It seems the more you look, the more you find. So before the list gets out of control, I will post it here. If you are joining the East and SouthEast Asia Challenge and don’t know what books to read, refer to this list. I guess it also will be helpful to those who are not joining the Challenge but are still interested in books set in this region.
There are tons of books available on China and Japan. Also Vietnam if you count all those War books, but the rest are not that easily available. Let me know if you have any additions or have read any books from the list. There are around 300 books in the list, so I had to hide the rest of the post and create page links. If you want to use the page links you will have to open the entire post by clicking on more or by clicking on the post title. Some of the descriptions are mine, some from GoodReads, some from amazon. So if you find the descriptions too flowery or over the top, take them with a pinch of salt.
Indonesia | Taiwan | Malaysia | Hongkong | Thailand | China | Burma (Myanmar) | Vietnam | Laos | Singapore | Japan | Korea: (North and South) | Mongolia | Philippines | East Timor ( I will add any missing countries later if any) HongKong is not really a country but for the sake of reading, I’ve kept it that way.
SouthEast Asia ( Just because these books don’t seem to be based in any one country)
One Crowded Hour by Tim Bowden
Lands of Charm and Cruelty : Travels in Southeast Asia
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Street without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina by Bernard B. Fall: Originally published in 1961, this book offered a warning about what American forces would face in the jungles of Southeast Asia; a war fought without fronts against a mobile enemy. This book describes the brutality of the Indochina War, in which French forces suffered a staggering defeat at the hands of Communist-led Vietnamese nationalists.
A Dragon Apparent by Norman Lewis: a poignant description of Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam in 1950, with all their beauty, gentleness, grandeur and intricate political balance intact – Restores this lost world, like a phoenix, from the ashes of the Vietnam war and its aftermath – shows the Vietnamese guerilla movement in its infancy, ranged against the French colonial powers, and the early affects of imported Western materialism – a best-seller when first published, and venerated by all the Saigon-based war correspondents in the ’70s – inspired Graham Greene to go to Vietnam and write The Quiet American
Books I’ve read with the review links
The Travel Writer by Simone Lazaroo
The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam (Combodia)
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
The last Empress by Anchee Min
No More Tomorrows by Schapelle Corby with Kathryn Bonella (Indonesia)
The Long Road Home by Kim Yong (North Korea)
More Than a Memory-Reflections of Vietnam (Vietnam)
Beyond The Comfort Zone by James M Turner (Thailand)
Geisha: A life by Mineko Iwasaki
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Sorry not reviewed but an awesome book)
Indonesia: | Back to the Top
The Girl From the Coast by Pramoedya Toer: Imprisoned for more than 17 years for his opposition to tyranny, Toer dramatizes with grace and valor the injustices and glory of human life in his many internationally acclaimed books, which are banned in Indonesia, his homeland. In this pearlescent tale of feudal Java, a beautiful young woman from a poor fishing village has the misfortune of catching the eye of a Muslim aristocrat who asks to marry her, but who, after a brief ceremony in which a dagger takes the place of the groom, merely installs her in his bleak residence as a lowly concubine. Toer illuminates the poetic mind of his young heroine as she despairs of her prisonlike existence, pines for the sensual freedom of her former life, and puzzles over such conundrums as how a man as fraudulent as her “husband” instills fear in others, while honest and courageous men like her father are powerless; what makes her “better” than her servant; and how a woman can be considered nothing more than a man’s property. As Toer unfurls this entrancing, indelible tale based on his grandmother’s hard life, he deftly dissects the conventions that enable a brutal few to oppress the suffering many.
Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw: Adam, 16, barely recalls his older sibling. The two orphans were separated long ago, and he has lived peacefully on an island with his adoptive father, Karl. When soldiers drag the Dutchman away as part of governmental repatriation, the boy searches for Karl in mainland Jakarta. Aw’s evocative descriptions cast the city as long past its glory and turn it into a poignant character: “In the half darkness it was easy to imagine that here, in this warren of streets, the city had not changed in two hundred years. Trapped in a maze of dead ends and unnamed streets, he could not see tower blocks or concrete.” With moving settings and memorable characters, this atmospheric and complicated tale of a rediscovered past and recovered family will engage readers interested in distant lands and timeless tales of bonds of blood and place.
The Shallow Seas by Dawn Farnham: This is based in both Singapore and Batania, now Jakarta in the year 1842.
The year of living dangerously by Max Havelaar: It’s a thriller set in Indonesia. It seems there is also a movie based on this starring Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson
The ten thousand things by Maria Dermoût: Felicia, who grew up with her Dutch grandmother on an Indonesian island, returns there from Holland with her young son, Himpies, after being robbed and abandoned by her husband. Known by the locals as the “young lady of the Small Garden,” she settles easily (despite her superstitious and imperious grandmother) back into the customs and rhythms of the island, eventually accruing enough wealth to live very comfortably. Tragedy strikes when Himpies, who has grown and joined the army, is killed. A new set of characters is then introduced, throwing the narrative off somewhat, but the focus returns to Felicia at the end, as she tries to make sense of the deaths that have shaped her own life. Dermo–t beautifully depicts the idyllic setting and handles the darker aspects of the story-ghosts, superstition, even murder-with equal skill.
Max Havelaar 31 by Multatuli: I couldn’t find what this is about, but it seems like a popular book.
Doing Java by Niels Mulder: An anthropological detective story: This unusual study discloses the public discourse among educated, urban Southeast Asians in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and considers how these people conceive of their society and its problems and process. It examines basic patterns of thought, the interpretation of observed behavior, the opinions of public intellectuals, and the dianoses of novelists. Together these provide the basis for evaluating whether or not an activist civil society can develop. Because of the muddled situation prevailing in the countries under scrutiny, the emergence of a public committed to seems to be a necessary condition for strengthening the society and civilizing the state. Will it happen?
Twilight in Jakarta by Mochtar Lubis: Again, found no details, it’s a historical though and pretty popular
The weaverbirds by Y.B. Mangunwijaya: A landmark novel, The Weaverbirds is a tale of both physical and spiritual struggle, spanning the formative days of Indonesian independence and the Indonesian oil crisis in the mid-1970s. Larasati, the precocious daughter of Mr and mrs Antana, and Setadewa, the army-brat son of Captain and Mrs Brajabasuki, are childhood playmates, but as adults they find themselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum. The tactics that these two very different individuals adopt in dealing with the problems that beset their country and their personal relationship offer guidance to survival in a chaotic world
A house in Bali by Colin McPhee: n the 1930s a young American composer heard some gramophone records of Balinese gamelan music- the clear metallic music of the land that forever changed his life. Writer Colin McPhee lived for the day when he could travel and study the beautiful island, its people, culture, and music. His classic text written in the 1940s remains the only literary narrative of the island by a classically trained musician, and this unique perspective allowed him to immerse himself in the people, and music of his beloved Bali. McPhee’s work is a landmark look at Bali’s distinctive gamelan tradition, now available again more than 50 years after it was written.
A tale from Bali by Vicky Baum: Vicki Baum’s evocative historical novel recounts the lives of peasants and nobles in colonial Bali, reared against a backdrop of bloodshed and cultural invasion. Dutch imperialism brings upheaval and revolution to the beautiful island, and the Balinese rebel in what would become a powerful and poignant example of symbolic resistance. A Tale from Bali culminates with the historic Battle of Badung, in which thousands of Balinese soldiers, clothed in white and armed only with daggers, threw themselves upon the merciless efficiency of the Dutch guns.
This Earth of mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Max Lane (Translator) Indonesian novelist and political dissident Toer’s compelling tale of love and colonialism is narrated by a young native student in turn-of-the-century Java who becomes involved in the intrigues of one of the island’s leading families. It’s a quartret and this is the first book. To see the rest of the books in this series and the authors other books, see here
Jakarta Shadows by Brayne, Alan: Graham Young, an Englishman living in Jakarta, Indonesia, has a bewildering conversation with a stranger in a bar; hours later, a policeman, Detective Suprianto, appears at Graham’s door. It turns out that the stranger in the bar was, or might have been, “”Dr. White,”" the suspected perpetrator of a series of killings in the area; to make matters more baffling, the man is now dead. Following this revelation, Graham finds himself (or so it seems) pursued by unnamed people who want him dead or, at the least, very scared. Does Detective Suprianto think Graham has murdered Dr. White? If he really does believe Graham is innocent, then is he using him to catch White’s killer, or perhaps even White himself? Or is it possible that Graham is the elusive Dr. White? Brayne, who has lived in Jakarta since 1996, catapults onto the mystery scene with a lush, captivating thriller.
Journey from Paris to Java by BALZAC, HONORE DE: Honor de Balzac, the renowned French novelist and playright, and one of the pioneers of literary realism, makes a short fantasy diversion to the mystical island of Java, where he, or rather the narrateur, encounters a deadly poison-breathing tree, civilised monkeys, love-sick sparrows and that epitome of Oriental desirability of his day ? the women of Java.
Tiger! by LUBIS, MOCHTAR: It’s a novella set in the Indonesian jungles
Heart of the Night by OH, RICHARD.
Where Hornbills Fly: A Journey with the Headhunters of Borneo by Erik Jensen: Once headhunters under the rule of White Rajahs and briefly colonized before independence within Malaysia, the Iban Dayaks of Borneo are one of the world’s most extraordinary indigenous tribes, possessing ancient traditions and a unique way of life. As a young man Erik Jensen settled in Sarawak where he lived with the Iban for seven years, learning their language and the varied rites and practices of their lives. In this compelling and beautifully-wrought memoir, Erik Jensen reveals the challenges facing the Iban as they adapt to another century, whilst fighting to preserve their identity and singular place in the world. Haunting, yet hopeful, Where Hornbills Fly opens a window onto a vanishing world and paints a remarkable portrait of this fragile tribe, which continues to survive deep in the heart of Borneo.
In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chaos by Richard Lloyd Parry
My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with a Radical Islamist by Sadanand Dhume: Guides the reader deftly through the whirlpool these [radical Islamist] currents have created… Islam’s future – as a religion of peace and tolerance, or of hatred, violence and supremacy – may well hinge upon Indonesia’s destiny.
Indonesian Destinies by Theodore Friend: Theodore Friend has written a most engaging book about Indonesia, looking back over the first 50 years of Indonesian history, profiling many of the people whom he met in the course of researching the subject, and disarming the reader with frankly stated opinions about any number of topics that come up along the way. This is like no other book on Indonesia, far more scholarly than the snapshots of journalists and far more revealing of the author’s open personality than most dissertations by academics. It is a book to be savored by readers who already know Indonesia well and to be read with profit by any who hope to join their company. Friend is a genial guide…a consummate reporter…and an indefatigable gatherer of the accounts of others…Friend writes with clarity and wit.
Indonesian Gold by Kerry B. Collison: Based on events surrounding the infamous billion-dollar BRE-X gold fraud, and the determined few who destroyed so many lives in their all-consuming quest for gold in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). When Canadian mining firm Borneo Gold Corporation announces the discovery of twenty million ounces of gold reserves, speculators drive the formerly worthless stock to massive heights. Rich and powerful interests in three countries move to secure control over the deposit. Dayak tribes are forced off their traditional lands, precipitating bloody ethnic feuds and a return to headhunting practices. Indonesian Gold brings a wealth of detail and colour to its depiction of Kalimantan and its ethnic tribes as they resist Moslem migrants from poorer Indonesian islands, and reveals the extent of the devastation visited upon indigenous peoples by multinational mining companies.
The Fifth Season by Kerry B. Collison: A chilling story of survival of three women fleeing the savagery of a post?Suharto regime, and an Indonesia floundering on the brink of social, political and economic collapse. Fifth Season is also an account of tens of thousands of innocents slaughtered throughout the archipelago as a result of ongoing sectarian and separatist upheaval. This is the story of Indonesia?s Fifth Season . . . Pancaroba.
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester: It may seem a stretch to connect a volcanic eruption with civil and religious unrest in Indonesia today, but Simon Winchester makes a compelling case. Krakatoa tells the frightening tale of the biggest volcanic eruption in history using a blend of gentle geology and narrative history. Krakatoa erupted at a time when technologies like the telegraph were becoming commonplace and Asian trade routes were being expanded by northern European companies. This bustling colonial backdrop provides an effective canvas for the suspense leading up to August 27th, 1883, when the nearby island of Krakatoa would violently vaporize. Winchester describes the eruption through the eyes of its survivors, and readers will be as horrified and mesmerized as eyewitnesses were as the death toll reached nearly 40,000 (almost all of whom died from tsunamis generated by the unimaginably strong shock waves of the eruption). Ships were thrown miles inshore, endless rains of hot ash engulfed those towns not drowned by 100 foot waves, and vast rafts of pumice clogged the hot sea. The explosion was heard thousands of miles away, and the eruption’s shock wave traveled around the world seven times. But the book’s biggest surprise is not the riveting catalog of the volcano’s effects; rather, it is Winchester’s contention that the Dutch abandonment of their Indonesian colonies after the disaster left local survivors to seek comfort in radical Islam, setting the stage for a volatile future for the region
Taiwan | Back to the Top
My South Seas Sleeping Beauty by Zhang Guixing (Set in Malaysia and Taiwan)
Taiwan, the Struggles of a Democracy by Jerome Keating: It’s a non-fiction and is about Taiwan’s history.
