In my view, Asian literature has lagged behind most of the more fairly established domestic genres. Don’t get me wrong, Asian works are some of the most imaginative and creative works I have ever read. It is no secret that Asians love sharing stories When you move to the countryside, it is quite easy to extract stories from people you encounter along the way. Asians are natural Scheherazade; their imagination are far and wide. Unfortunately, it does not always translate well across in books like most of its contemporaries.
On a positive note, Asian literature is on the rise lately. The popularity of Salman Rushdie, Haruki Murakami, and the Japanese Nobel Prize in Literature winning trifecta of Yasunari Kawabata, Kenzaboro Oe and Kazuo Ishiguro (he is British but ethnically Japanese) has indoctrinated the world of the beauty of Asian literature. Their works are amongst my favorites and are some of the most fascinating ones I have encountered in years of reading.
In a celebration of Asian literature, I planned to dedicate at least one month of every year to reading just Asian works. Last year, I had April as my Asian literature month and in 2019, my birth month is going to be my Asian literature month. Here is my queue for the month that was, with a short review of each book. Happy reading!
The Farm by Joanne Ramos
Kicking off my Asian literature adventure is Joanne Ramos’ debut novel, The Farm. The blurb around the novel is too overwhelming not to take notice, hence, the book’s inclusion in my 2019 Books I Look Forward to List as a special entry. A bonus is that Ramos is a fellow Filipino. Reading the book is like hitting two birds with one stone – accomplishing one of my 2019 reading resolutions (reading at least two works of Filipino authors) and ticking off one of eleven books in my 2019 Books I Look Forward to List.
The book dampened my excitement. For all the hype that surrounded the book before its release, it was oddly disappointing. Many a reader said it is a dystopian tale at par with Margaret Atwood’s classic The Handmaid’s Tale. Whereas there are parallels on both books, The Farm is too underdeveloped to speak it in the same breadth as the former. Nevertheless, I loved how the book portrayed Filipino values such as the love of one’s family (and also its negative facets). It was promising but could have used some more tightening on the fringes.
For my complete review of The Farm, click here.
Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad
From the Philippines, my reading journey took me to a South East Asia neighbor, the Land of a Thousand Elephants, Thailand with another debut work. Bangkok Wakes to Rain is Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s first entry into the world of literature. The interesting plot and the prospect of reading a Thai work for the first time made me include this book in my 2019 Books I Look Forward to List (yes, another one from the list).
Whereas The Farm’s plot is pretty straightforward, Bangkok Wakes To Rain is a collection of stories, some are complete while some are disjointed. Nevertheless, these scraps of stories were wonderfully and cohesively sewn together by Sudbanthad’s magical hands. The writing is neater and a tad better than my first book for the month. At times, however, the plot goes awry. The novel maybe a little too ambitious but for a debut novel, it is a step into the right direction.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is Vietnamese-born poet Ocean Vuong’s first novel. It is without any design that my third novel for the month is a debut work (at least first novel), one of eleven books in my 2019 Books I Look Forward To List (yes, again), and the work of another South East Asian author to boot. To say the least, I am making headways this month after falling behind on some of my 2019 readings tasks. Haha!
When I included On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous on my 2019 reading list, it was out of sheer curiosity. Midway through the story, I was shocked that the book’s primary narrator and character is homosexual. Not that I have anything against homosexuality or homosexual characters; it’s just that I didn’t expect it. How clueless I am. As for the book, the title says it all. It is a gorgeous work and Vuong’s background in poetry translated well into his first novel. *Sigh of relief*. Lang Leav’s Sad Girls did leave a bit of a negative image. On to the next!
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Leaving my comfort zone, I opted to take on a seemingly more challenging Asian work (or not really). I flew north to South Korea to indulge in Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko which I randomly bought last year when I was on a book buying binge. I initially thought that the book was written by a Japanese author because of the reference to pachinko, a popular Japanese gambling game (watching Detective Conan did baptize me on some of the peculiarities of Japanese society and culture, haha). I wasn’t wrong on the Japanese relation, though.
Pachinko is a family saga chronicling the story of Sunja and about four generations of her family. This is my first family saga in quite a while, so it did take a while before I warmed up to the story but once I did, it was all smooth sailing. The novel digs into the subject of identity, and of how Korean migrants are treated in Japan. Come to think of it, in light of the recent trade wars between Japan and South Korea, this novel does give an offhanded insight on this age-old feud. Interesting.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
So far, in 2019, I have rarely read a book written by an author I have previously read before. Of the 35 books I have read this year so far (including this one), 29 were written by authors whose works I have never read before. But Rushdie is a safe and familiar territory. Midnight’s Children is one of my all-time favorite reads and it is a no-brainer that I included Haroun and the Sea of Stories in my 2019 Top 20 Reading List.
I thought that Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a collection of short stories, hence, my initial decision not to buy a copy of the book. Once I realized my mistake, I was quick to rectify it by availing a copy of the book. And 2019 presented the perfect opportunity to read my fifth Rushdie book. The book is a slight deviation from his other works, but it was still as enthralling. It is the perfect mix of adventure and fantasy. I just wished the book was a bit longer.
Currently reading: The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete it before the month ended. The book is set in the Middle East and showcases the aforementioned Scheherazade-like proclivities of Asians. The reading journey is going great so far, albeit the references to the current political state of Syria.
Works by Asian authors can conquer the world of literature by storm the way Allende, Vargas Llosa, Coehlo and Garcia-Marquez did for South America. This is something I have learned in my two months of reading purely Asian works (three if you include my June 2019 Japanese Literature month). The diversity of Asian culture make reading works by Asian authors a pleasant exercise. In a couple of years, there will be more Asian works on the market.
What to look forward to in August…
I am on the cusp of reading my landmark 700th book. As this is a momentous achievement, I opted to dedicate this spot to one of the most recognized literary works, Margaret Mitchell’s colossal masterpiece Gone With the Wind. I know it is going to be a tall order (it is over a thousand pages long) but I am looking forward to the experience.
Do look forward to what is in store for the rest of the year.