Global Reading ChallengeLiterature

Must-Read Books from Asia (Global Reading Challenge)

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For part two of my overambitious global reading list, I present to you: Asia, from Afghanistan to Vietnam and everything (literally) in between.

There’ll be less preamble to this intro, because, well, I said what I had to say in Part One (which you can read here btw) and I assume you’ve probably come from there in the first place.

BUT, because I am generous in both time and spirit (but less so when it comes to fancy Belgian chocolates) I’ll catch you up a bit: I’m recommending one book for every country of the world.

I might have read them already or I might simply want to read them. Either way, my aim is to have read them all by the end of 2019. One-hundred-and-ninety-seven books in just over a year: what could go wrong?

Oh, and they’re all by women.

Shall we?

(If you want to check my full progress and list of recommendations click here. Feel free to follow along my Global Reading Challenge on Instagram too!)


GLOBAL READING CHALLENGE: ASIA

A

Afghanistan

I think the most well-known book from Afghanistan is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hossaini, but I’m dying to read Raising My Voice by Malalai Joya, a.k.a. the most prolific woman MP in Afghanistan, widely-known for being outspoken.

B

Bangladesh

Bangladeshi-British Monica Ali (via her novel Brick Lane) was the only writer from Bangladesh I’d previously come into contact with. However, and because I’m obsessed with short story and essay collections right now, I’ve gone for Lifelines anthology of Bangladeshi women writers, edited by renowned Bangladeshi writer Farah Ghuznavi.

Bhutan

Oh, you want to read something by the first Bhutanese woman to write a novel in English? Here you go. The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden.

Brunei

One resource I found from 2016 presented me with a startling figure—there have been no novels published in English by a Bruneian woman. Obviously, this isn’t to say there haven’t been novels written by Bruneian women, and only framing the narrative around whether work is available in English is both Anglo-centric and kind of gross, but I did find it surprising. However, there are two women from Brunei who have published poetry in English. Of the two, I found Moments of Nil by Flora Tavu (a Phillippines-born, Brunei-raised woman) readily available online.
 

C

Cambodia

I was intrigued by Phina So’s Crush Collection, but unfortunately couldn’t find a copy in English. However, Thavry Thon’s A Proper Woman is!

China

Chinese literature is something I’ve as of yet failed to delve into. However, once I got researching, I found a number of titles I’d love to read (like Frontier by Can Xue). The one I want to spotlight in this post is A Private Life by Ran Chen though.
 

I

India

Arundhati Roy is incredible, but again, I wanted to go for someone a little more obscure/ up-and-coming. Roy’s been on ‘Desert Island Discs’, so she’s hardly obscure. When I found this writer—Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a trans activist and hijra from India—I was really excited to get stuck into both of her books: Me Hijra, Me Laxmi and Red Lipstick: The Men in my Life.

Indonesia

Supernova by Dewi Lestari was the first book to grab my attention when researching for women writers from Indonesia. It apparently deals with multiple love stories in an urban, contemporary setting.
 

J

Japan

This one was hard. Mainly because I’ve been on a buying spree of Japanese authors recently. In fact, I have an unread copy of A Cat, A Man and Two Women by Junichiro Tanizaki (a man) in my bag as we speak. However, there’s one book that’s been hyped up by pretty much everyone who has read it: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. I also have an unread copy of this in my bag right now, lol.

K

Kyrgyzstan

Well. I can barely spell Kyrgyzstan without doing some frantic Googling beforehand, so I was nervous about trying to find a book by a woman writer from there. It seems I was right to be, because I couldn’t find a single one.

L

Laos

This was tough too, but I did find a memoir by Hmong American writer Kao Kalia Yang, who was born in the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand. Her parents were Hmong refugees from Laos (as far as I can gather) and later migrated to America. While her second text, The Song Poet delves into her father’s life, Yang’s first memoir The Latehomecomer looks, rather appropriately, at the role of women during the displacement.

M

Malaysia

I was pleasantly surprised at the number of Malay women I found, including the fantasy and sci fi writer Zen Cho, Dina Zaman and Preeta Samarasan. However, the work of Yangsze Choo, especially her upcoming novel The Night Tiger was the title that grabbed my attention the most.

Maldives

Nope…

Mongolia

Mongolia may have a wealth of super-educated women in the capital (they outnumber the super-educated men apparently) and yet I failed to find a single title by a Mongolian woman to include in this post.

Myanmar (formerly Burma)

I dug up some remarkable looking titles—like Heartbroken Oyster and Other Sea Stories by Mi Chan Wai and Clouds in the Sky and Other Stories by Khin Mya Zin—but couldn’t find them in available to buy in English, unfortunately.

N

Nepal

A writer and editor friend of mine who’s based in Nepal, Elen Turner, recommended Manjushree Thapa to me when I published the first instalment of this Global Reading Challenge. Well, now I’m sat in Denmark writing this and I just looked her up—Elen was right, she looks fabulous. Can’t wait for her short story collection Tilled Earth to arrive.

North Korea

One blog post about North Korean literature I stumbled across explained that very few English versions of North Korean texts coming from within the regime are uncensored, so I thought it was best to look to defectors for this entry. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t optimistic. And yet, I found several memoir-type texts. There’s A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim, and The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee, but I chose Yeonmi Park’s In Order to Live.
 

P

Pakistan

I wanted to include Chawalla, but that was written by a man. So, I went for Nobody Killed Her by Sabyn Javeri instead.

Philippines

First of all, if you’re particularly interested in Filipina writers, this article is a great resource. If you just want my handpicked selection though, then it’s Don’t Tell My Mother, a lesbian romance by Brigitte Bautista.
 

S

Singapore

I’m sorry, wtf, this book by Singaporean author Balli Kaur Jaswal is called Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows?! How the fuck could I not choose it?

South Korea

I read an article about how Korean writers are reinventing the so-called Scandi noir and so, obviously, I had to choose a book that fit that category. (Otherwise, my rec would have 100% been Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, fwiw. Or, maybe Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which is still sitting unread on my bookshelf.) Anyway, I’m gunna read You-jeong Jeong’s The Good Son.

Sri Lanka

The first woman to publish a novel in Sri Lanka was Rosalind Mendis. When did that happen? Fucking 1928. While that is impressive and sad in equal parts, I wanted to choose a more contemporary Sri Lankan writer, so I chose The Moon in the Water by Ameena Hussein.
 

T

Taiwan

Taking my cue from this Words Without Borders article, I looked into the works of first openly-lesbian Taiwanese author (who committed suicide in the 90s) Qiu Miaojin, and also Shen Wan-ting. In the end though, I was drawn to Masked Dolls by Shih Chiung-Yu.

Tajikistan

Send help, in the form of women writers from Tajikistan.

Thailand

I unfortunately couldn’t find any Thai women published in English although I’m almost certain that can’t be right. PLEASE drop suggestions in the comments!

Timor-Leste

I’m at a loss.

Turkmenistan

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 nope.

U

Uzbekistan

Again, nothing. HELP VERY MUCH APPRECIATED!

V

Vietnam

Finally, an easy country from which to source women writers. Vietnam—thank you. I read great things about Le Ly Hayslip’s memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and lê thị diễm thúy’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For, but I decided that for my Vietnam entry I wanted to read Thi Bui’s graphic novel The Best We Could Do. Realistically though, I’ll probably try and get to all three books.


Which books from Asia have you read? Do you think I should have included different entries for any of the above countries? Let me know in the comments! Oh, and click here for Part Three!

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