The Foreigner: A Novel by Francie Lin: In Lin’s stunning debut, a crime novel set in Taiwan, Emerson Chang, a 40-year-old virgin who’s a financial analyst, travels from San Francisco to Taipei on a quest to scatter his mother’s ashes and re-establish contact with his shady younger brother, Little P, who’s been bequeathed the family hotel. At a meeting with Little P, Chang encounters two peculiar cousins, Poison and Big One, as well as Little P’s devious friend, Li An-Qing (aka Atticus), who’s anxious to get Little P to sell the family hotel to him. Emerson soon finds himself mixed up in machinations involving Atticus and extortion due to Little P’s unsavory dealings. In addition, Emerson loses his job back in California, and the property he’s inherited in Taipei turns out to have its own mysteries. Chang’s distinctive voice propels a strong and original plot, with horrifying revelations. Taut, smart and often funny, this novel will satisfy readers of thrillers and general fiction alike.
The next four books I found on Rebecca’s blog imlostinbooks
Bamboo Shoots After the Rain: Contemporary Stories by Women Writers of Taiwan edited by Ann Carver and Sung-sheng Yvonne Chang: This remarkable anthology introduces the short fiction of 14 writers, major figures in the literary movements of three generations, who represent a range of class, ethnic, age, and political perspectives. It is filled with “unexpected gems”, writes Scarlet Cheng in Belles Lettres, including Lin Hai-yin’s story of a woman suffering under a feudal system that dominated Old China; Chiang Hsiao-yun’s optimistic solutions to problems of the elderly in the rapidly changing Taiwan of the 1980; and in between, a dozen richly diverse stories of aristocrats, comrades, wices, concubines, children, mothers, sexuality, rape, female initiation, and the tensions between traditional and modern life. “This is not western feminism with an Asian accent”, says Bloomsbury Review, “but a description of one culture’s reality…The woman protagonists survive both despite and because of their existence in a changing Taiwan.” This book includes biographical headnotes, an introduction that addresses the literary movements represented, and an extensive bibliography.
Orphan of Asia by Zhuoliu Wu: Wu’s autobiographical novel, completed in 1945 at the end of Japan’s colonial rule of Taiwan, and here translated into English for the first time, traces the path of Hu Taiming. Raised in a traditional Taiwanese family, he retains an admiration for China, his ancestral homeland. Even within his own family, Taiming is pulled in opposite directions. His grandfather, Old Hu, takes him to study classic literature at a Chinese school. Old Hu’s nephew, Zhida, a policeman who speaks Japanese, causing his family to treat him like a stranger, thinks Taiming should attend the more modern public school. He does, then later travels to Japan for further study. A friend gets him a teaching job in China, but Taiming is forced to leave because of growing anti-Taiwanese sentiment. Back in Taiwan, Taiming, trusted by few, feels like “a small rudderless boat drifting between the currents of two epochs.” Wu’s novel provides a unique and perceptive look at the consequences of colonial rule and at the roots of some of today’s Asian conflicts.
Sailing to Formosa: A Poetic Companion to Taiwan: This bilingual anthology of modern Chinese poetry from and about Taiwan is arranged in thematic sections that present contrasting views of life in Taiwan. The island’s dramatic history has given modern Taiwan literature a wealth of conflicting cultural, linguistic, and ideological legacies that continue to shape it. Modern Taiwan poetry draws on the developing modernism of 1920s and 1930s China, the avant-garde movements of modern Europe, and Japan’s “colonial modernism,” which itself was inspired by Europe. By all standards, Taiwan has produced some of the best modern poetry in Chinese.
The forty-eight poets presented here speak on a host of topics, including family and homeland, memory of war, social justice, and the natural world. Collectively, they paint a complex picture of the trauma, travails, and beauties of life in Taiwan. They represent different generations, display different styles, and express different views and positions.
With its variety of poetic voices and facing pages of Chinese and English text, Sailing to Formosa will be enjoyed by readers of foreign literature in English translation and by students of Chinese literature and language.
Heaven Lake: A Novel by John Dalton: Dalton’s debut novel is an evocative, beautiful exploration of modern-day China, seen through the eyes of a young Christian volunteer named Vincent, who travels to Toulio, a small town in Taiwan, to teach English and Bible-study classes. He acquires a ministry house and begins teaching and also takes on a high-school class of 42 bright teenage girls. Vincent encounters many colorful characters, including Alec, a roguish Scotsman, and Mr. Gwa, an elegant businessman who wants Vincent to travel to the mainland and marry the woman he loves and bring her back to him. Vincent refuses but soon finds himself in a compromising position with one of the girls in his high-school class, who boldly flirts with him and then seduces him. When her older brother learns of the affair, Vincent is forced to flee Toulio and rashly accepts Gwa’s offer to go claim Kai-ling, the woman Gwa loves. But as Vincent travels across China, he learns more about the country and, ultimately, himself than he expected. Powerful and rewarding reading.
Crystal Boys: A Novel by Hsien-Yung Pai (Author), Xianyong Bai (Author), Howard Goldblatt: It’s a GLBT novel
Losing Plum Blossom by Eleanor B. Morris Wu: Losing Plum Blossom is a novel of romance, intrigue and adventure set in the Orient. A Vietnamese war widow finds herself hopelessly attracted to a half Japanese, half Taiwanese doctor, the son of a Japanese war criminal and the victim of rape by Chinese Nationalist soldiers during the reclamation of Taiwan from Japan.
Malaysia | Back to the Top
Into the Heart of Borneo By Redmond O’Hanlon: The story of a 1983 journey to the center of Borneo, which no expedition had attempted since 1926. O’Hanlon, accompanied by friend and poet James Fenton and three native guides brings wit and humor to a dangerous journey.
The Rice Mother By Rani Manicka: It’s a very famous and popular Malaysian Novel. It looks like a great story, click the link to read the Summary
Kalimantaan By C. S. Godshalk: It is based in Victorian Empire, a historical fiction
Evening is the whole day by Preeta Samarasa: When the family’s rubber-plantation servant girl is dismissed for unnamed crimes, it is only the latest in a series of precipitous losses that have shaken six-year-old Aasha’s life. In the space of several weeks her grandmother died under mysterious circumstances and her older sister, Uma, left for Columbia University, gone forever. Circling through years of family history to arrive at the moment of Uma’s departure — stranding her worshipful younger sister in a family, and a country, slowly going to pieces — Evening Is the Whole Day illuminates in heartbreaking detail one Indian immigrant family’s layers of secrets and lies, while exposing the complex underbelly of Malaysia itself.
Inspector Sing Investigates, a most peculiar Malaysian murder by Shamini Flint
The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw: This book is based on Johnny Lim, a controversial figure in 1940s Malaysia
The Consul’s File by Paul Theroux: It’s about the life of an American consul sent to Ayer Hitam (in Malaysia)
Sweet Offerings by Chang Ling Yap: Set in the late 1930s and 1960s, this is the tale of Mei Yin, a young Chinese girl from an impoverished family. Her destiny is shaped when she is sent to Kuala Lumpar to become the ward and companion of the tyrannical and bitter Su Hei who is looking for a suitable wife for her son Ming Kong…and ultimately a grandson and heir to the family dynasty. “Sweet Offerings” is not just a fictional story of the events that ripped one family apart, but a taste of Malaysia’s historical political and cultural changes during its transition from colonial rule to independence and beyond.
Man of the Rising Sun by James Sebastian: This sensitively written novel set in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation deals with the contrary values, grave issues and confusing absurdities which surround a small boy and his friendship with a singular Japanese officer. An apt parable of how war dislocates all.
Murder on the Verandah: Love and Betrayal in British Malaya by Eric Lawlor: A Malayan White Mischief. ‘On Sunday, 23 April 1911, Ethel Proudlock attended Mass at St Mary’s Church in Kuala Lumpur. She was well-liked at St Mary’s. She helped with jumble sales and had recently joined the choir. After Mass, the vicar’s wife invited her to lunch. But Mrs Proudlock declined. She had sewing to do. Then, taking her leave, she drove home and killed her lover.’ In the sensational trial that followed Ethel Proudlock, the Eurasian wife of an Englishman claimed that William Steward, a mine manager, had tried to rape her, but the evidence pointed to a passionate affair, and a murder inspired by jealousy. Found guilty and sentenced to death, she walked free after being pardoned by the Sultan of Selangor, much against the wishes of British officials. The event scandalized polite society, and revealed the suffocating nature of expatriate life in Malaya, where the British ruled with an unhealthy blend of suburban aspiration and gross insensitivity to the native population. Petty, hypocritical and terribly unhappy, the British never counted Malaya as home and spent their time wishing they weren’t there.
The Malayan Trilogy: “Time for a Tiger”, “Enemy in the Blanket”, “Beds in the East” by Anthony Burgess
The War of the Running Dogs: Malaya 1948-1960by Noel Barber
Hongkong | Back to the Top
Love in a Fallen City by Eilean Chang: Eileen Chang is one of the great writers of twentieth-century China, where she enjoys a passionate following both on the mainland and in Taiwan. At the heart of Chang’s achievement is her short fiction—tales of love, longing, and the shifting and endlessly treacherous shoals of family life. Written when she was still in her twenties, these extraordinary stories combine an unsettled, probing, utterly contemporary sensibility, keenly alert to sexual politics and psychological ambiguity, with an intense lyricism that echoes the classics of Chinese literature. Love in a Fallen City, the first collection in English of this dazzling body of work, introduces readers to the stark and glamorous vision of a modern master.
History’s Fiction by Xu Xi: From the turbulent sixties through the nineties, here is a “history” of Hong Kong, told through fiction by one of Hong Kong’’s top writers. Written over the past thirty years, these stories represent the evolution and shaping of a voice, as she strives to create art out of her birthplace, “the city that remains her perpetual concern.” Here are portraits of Hong Kong, painted with compassion and love against the backdrop of historical events.
Tai-Pan by James Clavell: Dirk Straun, a pirate, smuggler, and ruthless individual, finds glory beyond his dreams as the Tai-Pan, or supreme leader, of Hong Kong.
The next 11 books are from the blog mattviews.
Fragrant Harbor John Lanchester: Two brilliant novels in one, John Lanchester’s Fragrant Harbor presents a traditional colonial narrative set in the 1930s and 1940s inside a larger, dizzyingly complex tale of big business at the turn of the 21st century. Lanchester’s main character, Tom Stewart, is a Kentish lad who journeys to the exotic Far East in 1935, just as the commercial prospects of Hong Kong are becoming apparent. On his voyage out, Tom is made the object of a curious bet between a Chinese nun and language teacher, Sister Maria, and an anti-Catholic English businessman. As a result, he becomes proficient in Cantonese with only six weeks’ study. This skill, unusual in an Englishman, is the making of Tom’s career. Although they part on bad terms, Sister Maria remains a shimmering figure on the periphery of Tom’s life in Hong Kong, and their one thought as the Japanese invade the region is to protect each other.
Noble House James Clavell: The setting is Hong Kong, 1963. The action spans scarcely more than a week, but these are days of high adventure: from kidnapping and murder to financial double-dealing and natural catastrophes—fire, flood, landslide. Yet they are days filled as well with all the mystery and romance of Hong Kong—the heart of Asia—rich in every trade…money, flesh, opium, power.
The Piano Teacher Janice Y.K. Lee: This cinematic tale of two love affairs in mid-century Hong Kong shows colonial pretensions tainted by wartime truths. Will Truesdale, a rootless, handsome Briton, arrives in the colony in 1941, and is swept up by Trudy Liang, the blithe and glamorous daughter of a Shanghai millionaire and a Portuguese beauty. They quickly become inseparable, their days spent in a whirl of parties and champagne, but when the Japanese invade, Will is interned and Trudy resorts to increasingly Faustian methods to survive. After the war, Claire Pendleton, the naive wife of a British civil servant, arrives. She begins giving piano lessons to the daughter of a rich Chinese couple, and falls in love with their wounded and inscrutable driver: Will. Lee unfolds each story, and flits between them, with the brisk grace and discretion of the society she describes a world in which horrors are adumbrated but seldom told.
The Painted Veil W. Somerset Maugham: Shallow, poorly educated Kitty marries the passionate and intellectual Walter Fane and has an affair with a career politician, Charles Townsend, assistant colonial secretary of Hong Kong. When Walter discovers the relationship, he compels Kitty to accompany him to a cholera-infested region of mainland China, where she finds limited happiness working with children at a convent. But when Walter dies, she is forced to leave China and return to England. Generally abandoned, she grasps desperately for the affection of her one remaining relative, her long-ignored father. In the end, in sharp, unexamined contrast to her own behavior patterns, she asserts that her unborn daughter will grow up to be an independent woman. The Painted Veil was first published in 1925 and is usually described as a strong story about a woman’s spiritual journey. To more pragmatic, modern eyes, Kitty’s emotional growth appears minimal. Still, if not a major feminist work, the book has literary interest.
