album, and gave a riveting performance.

After a great introduction from Adrian, it was my turn. I read some of my travel writing – a piece about travelling on the Trans-Mongolian railway last summer which I wrote as a guest post for Clara from expatpartnersurvival.com and you can find on my blog here; followed by a bit about my experience visiting Chernobyl, which was the absolute highlight of my trip.

I then had the pleasure of introducing my friend Senzeni, whose writing I love. She was one of the finalists of the That’s PRD writing competition last month, along with myself and another friend; Senzeni won third prize with her piece which is published in this month’s That’s PRD magazine. (There’s also a small picture of me!) Senzeni read a short story from her upcoming anthology of short stories, due to be published later this year. Humorous and thought-provoking, Senzeni’s writing is full of emotion and captures snapshots of different people’s lives from a whole new perspective.

The final writer was Aaron Styza, who had come all the way from Guangzhou to share some of his beautiful poetry with us, including The Science of Speech, which has been published on HeronTree.com. Again, a completely different style of writing and genre, Aaron’s poetry was an excellent ending to a very eclectic and enjoyable evening.

As many people are going away for the summer (including me), we are hoping to do another Shenzhen Writers Night in September. Check back here after the summer for more information on future events.

Resources
If you missed the event but would like to find out more about the authors and their writing, here are a few links:
Ray Hecht’s South China Morning Blues and his site www.rayhecht.com.
Amanda Robert’s Crazy Dumplings and Crazy Dumplings 2: Even Dumplinger, along with The Vampire’s Daughter under her pseudonym Leigh Anderson, and her blog www.twoamericansinchina.com
Lom Harshni Chauhan’s Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul
Adrian Blackstock’s album site vachina.bandcamp.com
My blog www.persephone2015.wordpress.com, which is more about travels outside of Shenzhen
Senzeni Mpofu’s competition article in this month’s That’s PRD magazine
Aaron Styza’s poems on TwoCitiesReview and Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, plus an interview with Ray Hecht here.

 

 

http://www.thatsmags.com/shenzhen/post/13952/photos-shenzhen-writers-night-recap

PHOTOS: Shenzhen Writers Night Recap

by Bailey Hu

Last Friday night, June 3, was the premiere of Shenzhen Writers Night, a new event local author Ray Hecht organized in order to showcase the voices of talented writers in the area.

The event was held in the community room of a youth hostel in OCT-Loft, as advertised earlier on That’s PRD.

Seven talented writers spanning a wide range of voices and styles gathered to share their work. Each read an excerpt of what they’d written, sometimes prefacing it with an explanation, before introducing the next author.

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As the host, Ray started off the night by reading from his latest book, South China Morning Blues, a novel about modern life in the Pearl River Delta.

Two other writers, Amanda Roberts and Lom Harshni Chauhan, also read parts of books they’d published. Amanda, who also runs a local women writers’ group, shared a steamy scene from her gothic-inspired The Vampire’s Daughter (published under the pen name Leigh Andersen).

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Lom’s chosen excerpt from Visa, Stickers, and Other Matters of the Soul, on the other hand, was a sweet, spiritual contemplation on the author’s close relationship with her daughter.

Two of the writers at the reading were also finalists in the That’s PRD writing contest last month. Rachel Dillon, who also wrote about the reading, shared a couple travel pieces while Senzeni Mpofu, who won third place for her short story, read another piece that will be part of her upcoming anthology.

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Breaking up the mostly prose lineup, Adrian Blackstock and Aaron Styza made a strong showing with their samplings of song lyrics and poems, respectively.

Adrian turned his reading into a true performance as he used expressions and movements to accompany his musical compositions. Aaron, while opting for a more traditional reading, ended the night on a strong note with his deeply reflective work.

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Fittingly, the atmosphere in the hostel felt communal, even casual, with audience members occasionally laughing or asking the writers questions.

Organizer Ray Hecht commented he was “happy with talented writers sharing their stories in Shenzhen,” and that he was strongly considering holding follow-up events in the future.

