Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.
LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.
Today Thea Lim, author of An Ocean of Minutes, recommends the debut novel by Sheung-King. "You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is a tale of two rich and rootless people that oozes the horror and confusion of love, while staying somehow still desperately romantic, and so gloriously sad. This novel is also about something else: it gives the cold shoulder to the dominant gaze and its demands to control the Asian body, carving out a thrilling space beyond whiteness. I didn't want it to end."
49th Shelf: What particular something have you managed to achieve with this book that you're especially proud of?
Sheung-King: You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is not an immigrant story (at least not in a conventional sense). My characters aren't struggling to conform to Western society; neither are they rediscovering their "roots" in a place that their parents left. Mine is a love story about young transnationals, people who are rootless, identify with more than one country, language, and culture. They travel, eat, and explore each other's worlds while challenging Orientalism along the way.
49thShelf: Tell us about your ideal reader, and where you imagine them reading your book.
Sheung-King: I think this book appeals to young people who are navigating spaces between cultures and those who want to challenge Western tropes. It will also appeal to those who love to travel, appreciate good food, hate loud cars, and are fond of mundane things like cucumber sandwiches.
That being said, my ideal reader would be an Orientalist who is unaware of their Eurocentricity. I imagine them reading my book somewhere warm.
49thShelf: What authors and works inspired you on your journey in creating this book?
Sheung-King: Wong Kar-Wai's approach to love stories has an influence on all my writing. I admire his ability to make movies about Hong Kong through the relationship between his characters.
My dialogue, especially in the chapter set in Macau, is influenced by Harold Pinter. Pinter's characters can go back-and-forth without talking about the same thing, creating an eerie atmosphere. My characters have a similar exchange in a hotel room above a casino.
Most of the inspiration for this book comes from Yoko Tawada's approach to language and identity in Where Europe Begins. Tawada's characters are, like mine, transnational. They live in the liminal spaces between cultures. In these spaces, meanings are unstable, ever-changing and authenticity is irrelevant. Everything is fundamentally inauthentic. To navigate these spaces, her characters need to question everything around them, because once they become too comfortable with their surroundings, they will begin to assimilate; their surroundings will swallow them, taking away their identity. I am not interested in assimilating. In Orange, my characters discuss everything. The narrator's nameless lover never stops asking questions.
49thShelf: What's something you know now that you didn't know when you set out to write your book?
Sheung-King: To be honest, when I set out to write this, I didn't know it will take this long to publish a book. I think, through this experience, I developed a different kind of respect for authors.
49thShelf: What are you working on now?
Sheung-King: I'm learning about artificial intelligence, and I plan on using the principle and ideas behind the development of AI as motifs to comment on the current state of Hong Kong, post-colonialism, transnational bodies, religion, and government structures. These comments will be made indirectly. Much like Orange, my next collection draws inspiration from films by directors such as Wong Kar-wai and Edward Yang, where romance is at the centre of the narrative, and larger themes lurk just beneath the surface.
49thShelf: What bookstore are you most excited to walk into and see your book displayed on the Shelf?
Sheung-King: I'd be excited to see my book appear on Audible.com or on any audiobook platform. I grew up with dyslexia, had trouble reading as a child. Audiobooks helped me access lots of stories.
49thShelf: Who are you most grateful to for support in bringing your book into the world?
Sheung-King: Writing takes a lot of time. I am most grateful to my family for supporting me financially during my time as an MFA student, giving me the time and capacity to write.
This novel ...gives the cold shoulder to the dominant gaze and its demands to control the Asian body, carving out a thrilling space beyond whiteness. I didn't want it to end."
A young translator living in Toronto frequently travels abroad—to Hong Kong, Macau, Prague, Tokyo—often with his unnamed lover. In restaurants and hotel rooms, the couple begins telling folktales to each other, perhaps as a way to fill the undefined space between them. Theirs is a comic and enigmatic relationship in which emotions are often muted and sometimes masked by verbal play, philosophical questions, and further complicated by the woman's frequent unexplained disappearances.
You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. is an intimate novel of memory and longing that challenges Western tropes and Orientalism. Embracing the playful surrealism of Haruki Murakami and the atmospheric narratives of filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, Sheung-King's debut is at once lyrical and punctuated, and wholly unique, and marks the arrival of a bold new voice in Asian-Canadian literature.
Finalist for the 2021 Amazon Canada First Novel Award
Longlisted for Canada Reads 2021
A young translator living in Toronto frequently travels abroad—to Hong Kong, Macau, Prague, Tokyo—often with his unnamed lover. In restaurants and hotel rooms, the couple begin telling folk tales to each other, perhaps as a way to fill the undefined space betw …