Kowloon Tong: A Novel of Hong Kong Paul Theroux: Paul Theroux, whose inveterate globe-trotting marks him as one of the most restless writers working today, lands us in the Far East with this novel of personal lives swept up in the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China. But the end of Colonial rule is perfectly unwelcome for Neville Mullard and his mother Betty, who run a textile factory that’s been in the family for 50 years, and who have spent a lifetime insulating themselves from the Chinese culture that’s all around them. Now, the shadowy and dangerous Mr. Hung wants to buy the business, and he won’t take no for an answer–whether or not the Mullards want to sell. Theroux, the author of several travel books, has few equals when it comes to the portrayal of exotic cultures, a skill that makes this one of the first great novels of the Hong Kong handover of 1997.
Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood Martin Booth: Gweilo stands as one of the most original and engaging memoirs of recent years, all the more telling because it is so personal, witty and true. Booth has delivered a pre-coming-of-age book that ranks with the best of the breed.
The World of Suzie Wong Richard Mason
Love in a Fallen City Eileen Chang: Chang, a popular writer in China during World War II, immigrated to the United States in the 1950s, where she continued to write until her death in 1995. This posthumous collection contains six vibrant stories that depict life in post-WWII China. In “Aloeswood Incense,” Weilong, a girl from Shanghai, calls on her aunt, a not-quite-respectable cosmopolitan widow, for financial assistance so that she can continue her college education. Her aunt agrees on the condition that Weilong stay with her, and then proceeds to manipulate the young girl’s love life. “Jasmine Tea” revolves around a young man burning with resentment over the ill treatment he has received for most of his life from his father and stepmother. He turns his ire on the daughter of the man his mother loved, with disastrous consequences. In “Sealed Off,” a stifled accountant sits next to a young English teacher on the tram, and the two end up connecting, albeit briefly. Evocative and vivid, Chang’s stories bristle with equal parts passion and resentment.
The Monkey King Timothy Mo: The Poons, according to gossip in post-war Hong Kong, have plenty of money. But when Wallace Nolasco marries May Ling, daughter of the house of Poon, he finds he has been sold short. Wallace is relegated to the bottom of the household pecking order.
White Ghost Girls Kate Greenway: For all its dreamy lyricism, this debut novel about two teenaged American sisters growing up in Hong Kong one summer boasts a satisfyingly complicated plot and a devastating conclusion. While their father is away photographing the war in Vietnam for Time magazine, 13-year-old Kate, the book’s now adult narrator, and her big sister, Frances, revel in the simple life of Pok Fu Lam village. They swim in the harbor, dive for sea slugs and urchins, and listen to housekeeper Ah Bing’s intense folk wisdom. (“Having babies is hard and sore,” she tells them. “If you die, your spirit will sit in a pool of blood.”) Their mother, on the other hand, spends her time pining for their absent father and painting watercolors that picture grassy western knolls. As Frances grows wilder that summer, Kate is forced to look more closely at their father’s growing addiction to war reporting and their mother’s lack of engagement with her surroundings and her family. Meanwhile, Vietnam, the Maoist cultural revolution and Frances’s budding adulthood all threaten the “shipwrecked” sisters’ intimacy. Along with death and sex, Greenway makes the illicit excitement of war and the sisters’ opposing natures inextricably entwined.
Paper Lanterns Christine Coleman
We Shall Suffer There – Tony Banham: One of Hong Kong’s most traumatic experiences, the city’s invasion by Japanese forces in World War Two saw the badly defended colony put up a heroic defence, before surrender ushered in internment and Japanese brutality. Tony Banham has been researching and writing about Hong Kong’s war for over twenty years, interviewing survivors of the battle and their children. His book We Shall Suffer There is a comprehensive account, as heard from the internees themselves, of the cruel life faced by the British, Canadian, Indian and Chinese defenders of the city inside Japanese interment camps.
The Honourable Schoolboy by by John le Carré: In the wake of a demoralizing infiltration by a Soviet double agent, Smiley has been made ringmaster of the Circus (aka the British Secret Service). Determined to restore the organization’s health and reputation, and bent on revenge, Smiley thrusts his own handpicked operative into action. Jerry Westerby, “The Honourable Schoolboy,” is dispatched to the Far East. A burial ground of French, British, and American colonial cultures, the region is a fabled testing ground of patriotic allegiances?and a new showdown is about to begin.
Noble House by James Clavell: The setting is Hong Kong, 1963. The action spans scarcely more than a week, but these are the days of high adventure: from kidnapping and murder to financial double-dealing and natural catastrophes — fire, flood, and landslide. Yet they are days filled as well with all the mystery and romance of Hong Kong — the heart of Asia — rich in every trade… money, flesh, opium, power.
Thailand | Back to the Top
Touch the Dragon by Karen Connelly: Canadian poet’s wonderously lyrical journal of her time in Thailand as a high-school exchange student in the late ’80s. Won the Governor General’s Award (one of Canada’s most prestigious literary awards) when Connelly was 24.
The Beach by Alex Garland: Quick, gripping read about jaded backpackers in Thai paradise.
Private Dancer by Stephen Leather: Pete wanders into a Bangkok go-go bar and meets the love of his life. Joy is young, stunning, and a pole dancer. In a roller-coaster ride of sex, drugs, and deception, Pete discovers that his own very private dancer is not all she claims to be. Far from being the love of his life, Joy is his own personal nightmare!
Bangkok 8 by John Burdett: Not only is it a really great literary detective novel, it captures Bangkok superbly
Off the Rails in Phen Penh by Amit Gilboa: Amid the chaos of Phen Penh liives an extraordinary group of foreign residents. Some are adventurers whose passion for life is given free rein in this unrestrained madhouse. Others are misfits who, unable to make it anywhere else, wallow in the decadent and inviting environment. This unparalleled first-hand account provides a fascinating, shocking, disturbing and often hilarious picture of contemporary Phnom Penh and the bizarre collection of expats who make it their home. As they search for love in the brothels or adventure on the firing range, Phnom Penh Journey follows them into the dark heart of guns, girls and ganja.
Out of the Loop by Morgan McFinn: In dread of waking up one morning twenty years on, with nothing to show for himself “other than one busted marriage, two unpublished manuscripts, three career changes, a four bedroom house, a five handicap at golf, and a six-figure income,” McFinn decides to go on the bum and scratch his itch for authorship … quitting his job, selling the house, kissing the old lady, and kicking the dog on the way out.
And so, slipping out of the Chicago Loop, our hero – reinvented as a beach-bum philosopher, humor writer, restaurateur, newspaper proprietor, and maverick-at-large – retreats to the idyllic tropical shores of Koh Samui, making his new home a rustic bungalow “in a seaside compound for impecunious tourists, tramps, vagabonds, and the occasional fugitive … ” Most stay a few weeks, but no one stays longer than he does.
Out of the Loop chronicles McFinn’s humorous adventures and misadventures as he ponders the world from his verandah, encountering assorted bums, bores, boors, and beautiful women (with varying degrees of romantic success and disaster) along the way.
Chao Fa by Piriya Panasuwan: It is the story of the fight and survival of people without their own land, the Lao tribespeople called the “Hmong”, who are refugees in the North and Northeast camps in Thailand. As the author says, the incidents are based on facts because this is a documentary novel. And we all of course remember the many tragic incidents which happened in Laos such as the air raids by the American air force at Thung Hai Hin (Plane de Jars) and their effect on the Hmong. They can hardly be considered fiction, one would think.
Chao Fa is also a story of one particular Hmong man, Neng Lee Tu, and the sacrifices he has to make for his people.
Confessions of a Bangkok Private Eye: True stories from the case files of Warren Olson
Escape: The true story of the only Westerner ever to break out of Thailand’s Bangkok Hilton by David McMillan: Among the 600 foreigners jailed in the ‘Bangkok Hilton’, one man resolves to do what no other has done: Escape. This is the true story of drug smuggler David McMillan’s perilous break-out from Thailand’s most notorious prison. After more than a year in prison and two weeks before a near-certain death sentence, McMillan escapes, never to be seen in Thailand again.
Thai Gold by Jason Schoonover: It’s an adventure novel
Thailand Confidential by Jerry Hopkins: Why are these people smiling? Writer Jerry Hopkins came to Thailand for a visit in the 1980s to find out and ended up a permanent resident with a temporary visa-a big, white farang haunting the bars and back alleys of Bangkok. His essays explore the mystery and mayhem of “The Land of Smiles” to hilarious-and sometimes disturbing-effect. Travel with him to a place where water buffaloes are gay, insects are dinner, dildos are lucky charms, and your wildest adolescent fantasies can come true (for a nominal fee).
Touch the Dragon – Karen Conelly: At 17, Karen Connelly left Canada to live for a year in Denchai, a small farming and merchant community in northern Thailand. This is a diary of her year there. This book was the winner of the Canadian Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction.
Monsoon Country – Pira Sudham: Set in Thailand, England and Germany, Monsoon Country conveys the cultural tension between the East and the West, the clashes between the new powers and the old values, covering twenty-five years of socio-economic and political change in Thailand. This novel gives, as no fiction account about Thailand has yet done, insights into Thai life, particularly that of rural Thailand. Foreign writers writing about the Thai people look at Thailand from the – outside”, but Pira Sudham writes about his people and country as seen from the – inside,” thus giving us a fascinating work. Here are the authors other works.
The Teachers of Mad Dog Swamp by Khamman Khonkhai
Kicking Dogs by Collin Piprell : Kicking Dogs is a comic thriller. It’s also an antic portrait of boom-time Bangkok. Bangkok is being transfigured by unrestrained development and corrupted by rampant greed. Meanwhile Jack Shackaway, American freelance journalist and author of such literary masterpieces as *A Dick for Dorothy*, is succumbing to a bad case of culture shock-no matter he himself believes he’s adjusting nicely to the Thai Way, learning among other things how to maintain his cool under all circumstances. But every time he turns around, someone is either telling him he’s a babe in the woods, extracting money from him, or shooting at him. Jack has no idea who is trying to kill him. But, given his talent for annoying the wrong people, it could be just about anybody. Not only that, if he isn’t careful he’s going to wind up married to Mu, which might be better than being dead, but not necessarily a lot better. “Easily labelled a comic thriller, and taking Bangkok’s underworld for its setting, Kicking Dogs is something deeper, wider-ranging … and, ultimately, transcending physical place in its theme of coming to terms with cultural alienation.” John Hoskin, *Outlook* “The market being sated with farang-written books about Thai prostitutes, it was a pleasant surprise to read Collin Piprell’s Kicking Dogs.
China | Back to the Top
Chronicle of a Blood Merchant by Yu Hua
Pearl of China by Anchee Min: This one has been on my wihslist for a long time now. I have read 2 other novels by the author and loved them both. As a girl in Maoist China, Min (Red Azalea) was ordered to denounce Pearl S. Buck; now she offers a thin sketch of the Nobel laureate’s life from the point of view of fictional Willow Yee, a fiercely loyal friend. A lifelong friendship begins in Chin-kiang when Willow meets Pearl, whose missionary father converts Willow’s educated but impoverished father. Under threat from hostilities toward foreigners, Pearl departs for the safety of Shanghai, and, later, to America for college, but she returns for her wedding to find that Willow is the satisfied founder of a newspaper and a very unhappy wife. While a changing China swirls around them, their friendship is tested as they both fall in love with the same poet. As the 1949 revolution looms, Pearl flees China, and Willow’s husband becomes Mao’s right-hand man, leading to a fateful showdown with Madam Mao when Willow refuses to denounce her lifelong friend.
The Red Azalea by Anchee Min: This is a memoir of growing up in Communist China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck: It’s a 1932 Pulitzer Prize winning novel. A poignant tale about the life and labors of a Chinese farmer during the sweeping reign of the country’s last emperor.
Empress by Shan Sa: From the internationally best-selling author of The Girl Who Played Go (2003) comes another brilliant historical novel set in China. Reaching back in time to the seventh century, Shan re-creates a China ruled by the powerful Tang dynasty. Chosen to become one of the emperor’s royal concubines, a young girl known as Heavenlight is thrust into the exotic world of the Forbidden City, where she must learn to navigate politics, court intrigue, and petty jealousies. One among 10,000 girls and women, she eventually distinguishes herself from the others by relying on her intelligence, wit, and fierce determination. Chosen by the heir to the throne to be his first wife, she ascends to the throne after her husband’s death, becoming the first empress of China. Based on the controversial reign of Empress Wu, this fictional biography illuminates the life and times of one of the ancient world’s most powerful, capable, and overlooked women.