Senzeni Mpofu agreed. “It was great,” she said, and she was “hoping to see more.”

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Adrian Blackstock added that he “enjoyed the diversity” of writers and their work on display during the reading.

Amanda Roberts saw the reading as a venue “for authors to get themselves out locally,” and had been pleasantly surprised by some of her fellow writers. When asked if she’d attend future events, she responded: “definitely.”

SZ Daily: Eat, Pray, Love: local expat authors share their books

http://szdaily.sznews.com/html/2015-11/19/content_3392210.htm

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THREE local expat authors recently shared their books with readers in Shenzhen at an event sponsored by the Shenzhen Women’s International Club (SWIC) and the SWIC Book Club. Amanda Roberts, author of “Crazy Dumplings Cookbook,” Lom Harshni Chauhan, author of “Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul,” and Ray Hecht, author of “South China Morning Blues,” shared their experiences in China and the stories behind their books.

All of the books are available on Amazon.

 

Eat — ‘The Crazy Dumplings Cookbook’

Roberts moved to China from the United States in 2010 and ended up in northern rural Hunan. “Life there was so much different than life here in Shenzhen,” she explained. “I had to completely relearn how to cook.” Her book “Crazy Dumplings” is a food fusion cookbook, one that uses a traditional Chinese dumpling wrapper on the outside, but the filling recipes mimic cuisines from all over the world.

“You can make any food you love and miss by using local ingredients, you just have to be flexible and adaptable and not afraid of trying new things,” Roberts said.

About the book

Dumplings. Wontons. Jiaozi. This remarkably simple food is found throughout Asia and in Chinese restaurants and kitchens around the world, but have you ever filled a dumpling wrapper with chicken? Lobster? North American Plains Bison? Hardly anyone has! “The Crazy Dumplings Cookbook” features over 100 recipes with some of the craziest and most delicious dumpling filling recipes you will ever see. From Chicken Taquito Dumplings to Timey-Wimey Dumplings to a dumpling for your dog, “Crazy Dumplings” will show you all the crazy things you can stuff into a dumpling wrapper for an easy meal or snack.

 

Pray — ‘Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul’

Chauhan moved to China from northern India in 2002. In 2005, her daughter was born, and Chauhan was faced with the question all parents abroad face — how do you parent your child with a connection to their homeland and encourage them to embrace their adoptive country?

Chauhan explained that she grew up in a proud Rajput family and often remembered her life growing up in the Himalayas. However, her daughter does not have the luxury of knowing her place in the world. “I wondered, how much reinforcement of her cultural identity is adequate for a child who is growing up far from any of those concepts?” Chauhan explained.

Chauhan focuses a lot on the spiritual rearing of her daughter, something that is not easy to do in a place with such a small Hindu population. All parents of “third culture kids” can relate to Chauhan’s book.

About the book

One of the major concerns of Indian parents is how best to pass on to their children the time-honored traditions of Indian culture and spirituality, even as they try to raise global citizens.

“Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul” is a delightful and endearing account of a young mother’s experiments with raising her daughter in the Indian spiritual way while living in atheist China. As she begins to educate her daughter, she is surprised by her daughter’s sense of understanding and realizes that parenting is her biggest life lesson, with her daughter as her teacher.

 

Love – ‘South China Morning Blues’

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More Updates: HK Literary Fest, SZ, GZ, Instagram…

Been busy lately.

Firstly, thanks to everyone who came to the excellent panel at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival! I was honored to be a part of the event, and add to the conversation on ‘Cross-Cultural Love’.

Anyway, I dare say I think it went well. The audience seemed to enjoy hearing what we had to say, and I actually think it was a success. It was an interesting talk, most of all due to all those other excellent writers to meet.

As well as the moderator David Nunan, it was great to meet the very intelligent Marshall Moore. Nice to see Shannon Young and Susan Blumberg-Kason once again.

