Happy Tuesday everyone! It is the second day of the week already but I hope everyone is doing well and is safe. Tuesdays also mean one thing, a Top Ten Tuesday update! Top Ten Tuesday is an original blog meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and is currently being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.
This week’s given topic is Books I Love That Were Written Over Ten Years Ago
This week’s prompt is quite interesting. It is a feast for a backlist reader like me. Roughly 60% to 70% of the books I have read were published earlier than 2012. As such, it is quite a challenge picking just ten books I love from these books. I am thinking of further categorizing it. Before I started this update, I had no iota of how to limit it further for there also exists vast categories I can choose from. And then it hit me. Since I am in the midst of an Asian literature reading month, it is most logical to list 10 works of Asian literature I love written over ten years ago. Without more ado, here is my list. Happy reading everyone!
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
Kicking off this list is one of my all-time favorite reads from one of my all-time favorite writers. The first time I encountered Midnight’s Children was in 2015 (or 2016?). I just knew I had to read it. My interest in the book further grew after I learned it was touted as the Booker of Bookers, earning it twice, in 1993 and 2008; the book won the 1981 Booker Prize. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long before I can finally delve into the book which charted the story of children who were born at the same moment India declared its independence from British colonial rule, hence, the title. Rushdie’s depiction of his home country was scintillating. India is a colorful country filled with numerous stories, Midnight’s Children just among them. Rushdie didn’t mince a word in describing its political system, its history, its social diversity, and its social concerns. But in spite of its growth, superstitious beliefs and traditions are still prominent. Rushdie’s fortitude in bringing all these things to light is truly astounding.
Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata (1952)
From India to Japan. Apart from the popular Haruki Murakami, one of the first Japanese writers whose works captivated me was Yasunari Kawabata. He was Japan’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature, earning the Swedish Committee’s nod in 1968. His works were rather slender, just like in the case of his debut novel, and also the first Kawabata novel I read, Snow Country. I liked Snow Country but it was Thousand Cranes that I have long been wanting to read. Like novels written about post-war Japan, the novel captured a changing Japan, that of a traditionalist mindset to a Western one. The book appeals to the subconscious in a nostalgic manner by playing around with emotions to capture the imagination. However, Thousand Cranes appeals to the general reading public because it mirrors the imperfections of human nature, something that we all know something about.
Dream of the Red Chamber by Tsao Hsueh-Chin (mid-18th century)
I do admit that I have read very limited works of Chinese literature. It is because of this that I have made it my mission to read the Four Great Classic Novels of Chinese literature. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms has been on my reading list for a long time but it was Dream of the Red Chamber that was the first of these four literary classics that I have read. With its rich and complex evocations of Qing Dynasty China, Tsao painted a vivid portrait of China through the story of a family in decline. In a way, the story of the Chias is a microcosm of a society and an empire that was slowly declining in influence in power. Dream of the Red Chamber is a seminal canon in both Chinese literature and world literature. It is both rich and complex but despite its complexity, it is a hallmark of excellence that undeniably belongs in the company of the best of world literature. I had my challenges with the book; I read an abridged version of the book which forced me to understand the narrative in compact sentences and paragraphs. It is still my fervent desire to read the unabridged version of the book, all five volumes of it.
Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa (1899)
I barely had any iota of who Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa was nor have I encountered any of his works. Nevertheless, my curiosity was piqued when I came across Umrao Jan Ada which I eventually realized is a towering achievement of Urdu literature. The novel grappled with a unique subject, at least for its time, but it, nonetheless, delighted with rich and intricate details of Urdu culture. While a more robust plot was sacrificed for a conversational structure, it was also this structure that provided an intimate peek into the interiors of the novel’s eponymous main character. There were discourses that made the novel a product of its time. But beyond the novel’s blunders, we see a strong woman who never let herself be dragged down by the challenges and the circumstances that engulfed her. She was never daunted navigating the direst straits. Rather, we see a strong woman rising to the occasion, roaring back at life, and succeeding at a time when everything seemed bleak.
Soledad’s Sister by Jose Dalisay Jr. (2008)
While my exploration of my own country’s literature is limited at best, I was able to encounter several that stood out, such as Jose Dalisay Jr.’s Soledad’s Sister. This was my first book by Daliday but Soledad’s Sister captivated me. It is nonetheless a riveting story and at its heart is a heartwarming portrait of a Filipino family where tenderness abounded. Its main protagonists, Soledad, Rory, and even Walter, were equally memorable characters who all came alive under Dalisay’s vivid and powerful writing. Soledad’s Sister was a story both foreign and familiar. It grappled with a bevy of subjects while delving into the memories of the people who have left us. Shortlisted for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize in 2007, the novel tackled dark and ugly realities that continue to hound a society, a city, a country, that remains chaotic as ever. Dark subjects permeated the novel but it was also brimming with hope for a better future.