Brothers by Yu Hua: Yu Hua’s impressive fifth novel, a family history documenting four decades of profound social and cultural transformation in China, begins on a toilet. In a sleepy rural outpost known as Liu Town, fourteen-year-old Baldy Li is caught peeping at women�s bottoms in a latrine. He becomes known as a compulsive public masturbator, and his obsession continues into adulthood: he ends up hosting a beauty pageant for virgins (all of whom rely on doctored hymens to gain entrance). The book has sold more than a million copies in China, despite its irreverent take on everything from the Cultural Revolution to the capitalist boom. (found this one in the library, looks very interesting)
The Ancient Ship by Zhang Wei: In his epic novel, originally published in 1987, Zhang explores China’s upheaval in the decades after the creation of the People’s Republic in 1949. At the heart of the story are the three major families in the small town of Wali. The Sui family was among the wealthiest until political change left them with little more than grief and anger. The Zhao clan, on the other hand, rose to power during the revolution’s violence, some of which the clan helped direct at the Suis. The Li clan, known for eccentricities, pushed the town toward industrialization.
Little Hut of Leaping Fishes by Siah Tei: Mingzhi is the formidable Master Chai’s first grandson and groomed for a grand destiny from the very moment of his birth. But while Master Chai beats out orders with his dragon stick, there are threats to the future he has planned – from both within and without. Inside the mansion, there are secrets, lies, and plots; in the surrounding fields, there is the newly planted opium that signifies trouble ahead; and, further away, still, the foreign devils, intent on taking their own piece of the pie that is China. ‘Like a good Chinese drawing but always in motion …with the same breadth of scope and wealth of characters as many great nineteenth-century novels
Mad woman on the Bridge by Su Tong
Raise the Read Lantern by Su Tong
Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong; Su Tong is a Chinese author and his books are set in China. Also, take a look at all of Su Tong’s backlist for books set in Chinese.
Xanadu by John Man: It’s a travelogue.
Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now: This is a memoir is like no other account of life in China under both Mao and Deng.
The 4 major chinese classics – Romance of Three Kingdoms, Water Margin (Outlaws of the marsh), Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber.
Peony in Love by Lisa See: Set in 17th-century China, See’s fifth novel is a coming-of-age story, a ghost story, a family saga and a work of musical and social history. As Peony, the 15-year-old daughter of the wealthy Chen family, approaches an arranged marriage, she commits an unthinkable breach of etiquette when she accidentally comes upon a man who has entered the family garden. Unusually for a girl of her time, Peony has been educated and revels in studying The Peony Pavilion, a real opera published in 1598, as the repercussions of the meeting unfold. The novel’s plot mirrors that of the opera, and eternal themes abound: an intelligent girl chafing against the restrictions of expected behavior; fiction’s educative powers; the rocky path of love between lovers and in families.
Snow Flower and the Painted Fan by Lisa Lee: It is a fictional story of a woman’s life in late-1800s China.
The Good Women of China by Xinran: In 1989, Xinran, a Beijing journalist, began broadcasting a nightly program on state radio that was devoted entirely to personal affairs—a radical concept in Communist China. In response, she received thousands of letters from women, many with questions about sexuality; one woman wondered “why her heart beat faster when she accidentally bumped into a man on the bus.” Eventually, Xinran persuaded her superiors to let her share some of these letters on the air, and in this groundbreaking book, written after she moved to London, in 1997, she has also included stories that didn’t make it past government censors. A teen-ager commits suicide after learning that a neighbor has seen her boyfriend kiss her forehead; a university student speaks casually of becoming a “personal secretary,” or mistress, to a rich man; a Kuomintang general’s daughter goes mad after witnessing the torture of the family that sheltered her. This intimate record reads like an act of defiance, and the unvarnished prose allows each story to stand as testimony.
Miss Chopsticks by Xinran: You can take a look at Xinran’s backlist. Most, if not all, of her books are based in China.
China road : a journey into the future of a rising power by Rob Gifford: National Public Radio China correspondent Gifford journeyed for six weeks on China’s Mother Road, Route 312, from its beginning in Shanghai for nearly 3,000 miles to a tiny town in what used to be known as Turkestan. The route picks up the old Silk Road, which runs through the Gobi Desert to Central Asia to Persia and on to Europe. Along the way, Gifford meets entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on China’s growing economy, citizens angry and frustrated with government corruption, older people alarmed at changes in Chinese culture and morality, and young people uncertain and excited about the future. Gifford profiles ordinary Chinese people coping with tumultuous change as development and commerce shrink a vast geography, bringing teeming cities and tiny towns into closer commercial and cultural proximity; the lure of wealth is changing the Chinese character and sense of shared experience, even if it was common poverty. Gifford notes an aggressive sense of competition in the man-eat-man atmosphere of a nation that is likely to be the next global superpower.
One Man’s Bible by Gao Xingjian:
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian: This Nobel Prize-winning author has a backlist too and his books sounds really interesting.
Sons of Heavan by Terrence Cheng
River Town: Two Years On The Yangtze by Peter Hessler, about the time he spent in the Peace Corps in a tiny little town in Sichuan province.
Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present by Peter Hessler is a loosely connected series of chapters exploring modern China. Hessler’s insights into China are shaped by a keen sense of history.
Monkey: Folk Novel of China by Wu Ch’eng-en (Author), Arthur Waley (Translator): Probably the most popular book in the history of the Far East, this classic sixteenth century novel is a combination of picaresque novel and folk epic that mixes satire, allegory, and history into a rollicking adventure. It is the story of the roguish Monkey and his encounters with major and minor spirits, gods, demigods, demons, ogres, monsters, and fairies. This translation, by the distinguished scholar Arthur Waley, is the first accurate English version; it makes available to the Western reader a faithful reproduction of the spirit and meaning of the original.
Combodia | Back to the Top
When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him. It’s an account of a young girl’s extremely hard life during the Khmer Rouge.
The King’s Last Song by Geoff Ryman: It’s about Cambodia’s first Buddhist king in the twelfth century and a modern archaeologist who discovers a book he wrote on leaves of gold.
Dancing in Cambodia by Amitav Ghosh
Stay Alive My Son by Pin Yathay: A personal account by a man whose family was forced by the Khmer Rouge in April 1975 to leave Phnom Penh. Moved from camp to camp, he and thousands of others worked in the fields becoming diseased and malnourished. To save himself, Yathay was forced to leave behind his sole surviving child.
First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung: Covering the years from 1975 to 1979, the story moves from the deaths of multiple family members to the forced separation of the survivors, leading ultimately to the reuniting of much of the family, followed by marriages and immigrations. The brutality seems unending–beatings, starvation, attempted rape, mental cruelty–and yet the narrator (a young girl) never stops fighting for escape and survival.
Survival in the Killing Fields by Haing Ngor (Author), Roger Warner (Contributor): Nothing has shaped my life as much as surviving the Pol Pot regime. I am a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust. That’s who I am,” says Haing Ngor. And in his memoir, Survival in the Killing Fields, he tells the gripping and frequently terrifying story of his term in the hell created by the communist Khmer Rouge. Like Dith Pran, the Cambodian doctor and interpreter whom Ngor played in an Oscar-winning performance in The Killing Fields, Ngor lived through the atrocities that the 1984 film portrayed. Like Pran, too, Ngor was a doctor by profession, and he experienced firsthand his country’s wretched descent, under the Khmer Rouge, into senseless brutality, slavery, squalor, starvation, and disease-all of which are recounted in sometimes unimaginable horror in Ngor’s poignant memoir. Since the original publication of this searing personal chronicle, Haing Ngor’s life has ended with his murder, which has never been satisfactorily solved. In an epilogue written especially for this new edition, Ngor’s coauthor, Roger Warner, offers a glimpse into this complex, enigmatic man’s last years-years that he lived “like his country: scarred, and incapable of fully healing.”
Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind (P.S.): In her second memoir, Ung picks up where her first, the National Book Award–winning First They Killed My Father, left off, with the author escaping a devastated Cambodia in 1980 at age 10 and flying to her new home in Vermont. Though she embraces her American life—which carries advantages ranging from having a closet of her own to getting a formal education and enjoying The Brady Bunch—she can never truly leave her Cambodian life behind. She and her eldest brother, with whom she escaped, left behind their three other siblings. This book is alternately heart-wrenching and heartwarming, as it follows the parallel lives of Loung Ung and her closest sister, Chou, during the 15 years it took for them to reunite. Loung effectively juxtaposes chapters about herself and her sister to show their different worlds: while the author’s meals in America are initially paid for with food stamps, Chou worries about whether she’ll be able to scrounge enough rice; Loung is haunted by flashbacks, but Chou is still dodging the Khmer Rouge; and while Loung’s biggest concern is fitting in at school, Chou struggles daily to stay alive. Loung’s first-person chapters are the strongest, replete with detailed memories as a child who knows she is the lucky one and can’t shake the guilt or horror. “For no matter how seemingly great my life is in America… it will not be fulfilling if I live it alone…. [L]iving life to the fullest involves living it with your family.”
The Lost Executioner: A Story of the Khmer Rouge by Nic Dunlop: Long preoccupied by the Cambodian genocide in the late 1970s at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, Irish-born and Thailand-based photojournalist Dunlop homed in on Comrade Duch, head of the Khmer Rouge secret police and Pol Pot’s chief executioner, who had vanished. How had a well-educated schoolteacher (born Kaing Guek Eav) become commandant of a torture center and complicit in the deaths of an estimated 20,000 political prisoners? asks Dunlop in this measured but horrifying book, a chronicle of his dogged efforts to understand the carnage and bring about justice. With Duch at the book’s core, the author (who worked in Cambodia throughout the ’90s) weaves a contemporary account of a war-ravaged nation into the history of its ancient past and rumination on terror in the name of ideology. Dunlop also deepens his story with thoughtful—and very personal—commentary on photography and violence. In 1999, Dunlop found and confronted Duch, who voluntarily confessed to his role in the Khmer Rouge. Though Duch was then charged and imprisoned, he has not yet been brought to trial. Cambodia’s labyrinthine politics can occasionally be difficult to digest, but Dunlop’s personal quest for international justice holds the narrative together.
On the Wings of a White Horse: A Cambodian Princess’s Story of Surviving the Khmer Rouge Genocide: A moving and inspirational account of the author’s life, from the jungles of Cambodia to the streets of California. A moving account of survival in the face of genocide and personal hardships. It is the story of a child hidden in the jungle by her father and who escapes to become a young orphan and refugee on the streets of America.
The Disappeared by Kim Echlin: “Why did you never answer my letters?” “What letters?” Who was censoring whom? Was it the dictatorship in Cambodia, where Serey lived? Or was it the protective father of Anne, 16, in Canada, who did not want her dating a dangerous stranger? The young people fall passionately in love when, in exile from the cruel Khmer Rouge, he plays in a rock band in Montreal. Then he goes back to Cambodia, and after years of waiting, she travels to find him in his country. Now, 30 year later, she speaks to him in her head as she remembers their passionate love, in Montreal and then in Cambodia, the baby she lost, and their parting when she returned to Canada. The dramatic blend of erotic bliss, physical horror, and enduring political issues will draw readers into her anguished conflict about love, guilt, forgiveness, and revenge. As she sees land-mine victims, without limbs or face, and wanders the killing fields where tourists now gather, she ponders the role of those who do nothing, including the indifferent. Is silence a crime?
In the Shade of a Quiet Killing Place by Sam Sotha: On April 17, 1975 Sam Sotha and his wife Sony, along with thousands of others, were forced by the Khmer Rouge to leave Phnom Penh. Shot, tortured, starved and enslaved in hard labor was the fate of many Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge years. In In The Shade of A Quiet Killing Place: A Personal Memoir, Sam Sotha tells a moving personal story of love and a couple’s struggle for survival during the four years of their captivity by the Khmer Rouge. In the context of intense brutality and human tragedy, Sam Sotha’s In The Shade of A Quiet Killing Place gives an inspiringly beautiful portrait of love between husband and wife that refused to yield under such terror. Forced to leave their home and then from one prison camp to another, Sam and Sony endured and witnessed family separation, torture, starvation, mindless killings and acts more horrific than death. Yet, against it all their spiritual bond only grew stronger and became unbreakable. The strength of their love guided the couple through the darkest moments, when it seemed only a miracle could save them from certain death.
Daughter of the Killing Fields by T.C.Seng: Theary Seng was a toddler when they killed her father. In prison shortly after, she fell asleep in her mother’s arms and woke to find her gone. “Daughter of the Killing Fields” tells how Seng spent her early years being passed from one set of relatives to another, amid a backdrop of soldiers, landmines, inadequate refugee camps and always death. ‘Life’, she found, ‘is just a breath’. Often separated and fearing each other dead for months at a time, she tells the nail-biting story of how she, her aunts and uncles survived. Leaving Cambodia aged six to start a new life in the West, this powerful memoir begins and ends 23 years later as she finds a way to confront the man she holds ‘accountable for the death of my parents, for the blood of 1.7 million others’.