The event was at the intriguing building known as the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, and I shall share via Shannon’s Instagram account here:

Arriving at the historic Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences for my @hklitfest event! #hk #hongkong #litfest

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While at it, here’s Susan’s Instagram. Feel free to like and follow!

 

 

 

There I am. And now, back to my new pic-sharing blogging strategy of just sharing previous uploads from the app. Readers rest assured you are enjoying the best of these…

What do you think, makes for a good profile pic~? #HKLitFest

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Panelling with the best of them... Thanks #HKLitFest for having me!

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Writing, dumplings, and the expat life with Amanda Roberts

Last week’s interview with Jocelyn Wong about food was surprisingly popular, and I hope you all enjoy this interview with writer Amanda Roberts of TwoAmericansinChina.com.

She has a cookbook available that you just may find interesting…

Crazy Dumplings

download

 

 

First of all – as the typical question goes – what brought you to China?

It was a dream of mine for a long time to teach in China. I graduated with my master’s degree in English in 2009, right about the time as the economic crash, so full-time teaching jobs in the U.S. just weren’t available. By the time my husband and I started looking for jobs nationwide, we decided “if we’re gonna move, let’s move big!” So we packed up and moved to China.

 

Have you found the expat scene to be welcoming and positive? What challenges have you overcome?

China is a big place, so the expat communities can vary widely. In the first town we lived in, we were only two of four expats in a little rural town in Hunan Province, so that was hard. We really got along with the others, but it was still isolating. Then we moved to Changsha. While Changsha had a bigger scene, there wasn’t much to do in the town, so it was very boring and hard to find people with similar interests. Moving to Shenzhen was a huge change. There are so many expats here for such a (relatively) small town. They are also very well connected via social media, so they’re easier to find. We have made many great friends here and are members of several hobby groups, so life here is pretty good.

 

What are your top complaints about living abroad? (This one optional)

I miss having a clothes drier! I have a cat and a dog and their fur gets everywhere so my clothes are constantly covered in pet fur. Shenzhen is also very damp, so sometimes it can take days for clothes to dry.

I also miss having a vehicle. Not a car, but at least a motorbike or something. We had motorbikes in Hunan, but they are banned here in Shenzhen. It can make going places very difficult and makes me feel almost debilitated at times.

 

What’s your favorite thing about living in China?

I love my job. It’s nice to be working in the writing and editing field and I also have a lot of freedom to work on my own writing projects.

I also just like living abroad. I like the people, the atmosphere, the ability to travel and save money. I don’t know if we will stay in China forever, but I don’t think we will ever move back to the U.S.

 

How did you decide to become a writer?

I’ve always been a writer. I was on the school newspaper in elementary school and was a reporter and anchor for a weekly televised teen news program when I was in high school. I published quite a few things in college. I’ve taught writing at American universities since 2007. Writing is who I am. But I had never pursued “writing” as a career until after I moved to China – I had always considered myself a writing teacher. Now, I identify as a writer and editor. I think living here has given me much more of a voice, something important say. I also have the time and financial independence to write, which are the two big hindrances for most aspiring writers.

 

What’s the story on the creation of your cookbook?

The first place we lived in China was a county town in the middle of nowhere. We were two hours by bus from the nearest town with a McDonalds or Walmart and four hours away from the nearest city. So we used to take lots of long bus rides in the countryside. But I can’t read in a moving vehicle – I get nauseous. So I spent those trips just thinking. I came up with lots of book ideas while on those trips. One of which was Crazy Dumplings. I had just spent the week in the countryside with my goddaughter’s family for Chinese New Year surrounded with so much good Chinese food and, of course, lots of dumplings! I had the itch to write a cookbook for a long time, but I thought a Chinese cookbook or an expat cookbook would be too much work for my first foray, so the idea of focusing just on dumplings came to mind. I had a dozen recipes in mind by the end of the day.

 

How have you found online-promotional platforms such as Kickstarter to be helpful? Continue reading