May is Asian Heritage month – something I knew I wanted to reflect in some of my posts this month, but when I sat down and tried to think of writing a post related to Asian Heritage Month, I was overwhelmed. Asia is a huge area and comprises many countries and cultures: so to try and pick a few books to talk about that would adequately cover the whole region is impossible. So instead of trying to be all inclusive, I’ve decided to focus on books I’ve read and loved and which made an impact on me when I read them. Each gives a glimpse into the culture, people and sometimes history of a region. Each left me with a profound sense of the places and cultures they depict. Here’s the first 5 of 15 books I plan to write about:
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress – Dai Sijie: I’ve recommended this slim historical novel countless times. At the heart of this story is the power of literature, represented by a suitcase of banned Western novels that are a treasure in this novel set in China during the Cultural Revolution. The books’ rich, lush prose effectively creates two worlds: that of the grim re-education camp that the two boys at the centre of the story are sent to live in and of their secret adventures with the beautiful daughter of a local tailor in the mountains that surround their camp. (ooh, I’ve just discovered that Dai Sijie has a new book coming out this summer as well! Once On a Moonless Night will be released this August.)
– Michael Ondaatje: A forensic anthropologist returns to her native Sri Lanka to work for a human rights organization investigation into crimes committed during the nation’s civil war. A thoughtful book that mixes descriptions of a beautiful country and its people, details of the conflict, and a well written forensic mystery to tell a story of how individuals are impacted by the violence of political conflict. An important book in light of the ongoing tensions in Sri Lanka.
The Kite Runner
– Khaled Hosseini: Hosseini’s first novel has by now become world famous and, although it is fiction, regarded as a realistic depiction of life in Afghanistan before the Russian invasion and through the rise of the Taliban. On one level this is a coming of age story that depicts a friendship between two young boys – a friendship that is complicated by issues of class and cultural expectations – but on another it is a very political tale: one that for the first time brought English readers into the world of Afghanis.
Harboiled and Hard Luck
– Banana Yoshimoto: another short book, comprised of two novellas that are read more for style than for plot. In both stories a female narrator recounts a story of loss: in the first a woman remembers her lover on the anniversary on his death, in the second a woman faces her sister’s impending death. Though the topics are dark, Yoshimoto’s writing is simple and beautiful. As an author she is known for infusing her works with a sense of Japanese philosophy.
The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy: Man Booker Prize winning novel. From the library catalogue description: “Set mainly in Kerala, India, in 1969, The God of Small Things is the story of Rahel and her twin brother Estha, who learn that their whole world can change in a single day, that love and life can be lost in a moment.” Roy’s writing is vividly descriptive and its images will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.