For the Sake of All Living Things by John M. Del Vecchio: In part two of the trilogy begun in The 13th Valley , events leading to the 1970s Cambodian holocaust are described through the eyes of a tragedy-stricken, revenge-minded family. “This exhaustive, emotionally powerful novel ends on a note of desperate irony that sums up the Kafkaesque absurdity of Cambodia’s torment,
Burma (Myanmar) | Back to the Top
Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi: For the last fifteen years of Burma’s traumatic history, Aung San Suu Kyi has been the inspirational leader of attempts to restore democracy to her country. In these fifty-two pieces she paints a vivid, poignant yet fundamentally optimistic picture of her native land.
Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi: Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for courageous leadership of the Burmese people in their battle against authoritarian rule. The forthright condemnation of the regime that resulted in the activist’s house arrest is clearly expressed in the essays in this volume. Part one–which describes Burma’s political, intellectual and literary history–includes a moving yet unsentimental biography of the author’s father, Aung San. Clearly a role model, though he was assassinated when she was only two, Aung San was a seminal figure in the Burmese struggle for independence in the 1940s. Part two contains a series of essays on democracy and human rights. Of particular interest is Aung San Suu Kyi’s brief statement in response to a nomination for political office. Though under house arrest at the time, she accepted “out of respect for the decision taken by my party in accordance with democratic practices.” Part three presents tributes to Aung San Suu Kyi by friends and scholars. Ann Pasternak Slater candidly recalls the human rights activist as a student at Oxford becoming initiated into Western ways.
Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s Prisoner of Conscience: Burma’s nightmare of tyranny and genocidal violence grinds on, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi remains under house arrest. In the first full-throttle biography to chronicle Suu Kyi’s exemplary life in the context of totalitarian Burma’s bloody history, British writer Wintle delineates the legacy of her martyred father, General Aung San, who launched Burma’s first democratic movement and was promptly assassinated, and of Suu Kyi’s accomplished mother, who served as ambassador to India. His portrait of Suu Kyi reveals just how much this cosmopolitan book lover stood to lose when, after attending Oxford, marrying British Tibetologist Michael Aris, and having two sons, she returned to Burma in 1988 and committed herself to leading the nonviolent fight for democracy. Wintle writes with a snarling wit, firm grasp of Burma’s horrors, and penetrating respect for this tenacious and composed prisoner of conscience, detailing her genius for connecting with people, the threats against her life, and her devotion to peace. Suu Kyi holds fast to her convictions in cruel isolation, while her supporters are brutalized and the world goes on about its business. At least Wintle’s powerful portrait brings the inspirational Suu Kyi back into the light.
Burmese Days by George Orwell: Stir in a bit of socialist doctrine, a sprig of satire, strong Indian curry, and a couple quarts of good English gin and you get something close to the flavor of George Orwell’s intensely readable and deftly plotted Burmese Days. In 1930, Kyauktada, Upper Burma, is one of the least auspicious postings in the ailing British Empire–and then the order comes that the European Club, previously for whites only, must elect one token native member. This edict brings out the worst in this woefully enclosed society, not to mention among the natives who would become the One. Orwell mines his own Anglo-Indian background to evoke both the suffocating heat and the stifling pettiness that are the central facts of colonial life: “Mr. MacGregor told his anecdote about Prome, which could be produced in almost any context. And then the conversation veered back to the old, never-palling subject–the insolence of the natives, the supineness of the Government, the dear dead days when the British Raj was the Raj and please give the bearer fifteen lashes. The topic was never let alone for long, partly because of Ellis’s obsession. Besides, you could forgive the Europeans a great deal of their bitterness. Living and working among Orientals would try the temper of a saint.”
The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma by Thant Myint-U: Analysis of Burma has been “singularly ahistorical,” Thant Myint-U (The Making of Modern Burma), a senior officer at the U.N., observes. With an eye to what the past might say about Burma’s present status as a country in crisis, Thant Myint-U examines the legacy of imperialism, war and invasion. Recounting in a well-crafted narrative the colorful histories of Burmese dynastic empires from ancient times to the 18th century, Thant Myint-U then focuses on how, during the 19th century, the Burmese kingdom of Ava fought and lost a series of border wars with the British East India Company, culminating in a treaty that marked the beginning of Burma’s loss of independence. Considering the country’s longstanding global isolation in the context of its geographic and cultural singularity, Thant Myint-U interweaves his own family’s history, writing extensively about his maternal grandfather, U Thant, who rose from humble origins to become secretary-general of the U.N. in the 1960s. Profiling 20th-century Burmese leaders such as Aung San, U Nu and Nobel Peace Prize–winning activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Thant Myint-U beautifully captures the complex identity of a little-understood country, concluding with a trenchant analysis of Burma’s current predicament under an oppressive regime.
From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey by Pascal Khoo Thwe: Khoo Thwe, born in 1967, debuts with a remarkable portrait of his childhood in Phekhon, “the only Catholic town in Burma,” among the Padaung people, a subtribe of the Karenni “known for what outsiders call our `giraffe women’ because of their necks being elongated by rings.” Modernity seeps into Phekhon slowly-only in 1977 did the locals learn, along with news of Elvis’s death, that Americans had landed on the moon. The Catholic and animist fables that the author and his 10 siblings live by would be the emblems of a fairy tale life were it not for the violence and economic crises of the dictatorship of General U Ne Win. Khoo Thwe enters Mandalay University during the years when thousands of student activists were killed or imprisoned by the government. A charismatic student organizer, he is forced in 1988 to flee with fellow students to the jungles on the border of Thailand, where a stay with a Karenni rebel group makes him realize they too were “more interested in claiming leadership than in actually giving lead.” But while a student, the author, working as a waiter, met John Casey, a Cambridge don who organized a miraculous rescue of the young man. Khoo Thwe’s story ends with his studying English literature at Caius College, Cambridge. It is a heartbreaking tale-he is not able to return to Burma and only meets his family at the Thai border for a few hours years later-told with lyricism, affection and insight.
At Large in Burma by by Amitav Ghosh
Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan: San Francisco socialite and art-world doyenne Bibi Chen has planned the vacation of a lifetime along the notorious Burma Road for 12 of her dearest friends. Violently murdered days before takeoff, she’s reduced to watching her friends bumble through their travels from the remove of the spirit world. Making the best of it, the 11 friends who aren’t hung over depart their Myanmar resort on Christmas morning to boat across a misty lake—and vanish. The tourists find themselves trapped in jungle-covered mountains, held by a refugee tribe that believes Rupert, the group’s surly teenager, is the reincarnation of their god Younger White Brother, come to save them from the unstable, militaristic Myanmar government. Tan’s travelers, who range from a neurotic hypochondriac to the debonair, self-involved host of a show called The Fido Files, fight and flirt among themselves. While ensemble casting precludes the intimacy that characterizes Tan’s mother-daughter stories, the book branches out with a broad plot and dynamic digressions. It’s based on a true story, and Tan seems to be having fun with it, indulging in the wry, witty voice of Bibi while still exploring her signature questions of fate, connection, identity and family.
Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle: DeLisle’s (Pyongyang) latest exploration of Asian life is probably the best possible argument against the ruling junta in the embattled (and now nearly obliterated) nation also known as Myanmar. Readers will find themselves initially shocked and surprised at the country’s differences, then awestruck by the new traditions and finally in love with and yet enraged by Burmese daily life. DeLisle’s wife is a French aid worker with Medecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), leaving DeLisle alone with their son, Louis, and his cartooning. DeLisle’s style is simple but highly eloquent, and he tells more about the depth and breadth of the Burmese experience in the book’s little nonfiction vignettes than he ever could in an artificially imposed narrative. Burma Chronicles is not merely a neat piece of cartooning but a valuable artifact of a repressive and highly destructive culture that curtails free speech with unparalleled tenacity. Like Joe Sacco’s The Fixer and Safe Area Gorazde, DeLisle uses cartooning to dig into a story that demands to be told.
Vietnam | Back to the Top
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien: Weapons and good-luck charms carried by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam here represent survival, lost innocence and the war’s interminable legacy. “O’Brien’s meditations–on war and memory, on darkness and light–suffuse the entire work with a kind of poetic form, making for a highly original, fully realized nove
Dispatches by Michael Herr: Michael Herr, who wrote about the Vietnam War for Esquire magazine, gathered his years of notes from his front-line reporting and turned them into what many people consider the best account of the war to date, when published in 1977. He captured the feel of the war and how it differed from any theater of combat ever fought, as well as the flavor of the time and the essence of the people who were there.
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes: A novel on Vietnam War
Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzerald: Fitzgerald’s Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning study of the Vietnam War remains essential reading 30 years after its initial publication. Fitzgerald’s analysis differs from combat histories in that it presents the Vietnamese and Americans from a sociological point of view. This edition contains a new afterword in which Fitzgerald updates the story three decades after the American withdrawal.
The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gib: This deeply observed novel of contemporary Vietnam interweaves stories of a venerable soup seller, a young Vietnamese American curator, and an enterprising tour guide in ways that will mark all of their lives forever.
Dragon House by John Shors: Shors’s third novel tells an absorbing story weakened by melodrama, sentimentality and exposition. After promising her dying father, a Vietnam War veteran, to take care of his shelter for street children in Ho Chi Minh City, American writer Iris agrees to take along her childhood friend Noah, now a depressed veteran who lost his leg in Iraq. In Vietnam, they find the shelter has drawn an appealing cast of Americans and Vietnamese, all seeking escape and salvation, including two children exploited by a brutal drug addict, and an impoverished old woman whose granddaughter is dying of cancer. Though interesting, most characters never overcome Shors’s insistence on telling, rather than showing, their inner lives (“he hurt and hated so much”). Melodrama and mawkish foreshadowing (“I’m taking the risks… and everything’s going to be just the way it was meant to be”) will prove familiar to anyone who’s watched a TV movie. Though frustrating, this is the kind of novel (provocative, polarizing, exotic) that should stir book group discussion.
The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam by Bao Ninh (Author), Frank Palmos (Editor), Phan Thanh Hao (Translator): Kien, the protagonist of this rambling and sometimes nearly incoherent but emotionally gripping account of the Vietnam war, is a 10-year veteran whose experiences bear a striking similarity to those of the author, a Hanoi writer who fought with the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade. The novel opens just after the war, with Kien working in a unit that recovers soldiers’ corpses. Revisiting the sites of battles raises emotional ghosts for him, “a parade of horrific memories” that threatens his sanity, and he finds that writing about those years is the only way to purge them. Juxtaposing battle scenes with dreams and childhood remembrances as well as events in Kien’s postwar life, the book builds to a climax of brutality. A trip to the front with Kien’s childhood sweetheart ends with her noble act of sacrifice, and it becomes clear to the reader that, in Vietnam, purity and innocence exist only to be besmirched. Covering some of the same physical and thematic terrain as Novel Without a Name (see above), The Sorrow of War is often as chaotic in construction as the events it describes. In fact, it is untidy and uncontrolled, like the battlefield it conveys.
Novel without a Name by Duong Thu Huong: Vietnamese novelist Huong, who has been imprisoned for her political beliefs, presents the story of a disillusioned soldier in a book that was banned in her native country.
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli: While the horrors of war are never far from the surface, the love stories, as well as Helen’s personal evolution, lie at the center of The Lotus Eaters. (A few critics compared Helen’s wartime experience to the rush experienced by characters in the Academy Award–winning The Hurt Locker, and the title refers to the lotus eaters who, in Greek mythology, become addicted to the opiate.) Soli’s visceral writing captures an alluring, dangerous country, and she excels at conveying the intricacies of war-torn lives. A few critics disagreed about the centrality of the romance and the characterizations, but overall, they had little but high praise for the work. “If you’ve never read a novel about the Vietnam War, this could be the book for you,”
Laos | Back to the Top
Laos Files by Dale Dye: The death of a salty old senior NCO who ran special operations in Vietnam leads Marine Gunner Shake Davis on a shocking and potentially lethal quest to find out what happened to hundreds of American POWs. Written by the bestselling author of ‘Platoon,’ Dale A. Dye.
Mother’s Beloved: Beloved Stories from Laos by Outhine Bounyavong: Outhine Bounyavong is one of the most prominent contemporary writers in Laos.This book presents fourteen of Outhine Bounyavong’s short stories in English translation alongside the Lao originals, marking his formal debut for an American audience. It is also the first collection of Lao short stories to be published in the English language.
The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang: In this beautiful memoir, Yang recounts the harrowing journey of her family from Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand to the U.S. Eventually settling in St. Paul, Minnesota, their struggle was not over. Adapting to a new community that often did not understand nor want them was difficult. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that the Hmong, despite possessing a rich folkloric tradition, have no written language of their own. Determined to tell the story of both her family and her people, Yang intimately chronicles the immigrant experience from the Hmong perspective, providing a long-overdue contribution to the history and literature of ethnic America.
