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what we’re reading: our favourite books set in asia

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With team members across 13 countries in Asia always ready to recommend a new book, our reading list is never ending…but we like it that way! These are some of our current favourites that showcase different stories set across the continent.

 

Survival in the Killing Fields

by Haing Ngor

In his memoir, Survival in the Killing Fields, a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust, Haing Ngor, shares his story of life and death under the communist Khmer Rouge. A surgeon and gynecologist by profession working in Phnom Penh, Ngor experienced firsthand his country’s fall into violence, slavery and under the ruthless Khmer Rouge surviving stints prison camps by eating insects three times before escaping. He wrote the first edition of his book in 1998 after winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1985 for his role in the film The Killing Fields. The second edition, published after he was found murdered in his Los Angeles home, includes an epilogue written by his co-author.

 

The Singapore Grip

by J.G. Farrell

The third book in J.G. Farrell’s “Empire Trilogy” following Troubles and the Booker prize-winning Siege of Krishnapur, The Singapore Grip is a tale of love and war, a city under siege and a cultural shift set just before World War II. Following Walter Blackett, head of British Singapore’s most powerful trading companies, and his family as they experience the events leading up to Japan entering the war. In 2015, The Straits Times named The Singapore Grip as a classic Singapore novel due to its ability to weave aspects of Singapore’s history and colonial society with details of the undeniable commercial and cultural forces that shaped the way World War II played out in Southeast Asia. 

 

Sarong Secrets

by Lee Su Kim

Following the award-winning bestseller Kebaya Tales, the vibrant world of babas and nyonyas is back in Sarong Secrets. Su Kim’s delightful portrayal of Peranakan culture – men, women and children going about their daily lives – in Malaysia paints a picture that both Malaysians and foreigners can appreciate. Bursting with wit, humour and detail, the 12 stories found in Sarong Secrets introduce the reader to unique places, moments and experiences of a culture that is disappearing all while sharing images of the colourful sarongs, accessories and artefacts emblematic of Peranakan heritage.

 

The Tea Planter’s Wife

by Dinah Jefferies

Set in 1920s Ceylon, 19-year-old Englishwoman Gwendolyn Hooper moves from London and marries a wealthy tea plantation owner only to find that life in Ceylon is more complicated than she had imagined. With two-faced neighbours, bitter plantation workers and secrets about her new husband, a widower’s, murky past coming to light, Gwendolyn must choose between her duties as a wife and instincts as a mother while navigating colonial Ceylon. A beautifully written and suspenseful tale involving a colourful cast of characters, The Tea Planter’s Wife immediately captivates readers making it no surprise that the novel is a #1 international bestseller.

 

Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Recipes from the Heart

by Pauline Nguyen, Luke Nguyen (Contributor), Mark Jensen (Contributor)

Going beyond just sumptuous recipes that tickle the taste buds and satisfy the stomach, Secrets of the Red Lantern shares insight into a Vietnamese family immigrating and surviving in Australia thanks to the power of good food and shared meals. Pauline Nguyen’s parents prepared the recipes found within this cookbook – perfected and passed down over many years – at their successful Vietnamese restaurant, The Red Lantern, using a surprisingly small collection of ingredients. Favourites include pho bo tai nam, a beef soup flavoured with coriander and Vietnamese basil, and thit ba roi (pork belly), presented in a way that is both enticing and accessible to the home cook.

 

Sightseeing

by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Set in contemporary Thailand, Sightseeing is a varied collection of stories from award-winning author Rattawut Lapcharoensap portraying a different side to the Land of Smiles than most visitors see. Diving deep into the country’s shifting culture and society, which seems to be tied to the past as much as it struggles toward the future, Lapcharoensap’s tales are ones of family, love, locals and foreigners, culture and conflicts all shared with exacting detail. After finishing Sightseeing, you’ll never see Thailand in the same way again.

 

 The Dr. Siri Series

by Colin Cotterill

The trilogy of Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries begins with The Coroner’s Lunch. Set in Laos in the mid-1970s, Dr. Siri Paiboun is a French-trained physician and the national coroner of Laos who faces government cover-ups, nosy neighbours, Hmong shamans, romances gone wrong and more to uncover the truth when the wife of a prominent politician is found dead.

 

Burma Zauber Eines Golden en Landes

by Andreas Pröve

When Andreas Pröve visited Burma for the first time more than 30 years ago, he instantly fell in love noting that it was “a pearl in a pile of gravel”. Now Pröve has once again travelled through Burma and documented his 3,000-kilometre journey – in a wheelchair no less! – complete with incredible photos. Written in German, Pröve’s account covers the water-soaked festivities of the Buddhist New Year, the country’s fortune tellers, dissidents still fighting for democracy and everything else found in the land of golden pagodas.

 

The World of Suzie Wong

by Richard Mason

Set in the mid-1950s, The World of Suzie Wong is a beautifully written time capsule of a novel following the love story of Robert Lomax, a young British artist living in Hong Kong, and Suzie Wong, a Chinese woman who works as a prostitute yet becomes his muse. First published more than fifty years ago, the book has resonated with readers worldwide, inspiring a film as well as a play and ballet.

 

The Circle of Karma (Zubaan Classics)

by Kunzang Choden

The first English-language novel ever written by a woman from the Himalayan nation of Bhutan, The Circle of Karma has engaged and absorbed readers from around the world since its 2005 publication.

Written originally in English, it tells the story of Tsomo, a fifteen-year-old girl caught up in the everyday realities of household life and work. But when her mother dies, Tsomo suddenly feels called to travel and sets off toward a faraway village to light ritual butter lamps in her mother s memory. Her travels take her to distant places, across Bhutan and into India, evolving into a major life journey. As she faces the world alone, Tsomo slowly begins to find herself, growing as a person and as a woman.

Kunzang Choden s measured, nuanced prose and multilevel narrative weave a complex tapestry of life and its rituals in Bhutan and across South Asia. Newly reissued as part of Zubaan’s anniversary celebrating a decade of cutting-edge feminist publishing, this extraordinary novel is poised to be discovered by a broad and enthusiastic new audience.

 

The Search for Modern China

by Jonathan D. Spence

“A remarkable achievement…vivid…fluent, graceful…. A publishing event.”―Boston Globe

In this widely acclaimed history of modern China, Jonathan Spence achieves a fine blend of narrative richness and efficiency. Praised as “a miracle of readability and scholarly authority,” (Jonathan Mirsky) The Search for Modern China offers a matchless introduction to China’s history.

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