Asian Books Blog is taking a break until Friday September 6. In the meantime, what will you read if you're visiting Thailand, Taiwan or Vietnam? Cecile Collineau, an independent book consultant based in Singapore, recommends novels you could pack wherever you're going.
An Insular Possession by Timothy Mo
A historical novel taking place before and during the Opium wars in Macau and Hong Kong, then just a hilly island covered with trees. The book includes true historical figures and imaginary characters, but they blend seamlessly. Recommended for lovers of big fat books.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
This fantastic read follows four protagonists, two tailors, a widow and a student. They have nothing in common but end up becoming the best of friends, as they take you through laughs and tears in this baroque novel set in urban India during the mid-1970’s.
Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan
This novel, by one of Indonesia's most exciting young writers, has been favourably compared to Garcia Marquez’s One hundred Years of Solitude, and I can see why. A touch of magic realism intertwined with the contemporary history of Indonesia. Featuring strong female characters, fortunately a far-cry from your typical clichés.
The House of Sleeping Beauties by Kawabata Yasunari
A classic novella by the Nobel-prize winning writer. Mystery, poetry, eroticism, and nostalgia all in a tale told in under hundred pages. I won’t say more but you can always count on a Japanese author to take you places you never thought existed.
We, the Survivors by Tash Aw
The poignant confession of a poor, uneducated ethnic Chinese Malaysian man who thought he had the right to take the same share of economic success enjoyed by his countrymen but ended up falling on the dark side. Can one escape the absurdity of fate? Fans of Camus’s The Stranger will enjoy this novel.
Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
What starts as an investigation of the suspicious death of a venerable Filipino writer turns into an epic story spanning 150 years. Among the polyphonic voices, I found that the true main character in this novel is really the city of Manila, including its full contradictions of heaven and gutters. Though he writes prolifically in the international press, this is Syjuco’s only full-length novel and features his rich and evocative style.
Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-Sook
I remember reading this touching book a few years ago, and wandering along the streets of Seoul, together with the main character, an older woman from the countryside who is visiting her family and gets lost in the subway. A reflection on the generational divide and old age, family ties, and ultimately on love.
Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad
Just released, I admit I haven’t read it yet but it’s next on my "to be read" list. This novel has had glowing reviews. It features a multitude of characters wading through time in one of Asia’s most intriguing metropolises. Tash Aw wrote in his review: “How can they reconcile their pasts, even as they struggle to comprehend their city’s headlong rush into the future?” I can’t wait to find out.
The Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan
The recent history of Taiwan has certainly been tumultuous, but is not so well known. This novel helped me to understand it better, following the life of the Tsai family. This tale starts at the end of Japanese colonial rule and runs through the following decades under martial law and, finally, to Taiwan’s transformation into a democracy.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Is this a spy novel, an immigrant novel or a historical novel? It features all of these genres and even more. Starting with the fall of Saigon, the narrator, a North Vietnamese spy, moves to Los Angeles with other South Vietnamese exiles, hiding his game. A literary masterpiece of nuance and shadows; no wonder the author has been compared to John Le Carré, Joseph Conrad, and Graham Greene.
Lion City by Ng Yi-Sheng
Though most of the short stories in this collection are set in Singapore, you will find yourself embarking on totally unexpected travels. Speculative fiction at its best.
Happy reading!!! And don't forget to check out the blog when it reopens on September 6th.