The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill: This first Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery introduces readers to a delightful old man conscripted in 1975 to become the chief medical examiner of Laos after the nation’s “only doctor with a background in performing autopsies had crossed the river” into Thailand, “allegedly in a rubber tube.” Siri thought he’d settle down with a state pension after helping the Communists force the Laotian royal family from power, but the party won’t let him retire until he is a drooling shell. So the spry seventysomething settles into a routine of studying outdated medical texts and scrounging scarce supplies to perform the occasional cursory examination while making witty observations about the bumbling new regime to his oddball assistants. But when the wife of a party leader turns up dead and the bodies of tortured Vietnamese soldiers start bobbing to the surface of a Laotian lake, all eyes turn to Siri. Faced with dueling cover-ups and an emerging international crisis, the doctor enlists old friends, Hmong shamans, forest spirits, dream visits from the dead–and even the occasional bit of medical deduction–to solve the crimes.
Singapore: | Back to the Top
Walk Like a Dragon by Goh Sin Tub
Ghosts of Singapore by Goh Sin Tub
The Angel of Changi and other short stories by Goh Sin Tuh
Paranormal Singapore: Tales from the Kopitiam by Andrew Lim: I love the title of this book. It’s packed with spine-chilling tales from Singapore
Amazing Grace by Tara FT Sering: Pre-school teacher, Grace Lim, thinks that she has finally found her man at age 27. Mr-Blind-Date-No.-7, Mike, has turned out to be everything that she s ever wanted, dreamt about, and more! With a marriage proposal in hand, Grace thinks that she s set for life. Trouble begins to stir in paradise when Mike informs Grace that he is re-locating from Manila to sunny Singapore because of work. But the conveniences of modern technology aren t enough to bridge the distance between Mike and Grace, and what of Mikes colleague Kaela who appears in every photo that Mike’s uploaded online? So Grace decides to give Mike a surprise visit in Singapore but is she ready for what she will find?
Undercover Tai Tai by Maya O. Calica: Amanda Tay thinks she is losing her mind or starring in a surreal film by Stanley Kubrick. You would be too if you ve been knocked unconscious on your first date in 27 years only to awaken in a beautifully appointed apartment that looks like a page from Tatler Magazine. Last time she checked, the film student-turned-book researcher was renting a tiny room in a flat, so what was she doing sprawled on a king-sized bed with 600-thread count bed sheets and a ponkan-sized bump on her head? The Undercover Tai Tai is a hilarious journey of a young woman who, while pretending to be someone else, makes connections with her past and discovers parts of herself that she never thought existed.
Criminal Minds by Shamini Flint: This is an Asian Crime Fiction
Partners in Crime by Shamini Flint: Asian Crime Fiction
If We Dream Too Long by Goh Pen Seng
A Different Sky by Meira Chand (2010), about a Eurasian boy, a Chinese girl and an immigrant from India who grow up in Singapore, beginning in 1927 as the struggle for independence begins, and their families through the World War II years.
Tanamera by Noel Barber: Noel Barber has always done everything in a big way, with style, panache and a dash of adventure. But he has never written a story of such dimensions, such a sense of history and imagination as this first novel . . . it is an intensely gripping and convincing story
Japan | Back to the Top
Most of the books by Banana Yoshimoto: Novelist Yoshimoto (Kitchen, etc.) is a sensation of sorts in Japan and wherever her fiction has been available and for good reason.
Bedtime Eyes by Amy Yamada: Amy Yamada is one of the most prominentand controversialnovelists in Japan today. She burst onto the scene in 1985 with her short novel Bedtime Eyes. Bedtime Eyes introduces to the English language some of Yamadas best known and most influential work.
See a backlist of Amy Yamada’s books here.
Kokoro by Natsume Soseki: Nineteenth-century Japanese novel concerned with man’s loneliness in the modern world.
The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe: This beautiful novel by one of Japan’s most important writers is also one of the most strangely terrifying and memorable books you’ll ever read. The Woman in the Dunes is the story of an amateur entomologist who wanders alone into a remote seaside village in pursuit of a rare beetle he wants to add to his collection. But the townspeople take him prisoner. They lower him into the sand-pit home of a young widow, a pariah in the poor community, who the villagers have condemned to a life of shoveling back the ever-encroaching dunes that threaten to bury the town.
Strangers by Taichi Yamada: Middle-aged, jaded and divorced, TV scriptwriter Harada is forced to set up home in his office, situated in a high-rise apartment block overlooking Tokyo’s busy Route 8. One night, nostalgic for his lost childhood, he decides to visit the entertainment district of Asakusa, the city’s dilapidated old downtown area, and there, at the theatre, he meets a man who looks exactly like his long-dead father. So begins Harada’s ordeal, as he’s thrust into a reality where his parents appear to be alive at the exact age they had been when they died so many years before. Although they may be apparitions, he takes solace in seeing them, in spite of the damage it seems to do to his health. Can Kei, the mysteriously fragile neighbour with whom Harada begins a tentative relationship, save him from the ghosts of his past?
In Search of a Distant voice by Taichi Yamada: Kazama Tsuneo is an immigration officer in Tokyo, struggling to live a ‘normal’ life after an event that happened eight years previously, on the other side of the world, in Portland, Oregon. When he is seized one day by a strange emotional fit, his life threatens to spiral out of control. With his arranged marriage looming, his problems worsen following the emergence of a strange voice – a woman who is trying to contact him, but without ever quite revealing herself. Imbued with a beautiful, melancholy sense of longing, the story becomes a quest narrative in which Tsuneo desperately chases this woman, and the mystery behind what happened eight years earlier. Exploring ideas of sexuality, guilt and identity, Taichi Yamada once again displays his unique storytelling qualities, and uncanny gift for merging the everyday and the surreal.
The Inugami Clan by Sushi Yokomizo: In 1940s Japan, the wealthy head of the Inugami Clan dies, setting off a chain of bizarre, gruesome murders. Detective Kindaichi must unravel the clan’s terrible secrets of forbidden liaisons, monstrous cruelty, and disguised identities to find the murderer. Seishi Yokomizo is Japan’s most popular mystery writer. His novels have been made into numerous movies and television dramas in Japan.
Tokyo Tango by Rika Yokomizo: Saya is a blissfully feather-headed Tokyo college girl, talented at doing just enough work to pass the exams at a top-flight university, but ultimately “without a thought in her head.” She worked as a hostess in a local bar at night, mindlessly turning tricks with aging businessmen to bring in enough cash to support her addiction to shopping and clubbing. Her freewheeling lifestyle takes an unexpected turn one night when she meets Bogey, a mysterious outsider and gambler who seems to be riding the crest of the wave that is Japan’s economic boom.
One Man’s Justice by Akira Yoshimura: this work of historical fiction takes place in Japan shortly after World War II. In it, readers meet Kiyohara Takuya, a man who had served as a Japanese officer in the Imperial Army and is now on the run for his involvement with the death of an American POW. With money from his family, Takuya goes into hiding, creating for himself a new identity in another town. As Higa Seiichi, Takuya finds a job with a kindly employer and slowly begins anew. However, Takuya’s mind is never at rest in this predominantly narrative piece, as Yoshimura describes his constant emotional and psychological battles with his past and his ongoing fear of being captured. Backlist
Villian by Suichi Yoshida: Yoshida examines the lives of a victim and a killer in this subtle but powerful novel about collective guilt and individual atonement, his first book to appear in English translation. The police arrest Yuichi Shimizu, a 27-year-old construction worker from Nagasaki, for strangling Yoshino Ishibashi, an insurance saleswoman, with whom he’d gone on a couple of dates. Moving skillfully back and forth from the crime to its aftermath, Yoshida describes Ishibashi’s boring job in Fukuoka, her fantasy dates and online boyfriends, as well as Shimizu’s existence in Nagasaki, where he cares for his ailing grandfather and grandmother, and lavishes his attentions on his fancy white car. Multiple points of view reveal both slight and dramatic changes in a host of other people, including acquaintances and relatives, affected by the murder. Most impressively, Yoshida’s complex portrait of Japanese society leaves no doubt as to his characters’ actions, but tantalizing doubts about their meaning.
Promenade of the Gods by Kijo Sozuki: It begins with a woman’s search to find her husband, who disappears after watching a TV show. She enlists the aid of her husband’s best friend, and together they discover that the famous female personality of the TV show disappeared after the same evening’s broadcast as well. The duo’s search leads to a battle within a religious cult. Each answer brings only more questions, until the story’s stunning final solution is revealed.
Sayonara Gangsters by Genichro Takahashi: Takahashi’s first novel to be translated into English can be amusing, sexy, moving, intelligent and maddeningly obtuse-often all at the same time. Which is exactly what Takahashi, acclaimed author of postmodernist romps and former porn director, intends.
The Tatoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi: If you read mysteries for insights into other cultures and different periods, this excellent translation of the first novel by Akimitsu Takagi, who became one of Japan’s leading crime writers, is an eye-opener. In 1947 Toyko, the limbs of a murdered woman are discovered in a locked bathroom. Her torso–covered with intricately beautiful tattoos by her late father, a highly controversial artist–is missing. A doctor finds the body, and his detective brother is put in charge of the case.
Haruki Murakami needs no introduction. I have linked his list of books here, but not all of them are based in Japan.
Geisha in Rivalry by Kafn Nagai: Geisha in Rivalry, first published in 1918, is set against the backdrop of Tokyo’s Shimbashi geisha district. The story of three geisha, imperious Rikiji, gaudy Kikuchiyo, and the naïve heroine Komayo, Geisha in Rivalry follows them in their search for a place in a world that offers no easy route of escape from their profession. With a full cast of vivid characters playing out their dramas of illicit love, shady intrigue and unrelenting rivalry, Geisha in Rivalry is the sordid but fascinating tale of Komayo, her lovers, and the women who conspire to steal them from her.
Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda: Masuda’s account of being a geisha in rural Japan at a hot springs resort is at once intriguing and heartbreaking. There is nothing idyllic in her description of geisha training or life between the world wars. Born in 1925, Masuda was sent to work for a wealthy landowner when she was five. At 12, she was sold to a geisha house for about 30 yen, the price of a bag of rice. During those years, Masuda writes, “I wasn’t even able to wonder why I didn’t have any parents or why I should be the only one who was tormented. If you ask me what I did know then, it was only that hunger was painful and human beings were terrifying.” Originally published in Japan in 1957, where it is still in print, this book grew out of an article that Masuda, who didn’t learn to read and write until she was in her 20s, submitted for a contest in Housewife’s Companion magazine. Her picaresque adventures as a geisha, then mistress, factory worker, gang moll and caretaker for her young brother offer an impassioned plea for valuing children. “Never give birth to children thoughtlessly!” she writes. “That is why, stroke by faltering stroke, I’ve written all this down.”
Change by Mo Yan: In Change, Mo Yan—China’s foremost novelist—personalizes the political and social changes in his country over the past few decades in a novella disguised as autobiography (or vice-versa). Unlike most historical narratives from China, which are pegged to political events, Change is a representative of “people’s history,” a bottom-up rather than top-down view of a country in flux. By moving back and forth in time and focusing on small events and everyday people, Yan breathes life into history by describing the effects of larger-than-life events on the average citizen.
All She was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe: Recovering from a leg injury, a 43-year-old Tokyo police inspector named Shunsuke Honma realizes how out of touch he has become when a relative asks him to make some private inquiries into the disappearance of his fiancée. While he wasn’t paying attention, it seems that everyone in the country but Honma has been caught up in a consumer feeding frenzy–going into heavy debt and declaring bankruptcy at a snowballing rate. This engrossing story of the search for happiness through shopping marks the first appearance in English of one of Japan’s leading writers. Backlist
Shame in the Blood by Tetsho Miura: Shame in the Blood (Shinobugawa) is considered one of the finest contemporary love stories in all of modern Japanese literature. The narrator, a young college student, has had two brothers disappear, lost two sisters to suicide, and his third sister is physically disabled. He is determined not only to survive but to thrive in spite of tormented thoughts that his family’s blood is cursed.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa: Ogawa (The Diving Pool) weaves a poignant tale of beauty, heart and sorrow in her exquisite new novel. Narrated by the Housekeeper, the characters are known only as the Professor and Root, the Housekeepers 10-year-old son, nicknamed by the Professor because the shape of his hair and head remind the Professor of the square root symbol. A brilliant mathematician, the Professor was seriously injured in a car accident and his short-term memory only lasts for 80 minutes. He can remember his theorems and favorite baseball players, but the Housekeeper must reintroduce herself every morning, sometimes several times a day. The Professor, who adores Root, is able to connect with the child through baseball, and the Housekeeper learns how to work with him through the memory lapses until they can come together on common ground, at least for 80 minutes. In this gorgeous tale, Ogawa lifts the window shade to allow readers to observe the characters for a short while, then closes the shade.
Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami: The Manazuru of Kawakami’s is a dream state as much as a place, a seaside town visited often by the restless narrator, Kei. Kei’s husband vanished more than a decade ago, and only now, living in Tokyo with her mother and sullen 16-year-old daughter, is she compelled to put his memory to rest. Kei is haunted not only by her husband but also inexplicably by other shadowlike entities. She is drawn again and again to Manazuru, where she enters a world where time stops, sound evaporates, women hang from trees, boats spark into flame and disappear, and ghosts come and go like smoke. Yet the fantasy has purpose as a manifestation of Kei’s sense of displacement, and of her estrangement from her daughter and mother. The action convincingly moves in waves between Kei’s past and present, the surreal and the everyday. Part ghost story, part meditation on life and death, family and self, this slim novel is captivating and suspenseful, and sure to satisfy not only fans of ghost fiction but all readers
Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima: GLBT literature: One of the classics of modern Japanese fiction. Confessions of a Mask is the story of an adolescent who must learn to live with the painful fact that he is unlike other young men. Mishima’s protagonist discovers that he is becoming a homosexual in polite, post-war Japan. To survive, he must live behind a mask of propriety.
The Word Book by Kanai Mieko (Author), Paul McCarthy (Translator): Like the surfaces of a jagged crystal, each story in this collection shows an entirely different facet when viewed from a different angle. Playing games with the basic units of both life and fiction—the solid certainties of the self, the world around us, and the words we use to describe these things to one another—Mieko Kanai creates a reality where nothing is certain, and where a little boy going out to run errands for his mother might find that he’s an adult, and his mother long dead, at the end of a single train ride. Using precise language to describe dreamlike plots owing as much to Kafka and Barthelme as to Kenzaburō Ōe and the long tradition of the Japanese folktale of the macabre, The Word Book is an unforgettable voyage to absurd, hilarious, and terrifying locales, and is the English-language debut for one of the greatest and most interesting Japanese writers working today.
The Doctor’s Wifeby Sawako Ariyoshi about the wife of the first doctor to use anesthesia in Japan in the late eighteenth century, and her conflicts with her mother-in-law.
Kabuki Dancerby Sawako Ariyoshi is about the woman who created kabuki in late sixteenth century Japan.
The Teahouse Fireby Ellis Avery about a woman practitioner of the tea ceremony in late nineteenth century Japan.
Blood and Chrysanthemumsby Nancy Baker is about a Japanese vampire. (First part-The Night Inside)
A Tale of False Fortunesby Fumiko Enchi is a love story set in the eleventh century Japanese imperial court.
The Samurai by Shusaku Endo is about contacts between Japan, Spain and Mexico in the seventeenth century.
The Silence by Shusaku Endo is about seventeenth century Portuguese priests who risk their lives to go to Japan in search of a Jesuit missionary.
The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson(1999), is historical fantasy about a fox who turns into a woman in medieval Japan.
Fudoki by Kij Johnson(2003), is about a twelfth century Japanese woman who writes a tale of a cat who turns into a woman.
Ninja Men of Igaby Shinichi Kano is about a feud between two Japanese warlords in 1600.
Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician by Michihiko Hachiya
Hiroshima: Both books seen on Alyce’s blog.
Out by Natsuo Kirino: A very popular and bestselling thriller set in Tokyo.
Korea: (North and South) | Back to the Top
Jade Lady Burning by Martin Limón: (Martin Limon has a backlist too) George and Ernie pal around as military investigators for the Eighth Army in Korea, making daily visits to Itaewon for bars, booze, and “business” women. When an American serviceman apparently murders a young Korean woman, they use their unusual contacts to find clues but stumble on evidence of a conspiracy aimed at grabbing millions of dollars in army contracts instead. Limon’s clipped narrative style fits the military life he describes and the duo’s methodology as well. A competent and promising first novel with a unique setting.
Wayfarer: New Fiction by Korean Women by Bruce Fulton (Editor), Ju-Chan Fulton (Editor): A short story collection by Korean authors.
Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers; An anthology by Women Korean writers. Recipients of the 1993 Korean Literature Translation Prize
The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History by Don Oberdorfer: The name says it all.
One Thousand Chestnut Trees: A Novel of Korea by by Mira Stout, Mita Stout: Mira Stout’s protagonist is Anna (based loosely on Stout herself), a young artist who lives in New York and feels lost. Knowing little about her Boston Irish father and her Korean mother, and less still about Korea, she decides to journey to Korea, as Mira Stout herself did, to try to make sense of the random jigsaw pieces of her background–tidbits like the story of her great-grandfather, once the ruler of Kangwon Province, who was stripped of land and title by the invading Japanese and ordered a temple be built atop the highest mountain amidst 1,000 chestnut trees. In the novel, Anna’s Korean curiosity begins as a teenager, when Uncle Hong-do arrives from Korea to visit Anna’s mother, the sister he never met. Years later, Anna turns to Korea as an answer to her feelings of existential angst, retracing her mother’s steps in an effort “to see my family undie.” Told in her voice as well as her mother’s and grandfather’s, what you get is a stirring novel that combines Korea’s epic history with a family legacy and a personal exploration. A fine read whether you’re going to Korea or lounging in your living room, Stout’s story is engrossing and educational
Love As A Foreign Language by J. Torres (Goodreads Author), Eric Kim : It’s a 3 part series set in South Korea
The Lucky Gourd Shop by Scott, Joanna Catherine: The main characters are three Korean children who first we meet as Americanized teenagers searching for their heritage. We are quickly taken back to Seoul ten years earlier, where the story of Li Na, Dae Young, and Tae Hee unfolds. Remembering that this story takes place in contemporary times is often a difficult task because of the primitive surroundings and starvation fare. Mi Sook, the children’s mother, doomed by circumstances to fail, has to abandon the children to an orphanage where they were found by their American family. But there is more to the story, and it soon becomes evident that the children’s history will remain a mystery. Scott’s descriptive talent is enormous; at times you wish it were not so good.
Between heaven and Earth by Yun Daen Yeong: “Between Heaven and Earth”, the winner of the Yi Sang Literature Prize in 1996, is about a man, who, on his way to pay a visit of condolence, comes across a woman whose face is covered with the cold shadow of death. His memory of his own life having been saved by the sacrifice of his friend’s precious life when he was nine, makes him suddenly change his destination and follow the woman to Wando on a snowy evening. He has a brief affair with the woman, who actually lured him to follow her in order to erase her previous life with a man who deserted her and left her pregnant. This moving story of a contingent relationship is permeated with the color of milky white, symbolizing life, and that color reigns over the black color of death. And the working of destiny in the human relationship unfolds against the backdrop of pansori, ‘The Song of Simcheong’ and the red camellias blooming in the white snow.
The Comfort Woman by C. Sarah Soh: In an era marked by atrocities perpetrated on a grand scale, the tragedy of the so-called comfort women—mostly Korean women forced into prostitution by the Japanese army—endures as one of the darkest events of World War II. These women have usually been labeled victims of a war crime, a simplistic view that makes it easy to pin blame on the policies of imperial Japan and therefore easier to consign the episode to a war-torn past. In this revelatory study, C. Sarah Soh provocatively disputes this master narrative.
Soh reveals that the forces of Japanese colonialism and Korean patriarchy together shaped the fate of Korean comfort women—a double bind made strikingly apparent in the cases of women cast into sexual slavery after fleeing abuse at home. Other victims were press-ganged into prostitution, sometimes with the help of Korean procurers. Drawing on historical research and interviews with survivors, Soh tells the stories of these women from girlhood through their subjugation and beyond to their efforts to overcome the traumas of their past. Finally, Soh examines the array of factors— from South Korean nationalist politics to the aims of the international women’s human rights movement—that have contributed to the incomplete view of the tragedy that still dominates today.
Mountain Fragrance-Journeys and Encounters in Korea by Rita Taylor
Silver Stallion by Junghyo Ahn, about a small Korean village and the disasters that befall it after American troops set up a military base nearby.
The Living Reed by Pearl S. Buck(1963), a romanticized novel about a family in Korea at the turn of the twentieth century.
Encounter: A Novel of Nineteenth Century Koreaby Moo-Sook Hahn, about a Confucian scholar persecuted because of his interest in Catholicism and the West.
Sondok: Princess of the Moon and Starsby Sheri Holman (2002), set in seventh century Korea.
Everlasting Empireby Yi In-Hwa (2002), a murder mystery set in nineteenth century Korea.
The Calligrapher’s Daughterby Eugenia Kim(2010), about the privileged daughter of a calligrapher from 1915 to 1935 as tensions rise between the Koreans and their Japanese overlords, and people begin to question the old tradition of passively accepting suffering.
Peace Under Heaven by Ch’ae Man-Sik, about Korea under Japanese colonial rule.
A Yankee in the Land of the Morning Calm: Golden Rail by Don Southerton about an American merchant in nineteenth century Seoul; self-published.
Jia by Hyejin Kim: The first novel about present-day North Korea to be published in the West.
A moving and true-to-life tale of courage in the face of oppression and exile.
Hyejin Kim’s Jia follows the adventures of an orphaned young woman, Jia, who has the grace of a dancer but the misfortune of coming from a politically suspect family. In the isolated mining village of her childhood, Jia’s father, a science teacher, questions government intrusion into his classroom and is taken away by police, never to be heard from again. Now Jia must leave the village where her family has been sent as punishment to carve a path for herself. Her journey takes her first to Pyongyang, and finally to Shenyang in northeast China. Along the way, she falls in love with a soldier, befriends beggars, is kidnapped, beaten, and sold, negotiates Chinese culture, and learns to balance cruel necessity with the possibilities of kindness and love.
This is Paradise!: My North Korean Childhood by Hyok Kang (Author), Philippe Grangereau (Author), Shaun Whiteside (Translator): Hyok Kang’s story of a childhood spent in North Korea during the repressive regime of Kim Jong Il provides a rare window into the “most closed state in the world.” Thirteen when he and his parents escaped to China in 1998, Hyok paints a mind-boggling picture of long school days followed by hours of farmwork, routine executions viewed by hundreds, and the “nocturnal disappearances” of friends and neighbors–the “unfaithful” who were sent away to penal colonies. It was only when faced with death by starvation that the family ultimately made the decision to escape. Since UN rations were siphoned off by party members, and leaves, grass, bark, and grasshoppers became the only available food for the masses, Hyok recalls that all but 8 or 9 of his 35 classmates had starved to death before he and his family fled. They lived like “hunted animals” for four years in China, always fearing deportation, until finally reaching South Korea, where Hyok was able to share, in both words and drawings, his remarkable saga.
The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea by Charles Robert Jenkins: In January, 1965, Jenkins was a U.S. Army sergeant stationed in South Korea. Sure that he was about to be sent to Vietnam, he drank ten beers, abandoned his patrol, and crossed into North Korea. He spent the next four decades in a country that had become “a giant, demented prison,” until the Japanese government secured his release, along with that of his Japanese wife, who had been abducted by the North Koreans. Jenkins’s book is oddly compelling. The blank ordinariness of his character brings out the moral and physical ugliness of life in North Korea, where soldiers steal and beg for food; a dog digs up a fresh mass grave (and the next day all the dogs in the neighborhood are shot); and Jenkins awakens to the bleak, deadening realization that his two daughters are being groomed as spies. “I would always tell them, ‘we are not in the real world. This is not the real world,’” Jenkins writes of his daughters. “But they didn’t believe me.”
The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag by Chol-hwan Kang (Author), Pierre Rigoulot (Author): Most readers know of the politically bleak and economically disastrous history of North Korea. This affecting and directly written memoir will help make that history personal and specific. Kang, who escaped from North Korea in 1992 and now lives in Seoul, writes with the help of Rigoulot, editor of The Black Book of Communism (LJ 11/1/99). They tell the story of the Kang family, who became prosperous members of the Korean community in Japan in the 1930s but returned to North Korea out of sympathy in the 1960s. At first they lived comparatively well, but soon they ran afoul of paranoid political repression and became one of the many victims of the Korean prison work camps. The details of the gulag are depressingly familiar from memoirs of other Stalinist regimes, but this work is nonetheless important to record and witness.
House of the Winds by Mia Yun: This is a novel full of beautiful and vivid description: the shape of fruit, the play of light, the sensuous qualities of water, warmth, touch. The narrator is the youngest child of three in a family in Korea in the 1960s. Central to her story is her mother: strong, sweet, and upright against the forces of poverty and the usually absent father, one who dreams and promises but cannot deliver. Much is made of the life of dreams, of the gossip of neighbors like the cackling Pumpkin Wife, of the moves into ever less desirable housing. What we also participate in here, though, is the life of children longing for sweets, playing in the sun, wondering about the mysteries of their relatives.
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle: Pyongyang documents the two months French animator Delisle spent overseeing cartoon production in North Korea, where his movements were constantly monitored by a translator and a guide, who together could limit his activities but couldn’t restrict his observations. He records everything from the omnipresent statues and portraits of dictators Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il to the brainwashed obedience of the citizens. Rather than conveying his disorientation through convoluted visual devices, Delisle uses a straightforward Eurocartoon approach that matter-of-factly depicts the mundane absurdities he faced every day. The gray tones and unembellished drawings reflect the grim drabness and the sterility of a totalitarian society. Delisle finds black comedy in the place, though, and makes small efforts at subversion by cracking jokes that go over the humorless translator’s head and lending the guide a copy of 1984. Despite such humor, which made his sojourn bearable and overcame his alienation and boredom, Delisle maintains empathy. Viewing an eight-year-old accordion prodigy’s robotic concert performance, he thinks, “It’s all so cold . . and sad. I could cry.”
