August Recommendations: Southeast Asian Fiction

This month our senior counselor, Ryan Roels, shares with us fictions written by Southeast Asian writers. Some are them are translated, and some are written originally in English. Check out this list to find out more about what our regional writers see and imagine through stories.

1) Four Reigns – Kukrit Pramoj

Through one woman’s life and four different monarchs, this sweeping epic of Thai history reveals the changes in individuals and in society as Thailand develops into the modern era. Read this novel for a more personalized feel of recent Thai history. 

2) This Earth of Mankind – Pramoedya Ananda Toer

The first entry of a classic quartet which the author told and retold while in prison. The story centers on a young, intelligent, and ambitious protagonist constrained and embittered by foreign powers that choke his country’s future. An emotional insight into the personal and social ramifications of Indonesia’s colonial history. 

3) The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng 

Another novel that takes its inspiration from history, but now in the Japanese occupation of Malaysia during World War II. Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, this book offers a more nuanced view of the occupation, and provides an important message on memory and forgiveness— a message all too relevant in our current polarizing times.

4) The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen

My favorite book of 2019 so far. Nguyen creates a captivating story that centers on the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. But it is through his witty language, interesting narrative, and intelligent protagonist, that Nguyen weaves a powerful and important theme of negotiating conflicting identities in an ever-enclosing world. 

5) In the Country – Mia Alvar

A short story collection that focuses on the out rather than the in; that is, on Filipinos living abroad rather than on those in the archipelago. By doing so, Alvar’s tales of the diaspora presents a powerful contemplation of home and family that is especially suitable for students living in multiple places.

Honorable mentions: Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig, Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sutbanthad, and a whole lot of non-fiction…

Ryan Roels is a senior counselor and a lead Reading and Writing coach at EduSmith. He graduated from Williams College, a top-ranked liberal arts college, with highest honours in Political Science. 

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