In eleven years of reading, I have stuck mostly with Western authors. I have read mostly works by either British or American authors like Danielle Steel, Mary Higgins-Clark, John Grisham, Nora Roberts, J.K. Rowling among others. Back then, it was very uncommon for me to read Eastern authors. This might be due to the fact that back then, I barely had any iota on the extent of Eastern literature.
What’s even more jarring is the fact that I barely read Filipino works. As I have highlighted in my review on FH Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles, the only Filipino books I have read are Dr. Jose Rizal’s works, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Embarrassingly, the only reason I read them is because they were part of my high school requirements. Otherwise, the idea of reading them would have never seized.
Moving forward to 2018, I have already read over 600 books, a fraction of which was written by Asian authors. Most Asian books I have read were written mostly by Japanese authors like Haruki Murakami, Yasunari Kawabata and Kazuo Ishiguro. The only other Asian authors that have stood out for me are Khaled Hosseini and Salman Rushdie. There were some Indian authors as well but they mostly came in drizzles. Because of the paucity of my Asian literature knowledge, I have resolved to change that and dedicated the month of April only for works by Asian authors.
The Journey Commences
My April book journey began with Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace, a random purchase I made a few years back. Unfortunately, just like my other books, it was left to gather dust on my book shelf. Thankfully, I was able to find the time to finally read it. It is a historical novel set in Burma (present day Myanmar) and India. It related the last years of the last Burmese king’s reign. Overall, it was a great read and wonderful start to my April reading journey.
Without realizing it, I followed Ghosh’s work with another work by an Asian author. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, and justly so. It is funny, witty and heartbreaking all in one. It seems that Asian authors have the knack for writing about historical fiction. The Sympathizer depicts the last years of the Vietnam War and how it affected all Vietnamese citizens. Moreover, through flashbacks, it provided intimate details of the Vietnamese War.
Now I am gathering momentum.
While I was reading The Sympathizer, I immediately felt shame because of the realization that I have never read any Filipino novels since Rizal’s El Filibusterismo. Thankfully, I have bought a copy of FH Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles last year. To keep in line with my Asian themed reading month, it was the next book that I devoured. The book felt too familiar and too close to home. Although it was lacking on the “suspense part”, its portrayal of Philippine society is what made it a good read.
It is after Batacan’s work did I resolve to read more Filipino works. I am thinking on the lines of Nick Joaquin. Hmmm.
More Asian Books
From my home country, I next traveled to Afghanistan with Afghan writer Nadia Hashimi’s first work, The Pearl that Broke its Shell. It is a heartbreaking but colorful tale which reminded me why I love Afghan authors and their vibrant depiction of their country. Hello again Hosseini! From Afghanistan, I moved to an even more interesting country, Iran, through Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. It was my first peek into Iranian literature and also my first full-length graphic novel. Both Hashimi’s and Satrapi’s works gave intimate insights on the treatment of Muslim women living in Muslim radical countries. Moreover, both are great reads and eye-openers.
After Persepolis, I shifted to yet another war-torn country in Sri Lanka. Sharon Bala’s The Boat People was just published this year and was part of my 2018 Most Anticipated Books. Although the book was set mostly in Canada, the book gives a glimpse on a relevant and current issue about the surge in cross border migration and how it is being handled. It also painted a colorful picture of one of the country’s most painful period.
East Asia Literature
My Asian literature month would not be complete without delving into East Asian works.
As I have mentioned in the introduction, I am no stranger to East Asian authors. If there is one part of Asia that I have extensively immersed in, then it would be this part. Aside from Murakami, Ishiguro and Kawabata, I have also read works of Chinese Amy Tan, Japanese-Chinese Gail Tsukiyama, South Koreans Chang-Rae Lee and Han Kang. Indeed, my perspective of East Asian literature is deeper than with the other parts, except probably with Rushdie’s case with Kashmir.
The sixth book in my Asian series is Korean Kyung-Sook Shin’s book, Please Look After Mom. Just like its East Asian counterparts, it is a nostalgia-laden piece that took me into an emotional roller-coaster. It made me appreciate the roles of mothers, especially in the father-centric Asian family structures. It is a piece that is best suited for the incoming Mother’s Day. Saranghaeyo eomeoni!
I capped my Asian literature month with a very familiar writer, Haruki Murakami. The last time I encountered a Murakami was mid-last year when I read his simpler work, After Dark. With Hard-oiled Wonderland and the End of the World, I am caught again in the midst of Murakami’s surrealist world. Again, he fascinated me by masterfully and skillfully playing with my imagination. Murakami just possesses this uncanny skill of doing so, of messing up with my brain with his own brand of magical realism.
Admittedly, I am still far from understanding the complexity of Murakami’s works. His body of work is astounding yet perplexing. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to his other works.
With these eight books, I was doused in a wonderful array of colorful and magical depiction of the different parts of Asia. They all sensorily transported me to different places just with mere words. Certainly, all these books have left a deep impression on me. Their varied insights gave me a deeper appreciation of the different cultures comprising the wide expanse that is Asia. Asia, its people and its culture, is as varied as it is colorful. These eight works just proved that.
More than the colorful depictions they have painted in the depths of my consciousness, these books showed me that Asian literature is at par with, if not better, than Western literature. As an Asian, I am filled with pride because these works showed the world that Asians can go toe-to-toe with the best in terms of writing. Because of these wonderful exercise, I am looking forward to devouring even more Asian works. Thankfully, my hoarding ensured that I have more than enough to keep me busy in the coming months.
Oh yeah, I am also thinking about dedicating a month for African literature.
And that’s a wrap up for April!
What to look forward to in May? After my Asian literature month, I have decided to dedicate May for my 2018 Top 20 Books Reading List. It is already May and I have only read about four of these twenty books. I don’t want what happened in 2017 – rushing to read all the books at the end of the year – to happen again. Do look forward to my review on the other books that are part of my April 2018 Asian literature month.
Happy reading everyone!
April 2018 Reading List
- The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh (Burma/India)
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Vietnam)
- Smaller and Smaller Circles by FH Batacan (Philippines)
- The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi (Afghanistan)
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Iran)
- The Boat People by Sharon Bala (Sri Lanka)
- Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (South Korea)
- Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami (Japan)