Mongolia | Back to the Top
Kublai Khan by John Man: It’s an authoritative biography of the great Mongol ruler, who was the grandson of Ghengis Khan
All This Belongs to Me by Petra Hulova, Alex Zucker
The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo: Marco Polo’s vivid descriptions of the splendid cities and people he encountered on his journey along the Silk Road through the Middle East, South Asia, and China opened a window for his Western readers onto the fascinations of the East and continued to grow in popularity over the succeeding centuries. To a contemporary audience, his colorful stories—and above all, his breathtaking description of the court of the great Kublai Khan, Mongol emperor of China—offer dazzling portraits of worlds long gone.
I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson : Story of a young Mongolian girl and how she overcomes a crippling handicap by becoming a great horsewoman. Written as juvenile fiction, but very enjoyable for adults as well.
Until the Sun Falls by Cecelia Holland: In the thirteenth century the Mongol hordes swept out of Mongolia to over-run half the world. This novel follows Psin, a Mongol general, through the military campaigns in Russia and Europe, among his own family and in his own heart.
Women of Mongolia by Martha Avery : This handsome book portrays an astoundingly diverse sample of women of Mongolia, from tractor drivers to government officials, university professors, artisans and camel herders. It’s an excellent overview of the everyday life of contemporary women from every segment of the country. Each woman is portrayed by a photograph and a brief first-person description of her life.
Hearing Birds Fly by Louisa Waugh: A transporting account of the people, landscapes and challenges of life in westernmost Mongolia. The author — who spent a year in village of Tsengel teaching English — is attuned to the diverse ethnic mix of the region with its dominant population of Muslim Kazakhs, Mongol Halkhs and Altai Tuvans. She also explores outside the village with the nomadic herders of yaks, camels. goats and sheep.
When Things Get Dark by Matthew Davis: The young Peace Corps volunteer writes with directness of his two-year, life-changing stint as an ill-prepared English teacher in Mongolia, where he struggled with the brutal winter, unmotivated students and his own dark days.
The Shadow Walker by Michael Walters: Walter’s cunning tale of multiple murder (so unusual in modern Mongolia that a British detective is called in to help him on the case) is set against vivid descriptions of Mongolia, its people and culture.
Travels in the Untames Land by Jasper Becker: Unravelling the history of Mongolia which had for so long been obscured and distorted, Becker traces the rise and fall of the Mongols who emerged from the steppes to forge one of the greatest and most feared empires of all time under Genghis Khan and his successors; he examines the shattering, divisive years of communist rule and explores present-day Mongolia, where poverty and the encroachments of westernisation cause as much damage. He goes in search of the fragile remnants of Buddhism and shamanism; visits Tuva – the lost world of Central Asia – and searches for the tomb of Genghis Khan which has been guarded and hidden by the same family for generations. Listening to the pulse of Central Asian history, Becker adorns his narrative with the stories of past travellers, tyrannical rulers, nomads, monks, missionaries, Russian officials, Mongolian activists and the memories of everyday people to paint a moving and enlightening portrait of Mongolia, a country that against all the odds has survived since the days of Genghis Khan and continues to beat to its own rhythm.
In The Bloody Footsteps of Ghengis Khan by Jeffrey Taylor: An epic journey across the mountains and desserts from Red Square to Tiananmen Square
The Earth is the Lord’s by Taylor Caldwell is about the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan.
Snow Warrior by Don Dandrea (1988) is about Genghis Khan’s most important general.
The Blue Wolf: The Epic Tale of Genghis Khan and the Empire of the Steppesby Frederic Dion, about Genghis Khan, from the time he was sixteen and his father was murdered.
Until the Sun Falls by Cecelia Holland, about a thirteenth century Mongol general.
Genghis: Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden, about the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan and his quest to bring all Asia under his rule by conquering the Chin; #2 in the Conqueror series.
Genghis: Bones of the Hills by Conn Iggulden(2009), about the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan leading his army westward to face the Muslim armies of Shah Mohammed in what is now Afghanistan; #3 in the Conqueror series.
Ruler of the Sky: A Novel of Genghis Khan by Pamela Sargent(1993), about Genghis Khan and the women who were close to him.
Ascent: The Rise of Chinggis Khan by Tom Shanley(2009), a sympathetic novel about the rise of the late twelfth century warlord Chinggis Khan (aka Genghis Khan); #1 in the Heaven’s Favorite series.
Dominion: Dawn of the Mongol Empireby Tom Shanley (2009), a sympathetic novel about the twelfth century warlord Chinggis Khan (aka Genghis Khan) and the westward expansion of his empire during the early thirteenth century; #2 and the conclusion of the Heaven’s Favorite series.
Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang: Athletic and strong willed, Princess Emmajin’s determined to do what no woman has done before: become a warrior in the army of her grandfather, the Great Khan Khubilai. In the Mongol world the only way to achieve respect is to show bravery and win glory on the battlefield. The last thing she wants is the distraction of the foreigner Marco Polo, who challenges her beliefs in the gardens of Xanadu. Marco has no skills in the “manly arts” of the Mongols: horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Still, he charms the Khan with his wit and story-telling. Emmajin sees a different Marco as they travel across 13th-century China, hunting ‘dragons’ and fighting elephant-back warriors. Now she faces a different battle as she struggles with her attraction towards Marco and her incredible goal of winning fame as a soldier.
Philippines | Back to the Top
Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) by Jose Rizal: In more than a century since its appearance, José Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere has become widely known as the great novel of the Philippines. A passionate love story set against the ugly political backdrop of repression, torture, and murder, “The Noli,” as it is called in the Philippines, was the first major artistic manifestation of Asian resistance to European colonialism, and Rizal became a guiding conscience—and martyr—for the revolution that would subsequently rise up in the Spanish province.
Playing With Water: A Passion and Solitude on a Philippine Island: Hamilton-Paterson writes with unusual warmth of his time among the villagers and under the water on a small Filipino island. Part philosophical meditation, part memoir — and wonderful. The British author, who lives in the Philippines and Tuscany, has also written several novels, including Ghosts of Manilla.
Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn: A novel of Filipino identity in chaotic Manila during the reign of the late dictator Marcos. Hagedorn reaches beyond traditional prose to offer a diverse, overlapping portrait of her characters and the social scene, including song, anecdotes, newspaper articles and photographs.
Dream Jungle by Jessica Hagedorn: This novel, set in the Philippines, weaves tales of a mestizo politician, a teenage prostitute, a movie star and an ambitious journalist. Fast-paced and politically charged, the book opens with the discovery of a supposed Stone Age tribe deep in the jungle of Mindanao.
Dusk, A Novel by Sionil Jose: Set in the 1880s in the small town of Rosales, this first volume in a five-volume series chronicles the history of the Philippines as experienced by one family. It’s an excellent introduction to the history of the country.
The Blue Afternoon by William Boyd: A turn-of-the-century love story, set in Manila, between an American woman and Filipino-Spanish mestizo by the popular storyteller William Boyd. It’s a memorable tale, richly detailed.
The Last Time I Saw Mother by Arlene J. Chai: A most insightful novel, whose diverse mostly female characters are as fully developed and complex as the historical setting of life in the Philippines. The first-novel of a Filipina now living in Australia, it tells of a grown woman returned home to see her difficult mother. The story brings in the mixed Spanish, Chinese and Filipino culture, Japan’s WWI occupation of the islands, the reign of Marcos and other big themes.
Manila Espionage by Claire Phillips: Based on the personal experiences of Claire Phillips, alias “High Pockets,” this is the moving story of an American woman who acted as a spy during the dark days of the Philippine invasion during World War II.
Viajero (A Filipino Novel) by F. Sionil José: Viajero is a novel of history of the Philippine Islands and their people long before the Spaniards came. It is also the story of the Filipino diaspora as seen by an orphan who is brought by an American captain to the United States in 1945. Through the eyes of Salvador dela Raza unfolds the epic voyage of the Filipino, from the earliest contact with China through Magellan’s tragedy in Mactan, onto the heroic voyage of the galleons across the Pacific. The VIAJERO story concludes with the movement of Filipino workers to the Middle East, and the travail of Filipino women in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo
My Imaginary Ex by Mina V. Esguerra: Here’s what happens when you play pretend.
When Zack asks Jasmine to pretend to be his ex-girlfriend, she gamely agrees, thinking it would be fun. A few years later, she still has to keep convincing people that they were never together! Then one day, she finds out he’s getting married—to someone she’d just met once! All of a sudden, things aren’t so clear-cut anymore. Can Jasmine sort out her feelings (sometimes, she can’t even tell real from pretend when it comes to her and Zack) before it’s too late?
When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe: Tess Uriza Holthe writes with a mixture of metaphor and fact, a combination of the supernatural and the all-too-real. When the Elephants Dance opens, in fact, with an apposite metaphor for a horrible reality: “Papa explains the war like this: ‘When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful.’” The elephants in question are the Americans and the Japanese, fighting for possession of the Philippines. The chickens are, of course, the ordinary Filipinos. Three of these “chickens” by turns tell us the story of the Japanese occupation as a small neighborhood near Manila literally goes underground, hiding in the cellar and swapping stories. Holthe takes her onus as a seminal Filipino voice seriously; she sometimes seems determined to cram every bit of tradition, history, and myth into her novel, to the detriment of the plot’s propulsion. But readers who stay with her will be rewarded with an extraordinary display of historical color, and will certainly root for her three narrators.
East Timor | Back to the Top
Distant Voices by John Pilger: Not based on Timor completely but it covers the crises in East Timor and it’s written by a journalist.
If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die: How Genocide Was Stopped in East Timor by Geoffrey Robinson: In this intimate, informed account, historian Robinson (The Dark Side of Paradise: Political Violence in Bali), examines the tumultuous events surrounding East Timor’s 1999 attempt to gain independence from Indonesia. With expertise and an insider’s perspective-a principal researcher for Amnesty International in the 1990s, Robinson joined the UN mission overseeing East Timor’s independence referendum-the author offers rare insight into the country’s internal turmoil. Particularly riveting are Robinson’s descriptions of the days preceding the historic vote to separate from Indonesia: “dressed in their Sunday best, some East Timorese left home in the middle of the night to reach the polling station by dawn.” The importance of that vote, in which “98.6 percent of those who had registered cast ballots,” is hard to overstate; just hours after voting ended, however, pro-Indonesian militia groups erupted in a violent backlash that would kill approximately 1,500 civilians and send 400,000 fleeing the country. Despite the overwhelming brutality of the story, and a bleak assessment of actions from the UN and international community (as much a part of the problem as the solution), Robinson manages to cap his detailed report with a hopeful note.
A Not-So-Distant Horror: Mass Violence In East Timor by Joseph Nevins: On August 30, 1999, in a United Nations–sponsored ballot, East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia and for an end to a brutal military occupation. Upon the announcement of the result, Indonesian troops and their paramilitary proxies launched a wave of terror that, over three weeks, resulted in the murder of more than 1,000 people, the rape of untold numbers of women and girls, the razing of 70 percent of the country’s buildings and infrastructure, and the forcible deportation of 250,000 people. In recounting these horrible acts and the preceding events, Joseph Nevins shows that what took place was only the final scene in more than two decades of atrocities. More than 200,000 people, about a third of the population, lost their lives due to Indonesia’s 1975 invasion and subsequent occupation, making the East Timorese case proportionately one of the worst episodes of genocide since World War II.
Masters of Terror: Indonesia’s Military and Violence in East Timor by Richard Tanter (Author), Desmond Ball (Author): The terror campaign by pro-Indonesian armed groups before, during, and after East Timors independence referendum in was a blatant challenge to the international community as many of the acts of murder, political intimidation, destruction, and mass deportation took place before the eyes of the world. Yet still the ultimate responsibility has been denied and obscured. Masters of Terror provides an authoritative analysis and documentation of the brutal operations carried out by the Indonesian army and its East Timorese allies. The authors carefully assemble detailed accounts of the actions of the major Indonesian officers and East Timorese militia commanders accused of gross human rights violations. This indispensable work explores a horrific frontal attack on democracy and calls for the establishment of an international tribunal for crimes against humanity in East Timor.
East Timor: Beyond Independence by Damien Kingsbury (Editor), Michael Leach (Editor)
The Crossing: A Story of East Timor by Luis Cardoso (Author), Margaret Jull Costa (Translator): East Timor hit the world’s newspaper headlines in August 1999 after its bloody, brave vote for independence from Indonesia — one of the great expressions of a people’s democratic spirit. Exquisitely crafted and evocative, Luis Cardoso’s personal history of his homeland takes as its central image a crossing — from child to adult, Portuguese to Timorese, tolerance to repression, colonialism to independence. “[Cardoso is] the genuine article … in the context of Timor a potent shaper of cultural identity and a reconciler.”