Asia never fails to capture the imagination, from its people to the colourful cultures and sensational landscapes. Our Destination Asia teams have compiled some of their favourite books that best capture the marvels of Asia.
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
‘One of the most widely reviewed debuts of the year, Sightseeing is a masterful story collection by an award-winning young author. Set in contemporary Thailand, these are generous, radiant tales of family bonds, youthful romance, generational conflicts and cultural shiftings beneath the glossy surface of a warm, Edenic setting. Written with exceptional acuity, grace and sophistication, the stories present a nation far removed from its exoticized stereotypes. In the prize-winning opening story “Farangs,” the son of a beachside motel owner commits the cardinal sin of falling for a pretty American tourist. In the novella, “Cockfighter,” a young girl witnesses her proud father’s valiant but foolhardy battle against a local delinquent whose family has a vicious stranglehold on the villagers. Through his vivid assemblage of parents and children, natives and transients, ardent lovers and sworn enemies, Lapcharoensap dares us to look with new eyes at the circumstances that shape our views and the prejudices that form our blind spots. Gorgeous and lush, painful and candid, Sightseeing is an extraordinary reading experience, one that powerfully reveals that when it comes to how we respond to pain, anger, hurt, and love, no place is too far from home.’
Love and Death in Bali by Vicki Baum
‘Set against the backdrop of the Dutch invasion of Bali just over a century ago, and the resulting “mass suicides” of the Balinese royalty, the moving story unfolds of the peasant Pak and his family and friends, and the tragedy that is their shared fate.
Written within living memory of the bloody events called the puputan (the “ending”), Love and Death in Bali is the story of a passionate yet peaceful and deeply spiritual people who defy the Dutch imperial forces through an act that would bring them certain death—and certain rebirth.
The looting of a Chinese trading ship gives the Dutch colonial forces the perfect excuse to intervene in island affairs, but they encounter astonishing resistance. In the battle of Badung, wave upon wave of Balinese clothed in white ceremonial garb charged into the blazing Dutch guns, kris daggers in hand, prepared to die. Who among them will survive, and how will their lives be forever changed?
Love and Death in Bali, first published in German in 1937, is considered by many to be the finest novel ever written about this island paradise where everyone, regardless of caste or position, is woven into the fabric of an ancient culture, connected by customs and, above all, by strong religious beliefs. now reissued in a completely re-edited edition under its original title, with an introduction by anthropologist and award-winning author Nigel Barkley.’
Complete Notes from Singapore: The Omnibus Edition by Neil Humphreys
‘Almost 200 years ago, an Englishman by the name of Stamford Raffles landed on the shores of Singapore and the rest, shall we say, is history. A decade ago, another Englishman came to Singapore and left behind a wholly different kind of legacy. “Notes from an even Smaller Island”, “Scribbles from the Same Island” and “Final Notes from a Great Island” are three widely-acclaimed offerings by Neil Humphreys detailing his own Singapore story of a man who came, who saw and who fell in love with the tiny tropical nation. “Complete Notes from Singapore: The Omnibus Edition” brings together all three best-selling books for an insightful account of one man’s relationship with Singapore and Singaporeans that has spanned an entire decade.’
The Beach by Alex Garland
‘The Khao San Road, Bangkok – first stop for the hordes of rootless young Westerners traveling in Southeast Asia. On Richard’s first night there, a fellow traveler slashes his wrists, bequeathing to Richard a meticulously drawn map to “the Beach.” The Beach, as Richard comes to learn, is a subject of legend among the young travelers in Asia: a lagoon hidden from the sea, with white sand and coral gardens, freshwater falls surrounded by jungle, plants untouched for thousands of years. There, it is rumored, a carefully selected international few have settled into a communal Eden. Richard sets off with a young French couple to an island hidden away in an archipelago forbidden to tourists. They discover the Beach, and it is as beautiful as it is reputed to be. Yet over time it becomes clear that Beach culture, as Richard calls it, has troubling, even deadly undercurrents.’
From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000 By Lee Kuan Yew
‘Few gave tiny Singapore much chance of survival when it was granted independence in 1965. How is it, then, that today the former British colonial trading post is a thriving Asian metropolis with not only the world’s number one airline, best airport, and busiest port of trade, but also the world’s fourth–highest per capita real income?
The story of that transformation is told here by Singapore’s charismatic, controversial founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. Rising from a legacy of divisive colonialism, the devastation of the Second World War, and general poverty and disorder following the withdrawal of foreign forces, Singapore now is hailed as a city of the future. This miraculous history is dramatically recounted by the man who not only lived through it all but who fearlessly forged ahead and brought about most of these changes.’
Indonesia Etc. by Elizabeth Pisani
‘Declaring independence in 1945, Indonesia said it would “work out the details of the transfer of power etc. as soon as possible.” With over 300 ethnic groups spread across over 13,500 islands, the world’s fourth most populous nation has been working on that “etc.” ever since. Author Elizabeth Pisani travelled 26,000 miles in search of the links that bind this disparate nation.’
River of Time by Jon Swain
“A splendid memoir…a tale, at once tragic and beautiful, of love and loss, of coming of age and of witnessing the end of Indochina as the West had known it for more than a century.”—Los Angleles Times Book Review. From the writer immortalized in the Academy Award-winning film The Killing Fields.
The Killing Fields by Christopher Hudson
‘Seasoned American journalist Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran, a Cambodian newsman, risk their lives and careers to reveal the true story of the war in Cambodia, in a story of honour, survival, and friendship amid the fires of war.’
Woman of Bangkok by Jack Reynolds
‘Acknowledged as one of the most memorable novels about Thailand, “A Woman of Bangkok” was first published to critical acclaim in London and New York in the 1950s and is a classic of Bangkok fiction. Set in 1950s Thailand, this is the story of an Englishman’s infatuation with a dance-hall hostess named Vilai. No ordinary prostitute, Vilai is one of the most memorable in literature’s long line of brazen working girls.’
Letters from Burma by Aung San Su Kyi
In these astonishing letters, Aung San Suu Kyi reaches out beyond Burma’s borders to paint for her readers a vivid and poignant picture of her native land.
Here she celebrates the courageous army officers, academics, actors and everyday people who have supported the National League for Democracy, often at great risk to their own lives. She reveals the impact of political decisions on the people of Burma, from the terrible cost to the children of imprisoned dissidents – allowed to see their parents for only fifteen minutes every fortnight – to the effect of inflation on the national diet and of state repression on traditions of hospitality. She also evokes the beauty of the country’s seasons and scenery, customs and festivities that remain so close to her heart.
Through these remarkable letters, the reader catches a glimpse of exactly what is at stake as Suu Kyi fights on for freedom in Burma, and of the love for her homeland that sustains her non-violent battle.