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min (2004)
I guess it is apparent that I love works of historical fiction. Further proof of this is Anchee Min’s Empress Orchid, a fictionalized account of Empress Dowager Cixi, a historical figure I first came across when I was younger. But back then, I barely had any interest in her; imagine my delight when I would encounter her again almost two decades later. Empress Orchid is an evocative portrayal of the young Empress Dowager Cixi. From her extensive research and from the annals of history, Anchee Min’s impressionable writing and pleasurable storytelling painted a silently and subtly powerful image of the Empress Dowager. The Empress Dowager is a relatable character. She was the product of her time but she was also a stern and determined character who would have made an effective leader had she been born in a different time and city. But it was exactly these unfavorable circumstances that molded her character and turned her into the resolute woman that she was.
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2008)
I rarely indulge in the works of graphic novels. As a matter of fact, I have read only two graphic novels so far, one of which was Iranian writer Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis. Like Midnight’s Children, the book immediately piqued my interest and curiosity the first time I encountered it. It would take me years before I was able to read the book. I enjoyed Persepolis a lot. It is a testament to how comic books can be powerful mediums in conveying stories. It is a masterfully crafted chef-d’œuvre. More than that, I love Marji’s growing up story. It is both interesting and insightful, both humorous and serious, and both playful and thought-provoking. Its perfect mix of literary elements makes it a worthwhile read. Marji’s very distinct and individual voice ultimately redefined the story. Its humor, wit, and uncensored views on the events that took place in Iran gave a deeper insight into how it is to live in a country ruled over by radical individuals. The book was also instrumental in rousing my interest in the works of Iranian writers.
The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (1948)
Another prominent figure of 20th-century Japanese literature is Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. His work that I was looking forward to the most was The Makioka Sister. It did take me years to finally read the book and it was worth the wait. The Makioka Sisters, with its aesthetics, mourns the loss of tradition and values of a time that has become ephemeral, a part of memory. But whilst enamored with the vignettes of the past, Tanizaki was propelling the discourse to what would turn out to be the inevitable: the shift in values and mores. Pulling off The Makioka Sisters, however, was by no means an easy feat and it was something only a literary genius like Tanizaki can. Tanizaki, with his wonderful storytelling, managed to capture the spirit of a time long gone. Whilst the novel was drawn in the veins of traditional Japanese literary work, Tanizaki worked on contrasts, incorporating elements of the past and the present, the modern and the traditional, the East and the West, to produce one of the most highly regarded masterpieces of contemporary Japanese literature.
The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh (2001)
A couple of years back, I was in the bookstore. It was then that I came across Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace. The name nor the title rang any bell of familiarity. But then again, I’ve always been the adventurous sort of reader, hence, my acquisition of the book. Despite my initial apprehension, I did end up enjoying The Glass Palace because it infused some of the elements that I love in reading – history, family sagas, and culture. This synergy, paired with Ghosh’s writing combined for a syncopated reading. All of those years Ghosh has poured into researching the story ultimately paid off as he was able to bring justice to the narrative. There were hits and misses but they were minor and did not really affect the reading experience. In my years of family saga reading, what is most important is rhythm because of their lengths and Ghosh did just that. He gave me a delightful reading journey.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
Before I got to read The Kite Runner, I have already read Hosseini’s other works – And the Mountains Echoed and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Both were heavy books but both made me fall in love with Afghanistan, its colorful culture, its diverse mix, and also Hosseini’s prose. Both were also great factors in my appreciation of Afghan (and Arab) literature. What I didn’t realize is that these two books would prepare me for one of my best reading journeys through Hosseini’s debut novel, The Kite Runner. I actually didn’t know it was his debut novel when I read it. What really drew me into the story was the father and son relationship that the novel was centered on; you see, I have a fascination with these filial relationships. The novel was a powerful account of family ties but the background upon which it was juxtaposed was equally powerful. Hosseini painted, with masterful strokes, the equally beautiful and horrifying modern history of Afghanistan. I am hoping Hosseini will publish more works in the coming years.