Book news

  • Umma’s Table by Yeon-sik Hong review – Seoul food to make you purr
    Rachel Cooke

    South Korea’s reputation for comic art continues to blossom in this feline tale of feasts and filial duty

    In South Korea, they make some of the most beautiful comics I’ve ever seen. In particular, I recommend those published by Changbi. I completely adore Sim Woodo’s Please Take Care of Cafe Bomoon, which centres on a local coffee shop and reflects what young Koreans know as SCH, or Small But Certain Happiness. Except, well… at the moment, this most lovely-looking of graphic novels is only available in Korean, a language I can neither speak nor read.

    But while we wait for it and other of Changbi’s titles to be translated – who will take on this crucial task? – there is always Yeon-Sik Hong, whose charmingly awkward autobiographical graphic novel about moving to the countryside, Uncomfortably Happily, was published in English in 2017. Umma’s Table is a semi-sequel to that story, and the second part in a proposed trilogy; its narrator is Madang, an artist and new father who is trying desperately to make a life for himself at a distance from Seoul, where he grew up. Madang wants a healthier, more bucolic life for his baby son, and he’s thrilled to have found a just-about-affordable house where there are trees and a garden in which he can grow tomatoes, radishes and bitter greens; where, in the winter, his child will have the space to enjoy a pristine eiderdown of snow.

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  • Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar by Oliver Craske – review
    Neil Spencer

    A life of the Indian maestro reveals both his vast influence and complicated morals

    On the eve of what would have been his 100th birthday (he died at 92), Ravi Shankar remains one of the most famous and influential Indians of modern times, perhaps second only to Mahatma Gandhi himself. Every passing twang or drone of a sitar still evokes his name. As the man who brought the sub-continent’s classical music to the world and as George Harrison’s personal guru, Shankar enjoyed an almost saintly aura in the west. At home, public opinion was more tempered. India Today greeted his 60th birthday with the headline “Part sadhu, part playboy”, a nod to a globe-hopping lifestyle and Shankar’s complex, promiscuous romantic life.

    In Oliver Caske, Shankar has attracted a biographer who understands the intricacies of classical Indian music and the labyrinths of a culture that believes there’s no enterprise that can’t be improved by being made more complicated – religion, language, family trees, music, railway timetables. His portrait of a restless, often melancholic genius is appropriately exhaustive, involving 130 fresh interviews and 100 pages of credits. There is much to explain.

    Related: Ravi Shankar on the 'introvert' music of India: From the archive, 11 October 1958

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  • Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing – review
    Rob Doyle

    Laing combines passion and curiosity in a collection of art-based essays and profiles that reflect the uncertainty of our age

    Funny Weather collects essays, reviews, profiles, occasional writings, and a column for the art magazine Frieze, that Olivia Laing wrote over the 2010s. The bulk of the work dates from the decade’s turbulent latter half and is thus synchronous with Laing’s vault on to the bestseller lists via her third nonfiction book, The Lonely City, and her sole novel, Crudo.

    Dealing mainly with contemporary art and anglophone writing, the collection’s binding sensibility is indicated in its subtitle. The “emergency” in question is the one that distressed Crudo’s author-narrator, who “saw the liberal democracy in which she had grown up revealed as fragile beyond measure, a brief experiment in the bloody history of man”. In a foreword, Laing acknowledges that she values art principally for its political capacities of “resistance and repair”. Art can and should change the world, she insists; it reveals the interior lives of others, “makes plain inequalities” and suggests new ways of living.

    Sceptical of the lonely genius idea of artistic production, she favours a sociable, collaborative model

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